The Wine Guy Eddie McDougall

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Illustration by Elis Wilk

The history of Chinese winemaking goes back several centuries. The notion of fermenting beans, rice, grains and grapes is nothing new to the Chinese and, to their credit, they have mastered many of these sources over time. China, to date, is well respected for its rocket-fuelled wines – namely bai jiu and huang jiu. Neither of these two wines are produced from grapes and they’re known to send your head into la-la land after a few throat-tearing sips. Despite the lack of a pleasurable taste, though, some of these wines do fetch a healthy price tag. And the consumption rate across the 1.3 billion-peopled country is enormous. With more money to be made with the bai jiu and huang jiu varieties, one can understand why grape wines, once upon a time, just didn’t make sense to the Chinese. Unfortunately this meant that the wine grape was left in the dark for many years. 

My first encounter with a Chinese wine goes back nearly 10 years to when one of my fellow winemaking mates brought a mystery bottle from the Mainland as a joke to a dinner I hosted at home. The wine (which shall remain nameless) left memories that I would rather forget: it was sour, thin and mouth numbing, and left a horrendous aftertaste in the back of my throat. From that moment on, as you could only imagine, my confidence in China’s ability to produce a decent drop was severely tainted. Being half Chinese myself, I was a little disheartened that a country with so many resources couldn’t even make a quaffable wine. 

However, since then I have managed to rebuild confidence in Chinese winemakers by trying another grape wine from the country. To my surprise, when I sampled it first, this wine was seriously drinkable – so much so, I questioned whether or not it actually came from China. As you all know, China is famous for creating replicas. So you could imagine my surprise when my trusted source confirmed that the bottle’s origin was indeed from the People’s Republic of China. As I drained the glass, my first bruising experience began to wash away and I found myself asking for a refill. The wine of the hour was a Cabernet blend produced by a quirky Chinese lady called Emma Gao, who’s the owner of Silver Heights winery in Ningxia. 

After this amazing experience, I decided to take a whirlwind trip to visit several choice wineries on the Mainland. There are, in fact, a handful of regions across the country that are producing excellent wines – and it’s great to see that winemakers are truly understanding what their terroir can produce. The major regions with the suitable climate for growing the grape that are worth keeping an eye out for include Ningxia, Yantai, Inner Mongolia, Shangri-La, Hebei and Xinjiang. Across these regions you can explore many varieties, from the traditional likes of  Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay to the slightly funky types like Riesling Italia and Cabernet Gernischt. 

 

Here’s a list of producers to look out for: 

• Silver Heights, Ningxia

• Helan Mountain, Ningxia

• Chateau Martin, Hebei

• Altitwine, Shangri-La

• Treat Port, Yantai

• Chateau Aroma, Xinjiang (organic)

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