Tim's Blog

Richmond Wine Society explores the wines of China

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The Richmond Wine Society reached a very exciting new wine frontier last week as we explored the wines of China.

We had a huge turnout over the two nights which reflects well on the insatiable wine curiosity (or is it thirst) that our membership has.

The development and growth of China’s wine industry has been nothing short of extraordinary over the last twenty years.

China is now second behind Spain in terms of vineyard area planted and sixth in terms of volume produced. Wine demand is growing quickly within the burgeoning middle classes and with an estimated 0.5 – 1.0 litre per capita consumed per year (compared to 42 litres per capita in France), China easily has the potential of being the world’s biggest market.

Imports account for 20% of demand while the rest is serviced by local grapes. Production is centred around the Shandong Peninsula to the southeast  of Beijing, Xinjiang to the west near Kazakhstan, Shanxi and Ningxia in the centre and Yunnan to south near Laos and Vietnam.

Despite the big numbers of vines planted and wine produced, it is somewhat difficult to find a wine range of Chinese wine in theUK and while much is spoken of wine imported into China, far less information exists about how much is exported.

Berry Bros & Rudd, Selfridges and Sainsburys were the sources for this tasting.

We kicked off with a very drinkable Riesling – part of a white and red double act that Sainsburys launched earlier this year. A bit tricky if we’d been asked to guess the grape in a blind tasting but perfectly well balanced and good value at £6.00 after discounts.

A 2010 Chardonnay from Grace vineyard was next. There were mixed views – some finding elegance and fruit, some finding excessive oak. Clearly oaked Chardonnay with a characteristic butteriness.

The Saint Romain white Burgundy we compared it with ran out a hands down winner.

With 75% of production being red grapes it was no surprise that the majority of the tasting would comprise this colour – the difficulty was finding anything other than Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Sainsburys red was a Cabernet Gernischt (Carmenere) blend with Cab Sauv. Not as assured as the white with some green stalky notes and hints of bitterness.  Three Cabernet blends followed at ever increasing price points. Competently made but expensive was the conclusion. The Changyu Moser XV at £59.00 was deemed over alcoholic and bitter and was no match to the Ch Vivens 2012 from Margaux.

An ice wine made the hybrid Vidal Blanc grape was a notable surprise. Perhaps slightly lacking acidity but full of fresh apricot fruit and honeyed sweetness.  Still expensive at £19.00 per half.

In conclusion people were generally positive: it was an interesting tasting – and for the huge majority an opportunity to taste a Chinese wine for the first time.  The wines were deemed far too expensive relative to better known European wines.   Everyone agreed it would be fascinating to revisit the country in five or ten years and assess the changes in the Chinese wine scene – particularly if more wines are available than the ‘top’ brands currently being exported with their novelty value premium price tag.

I think that China easily has the potential to create an inexpensive brand like Jacobs Creek as long as they can ensure reliability, quality and consistency.  Perhaps in five or ten years we will all be quaffing ‘Great Wall’ reds and whites?