When I first came to China some 20 years ago, the DH and I would only ever drink beer or tea when eating in a restaurant. Sometimes there was wine on offer but in those days there only seemed to be two brands of red wine available, Dragon Seal and Great Wall and both were fairly ghastly. The Chinese did not drink wine much. They drank Baijiu, beer, plum wine and other beverages, not forgetting tea!
Then, a few years ago, some person of influence here in China announced that ‘drinking red wine is good for your health‘ and within an incredibly short time the Chinese started buying and drinking red wine in vast quantities. Of course China is a huge country with a massive population and a helluva lot of red wine is needed to satisfy their demands. Consumption has risen to the extent that in 2013 China became the world’s biggest market buyer of red wine with some 1.86 billion bottles in that year alone. The market here has grown 136% in a mere five years. At first Chinese winemakers concentrated on quantity rather than quality which is why there is still so much appalling Chinese wine on the market here. I should just say at this juncture, that on the whole the vast bulk of the wine produced in China is red wine, white wine has been very slow to catch on.
Needless to say some Chinese were not slow in realising that this is the ideal time for China to start producing wines that can compete with the foreign imports; and with the assistance of western oeneologists and viticulturists, new wineries have sprung up in many parts of China.Because it is such a big country with every type of terrain, it has not been difficult for experts to find areas which have land matching the prized ‘terroirs’ of France, Spain, California, Australia, Chile etc. As a result reputable companies from the western world have developed partnerships with Chinese wine producing companies, and their products are now comparing very favourably with what is available from other countries. Approximately half an million hectares of land in China are now planted with vines (three times as much as Australia) . There is a growing determination to get things right, and I have no doubt that China will succeed to the extent that within 10-15 years it will be a big player, producing world class wines which will challenge many wines from the traditional wine producing countries.
Jancis Robinson, the doyenne of British wine writers, has been visiting China every two years since 2001 and in a recent Financial Times article she said:“in recent years the number of entirely respectable reds has grown at an impressive rate.”
As a family we have always followed the mantra ‘Eat and drink local wherever possible’, so naturally we wanted to find decent Chinese wine. We have been helped in our quest by a chap here who is a bit of a local legend – using the moniker Beijing Boyce, he writes a blog called ‘The Grape Wall of China‘ as well as regular articles about beer and wine in newspapers and magazines here. If you have any interest in wine, and want to know about what may well start appearing in your local wine merchants, I urge you to read his blog.
And speaking of local wine merchants, Berry Bros & Rudd the prestigious firm in London, who supply the Queen and other members of the royal family with their wines, are now stocking 2008 Chateau Changyu Moser XV which retails at a mere £39 a bottle. A little steep for our domestic budget!
As a result of the DH’s efforts to track them down, we now have a mini-cellar (its a mini-cellar because we keep drinking the wines!) of some really good Chinese wine to offer guests from overseas. We want to show visiting (and local) westerners that contrary to long held belief, not all Chinese wines are crap. In fact many are truly excellent and can hold their own with good wines from both the old and new worlds.
Apart from the more expensive end of the wine producing spectrum, China has now got some of its own really good ‘quaffable’ wines: The People’s Series which are produced by Grace Vineyards – one of the leaders in China’s new wine movement which has been aided and abetted by Torres the famous Austrian wine producers.
We have also discovered delicious Rosé, perfect for summer drinking, which is also produced by Grace Vineyards.
So please join me in a rousing parody of the famous Marxist anthem, ‘The Red Flag’
The people’s wine is deepest red
And Cabernet is king it’s said,
With Pinot Noir and Merlot bold,
For vintners here its liquid gold.
Then raise a scarlet glassful high
With just one gulp we’ll live not die!
Though Foodies flinch, and Wine Snobs sneer,
We’ll keep the red wine flowing here!
Taking inspiration from the immortal words of the great Karl Marx himself, I would like to say: ‘Wine lovers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose…but your prejudices.’