Wine column for week of June 17

Ningxia province offers an exciting perspective on China’s potential to make great wine. Ningxia is about 900km west of Beijing.
A tasting of a dozen of the region’s best wines was a revelation for someone who has only ever tasted a handful of palatable Chinese wine. Since 2011 I have tasted several score of reds and whites costing from 30 RMB to about 200 RMB ($US 5 to 35). Almost all were undrinkable. Too much like coloured water and alcohol, with no flavour or character.
Meanwhile, Ningxia has decided to focus on quality. Jim Boyce, creator of the Grape Wall of China blog in Beijing, said at the Hong Kong tasting that this focus was a wise move for the region, though he thought prices were still too high.
Ningxia has about 30 vineyards, with another 60 scheduled. Some of those 30 produce wines would gather silver medals at international events, and exhibit significant potential for improvement.
The region decided to plant mostly international varieties. The most common are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet gernicht (believed to be related to carmenere), chardonnay and Italian riesling.
Ningxia has lots of advantages as a wine-growing region. It is located in a beautiful valley between the Yellow River, which provides plenty of water, and the Helan Mountains, which provides protection from winds. Jim Boyce said it also had a local government that supported the region’s aspirations to produce quality products.
The only disadvantages, Boyce said, were lack of consumer awareness of the region and high labour costs, which means wines were relatively expensive.
Of the dozen wines tasted, most were worthy of medals at international wine events.
The 2011 Helan Mountain special reserve chardonnay was an attractive wine, green gold in the glass with crisp green apple aromas, and the same taste in the mouth, along with fresh acidity and formidable length.
The taste of the wine lingered on my palate the way music from the classic Chinese stringed instrument, the erhu, floats across a lake at night. It sells for about 300 RMB (about $US 50).
The 2011 Xixia King Diplomatic Envoy Italian riesling costs the same price. While not as impressive a wine, it has a certain charm with its floral rose and sweet mouthfeel. It tastes like ripe melon, with a hint of lemon rind at the end. It might present better with appropriate food, such as dumplings.
The vineyard was founded in 1984 and has major plans for expansion with 132,000 mu under vines in a total available area of 300,000 mu. The vineyard also produces 50 million seedlings a year for sale to other properties.
The 2009 Chateau Yuhuang cabernet sauvignon was one of the most expensive wines presented, at 688 RMB (about $US 110), but it exudes class. It has a classic cabernet nose of cassis and red berries that positively jumps from the glass, followed by flavours of ripe plums and raspberries in the mouth.
Tannins are silky with a pleasant green pepper tang. Winemaker David Tyney should be congratulated on his achievement, given the vines are only a decade old.
Highlight for me was the 2009 Silver Heights Emma’s Reserve cabernet sauvignon. Winemaker Emma Goa is part of a family-owned operation that only produces 5,000 cases a year.
This wine offers aromas of mint, cedar and dark berries plus an elegant quality that was like catching a hint of perfume on a hot summer night, even though the person wearing the fragrance was many metres away.
Tannins are relatively well integrated given the fact the wine was stored in new French oak for 24 months. It still needs some time but this wine will be a delight in another few years. It is well priced at 400 RMB (about $US 60).
The final wine presented was the 2008 Chateau Changyu Moser, a blend of 90 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 10 per cent merlot. This is the first Chinese wine that Berry Brothers and Rudd in the United Kingdom started stocking, from earlier this year.
It is pricey at 540 RMB (about $US 90) but you can tell your friends you drank wine from what is believed to be China’s first vineyard, established in 1892, even though this wine was made from vines only 10 years old.
The wine offers aromas of truffles, ripe plumbs and mushrooms. The tannins are still tight so this red is best consumed in another half decade.
After years of drinking very ordinary Chinese wines, it was a pleasure to encounter bottles I would happily drink again. Ningxia has great potential.
Words: 758

Categories: Not home, wine

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