Chinese Wine Becomes the Giant Killer

chinaWow. It’s the Judgement of Paris all over again, except that this time, California isn’t the David that slays France’s Goliath. This time, it’s China that knocks off the big guys.

At the recent Decanter World Wine Awards, the 2009 Jia Bei Lan Cabernet blend from He Lan Qing Xue winery took top honors, winning the Red Bordeaux Varietal Over £10 International Trophy. (Thanks to, and you can read their full article here.)

This shouldn’t come as a total surprise. I (and many other wine writers) have written about the emerging Chinese wine industry, but I’ll admit that I, for one, didn’t take it all that seriously. But I guess we have to now.

I was pretty curious to learn the details about this international wine star from China. For me it’s the context of a wine — the region where it’s created, the climate, the winemaker’s philosophy — that create the wine’s story. So let’s see what we can discover about this award-winning Chinese wine.

The 2009 Jia Bei Lan is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and something called Cabernet Gernicht. It comes from Ningxia Provimce in northern China, which apparently experiences incredible extremes in temperature. Summers are blisteringly hot and winters are bitterly cold, with temps often going as low as -25 degrees C.

Just how cold is it? They have to bury the vines in order to keep them alive. Wow. And they can grow world-class Cabernet in this climate?

The judges at the Decanter Awards thought so. Here are their comments about the winning wine: judges described the wine as ‘supple, graceful and ripe but not flashy’ and praised its ‘excellent length and four-square tannins’.

So how does an infant wine region learn to make wine like that? You learn the trade in Bordeaux, of course. The winemaker — trained in Bordeaux and did an internship at the famed Third Growth Bordeaux house, Chateau Palmer.

What would make this picture complete for me would be for us (as in, us American wine lovers) to taste this Chinese wine and be able to compare it to Bordeaux blends we know and love. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen: the award-winning wine is sold only in China. Maybe this is the market pressure that’s needed to bring Chinese wine onto the world stage.

I’d say that after all this publicity, whaever’s gonna happen is gonna happen soon.






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