Lunar New Year: Chinese Wine

The influence of Asian markets between 1996 and 2005 on fine wine, especially Bordeaux En Primeur, has been well documented. The Chinese market is willing to pay for fine wine, but the interest in wine far exceeds fine Bordeaux. China has shot up the list of wine-consuming countries and is now the sixth leading wine consumer worldwide consuming over 1 billion litres of wine annually. Of that billion, roughly 600 million litres are produced in China.

China has a long history of winemaking, beginning in the period of Emperor Wu of Han (140-88 BC). Much later in 1949, the People’s Republic of China became heavily involved in the country’s wine industry. For economic reasons, grape wine was often blended with other fruit and cereal-based liquids during this period. This led to wariness regarding domestic wine’s price-to-quality ratio. Higher-quality imported wine has put pressure on local production to improve. There has been a large local and international investment in wine production, most notably: Domaine Barons de Rothschild Chateau Lafite, Lurton, Moët Hennessy, Rémy Cointreau, Pernod Ricard and Torres.

It is becoming quite common in the UK for wine merchants to stock a bottle or two of Chinese wine, and chances are that as the quality continues to improve we will see more and more. A brief overview of Chinese wines follows.

Wine grapes, table grapes and raisins are grown across the country. China’s immense size makes it hard to generalize on terroir, but the West Coast has a maritime climate with high levels of rain; the Eastern regions are hot, dry and mountainous. Many indigenous grapes grow across China, but the highest regarded are French varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon (the premier grape), Cabernet Gernischt (aka Carménère), Merlot and Marselan.

There are twelve major wine regions in China, five of which are important to know:

  • Shandong – This is the largest producing region and is considered a Bordeaux-like area, being on the same latitude and having a maritime influence. This is where Rothschild’s Long Dai is located.
  • Ningxia – The other Bordeaux-like region. Ningxia has its own take on the 1855 Classification with 35 local producers named. This high-elevation region is on the edge of the Gobi desert.
  • Hebei – This area surrounds Beijing and is home to many of China’s mass wine producers.
  • Xinjiang – Bordering Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, this region is hot and dry. High-quality wine could be produced here in the future, but for now, transport issues due to the remote location force producers to focus on bulk wine.
  • Yunnan – Yunnan borders Laos and Myanmar. The top vineyard sites are on Shangri-La Mountain. This is where Moët Hennessy has invested.

Also worth noting, China produces a lot of high-quality dessert wine. The two best areas are Tianjin, for Black Muscat, and Liaoning, for Vidal Ice wine.

Interested in trying a Chinese wine? Head over to our online shop to see what we have on offer!