China is famed for its cuisine, but what about its wine?
We might be familiar with drinking rice wine or sake out of tiny, porcelain bowls, but what about swirling a glass of Chinese cabernet sauvignon before tucking into a dish of grilled hoisin beef?
Chinese food is very much established globally, however the same can’t be said of its offerings in a glass – yet, that is.
China did have, and is now reviving, an ancient and rich wine culture, this time with an international flavour.
The Chinese have been producing wine using grapes since the days of the Silk Road and today, according to Janet Z. Wang, author of The Chinese Wine Renaissance, China’s wine market is worth around $18 billion a year.
It currently produces more than one billion litres annually, making it one of the largest wine producers and consumers in the world.
So why is Chinese wine so little known in the West, until now?
To understand more, here’s what to be aware of...
China’s wine culture is tied to its prosperity
“In times of hardship and chaos, winemaking is often prohibited or disrupted, but as the nation prospers, wine and culture flourish.
So as China re-emerges from a perilous period in recent history, to become a global super power, winemaking is experiencing a renaissance – this time embracing influences and expertise from around the world,” explains Wang.
“As a result, there’s a boom in demand as well as production, through international joint ventures, private and state-backed enterprises.
And now, as vines and know-how gain in maturity, Chinese wines are making inroads in the global arena.”
There are three key wine growing regions
Wang suggests opening a bottle from Ningxia, Shandong or Xinjiang provinces: “They are the most prominent wine regions in China and will take you from the land of the ancient Silk Road in the far west of China, to the other end where the Yellow River empties into the East China sea, via some unique terroirs verging the Gobi Desert, and foothills of once impassable mountain ranges.”
China grows a variety of grapes
“While cabernet sauvignon is the most planted grape in China, carmenere (known in China as cabernet gernischt) is the most established and marselan (originally a French variety, cabernet sauvignon x grenache) is a rising star,” notes Wang.
“For whites, chardonnay and riesling dominate.
“There are interesting local varieties too, such as longyan (dragon eye).”
The wines are fruity and approachable
“Chinese wines tend to be ‘fruit forward’ and ‘food friendly’ in style,” says Wang, “as vines are generally still quite young and wine is usually enjoyed with food.”
Keen to try some Chinese wines? Here are three to start with...
1.Changyu Noble Dragon Riesling, China (£7, Sainsbury’s)
Lots of fruity fun with a floral bouquet and a peachy, lemony character to complement sweet-and-sour dishes.
2. Chateau Changyu Moser XV White Cabernet Ningxia 2016, China (£15.95, Slurp)
A white wine made from red cabernet sauvignon grapes – sounds intriguing doesn’t it? It pairs perfectly with Peking duck and pancakes.
3. Moser Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Ningxia 2013, China (£120, case of 6, in bond, Berry Bros & Rudd)
If you really want to satisfy your curiosity, Berry Bros & Rudd have a case (in bond – meaning it must be purchased by the unmixed case and stored in a bonded warehouse approved by HM Customs & Excise, which Berry Bros & Rudd accommodate) of this cab sav, which they suggest is an Old World style. So if you love a good claret, this could be your go-to
Chinese equivalent, to be enjoyed at a later date.
The Chinese Wine Renaissance: A Wine Lover’s Companion by Janet Z. Wang, foreword by Oz Clarke, is published by Ebury Press, priced £25. Available now.