Sunday, 14 March 2010

Decanter on Chinese Wine

'Chinese Wine: Pie in the Sky?'
Decanter, April 2010, p.60-63

China's role as a rising wine market has been in the media a lot recently. I suppose that for a country of 1.3 billion even a 0.001% increase in consumption must be perceived as a boon for struggling wine exporters around the world. Yet despite all this salivating about China as a potential export market the vast majority of wine drunk there is still locally produced. Edward Ragg's article in Decanter turns away from speculation on China as a wine consumer and rather looks at China as wine producer.

Visiting a Chinese supermarket isn't necessarily my idea of a good time, but if you ever manage to barge through to the wine aisle you'll be greeted with row after row of Great Wall Cabernet, along with a small international selection of which Jacob's Creek is normally the choice offering. China is the World's sixth largest producer of wine, yet we rarely hear a thing about these home grown drops. The reason for this lack of acknowledgement is perhaps simple; the wine normally sucks. I try to taste a bit of Chinese wine and am regularly disappointed; the vast majority of reds are undrinkable, though the whites, when young, can be more palatable.
Ragg's article is an interesting account of Chinese wine production. He discusses the differences between the
big three companies (Changyu, Dynasty and Great Wall - who have much of the market stitched up) and the smaller more boutique operations that benefit from foreign investment and wine makers. Casting a critical eye over China's established vineyard areas problems of frost, storms and humidity are mentioned, though some of these are offset by an abundant supply of cheap and plentiful labour. Ragg also makes an interesting point about China's the obsession with Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape he argues that is responsible for many of its unripe, bitter reds; he suggests that Merlot, Gamay and Tempranillo would be more sensible alternatives . I enjoyed the article that I thought offered a fair summary of the state of this massive country. As a Hong Kong resident I'd love to see the Chinese wine industry come online; how good would it be having an abundance of locally produced, good value wine available just across the border?

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