The wines of China

May 23, 2010

Soon, I will go the China again, and I very much look forward to this visit. When we moved to China in 1990 we were so happy that wine made from grapes was available at all. That was the time of the first French- or Italian-Chinese joint ventures. Ever since the Chinese wine industry has made great progress.

However, if you look for boutique vineyards, China is the wrong place. China after all was and is a beer drinking place. In the countryside it is “bai jiu” (high percentage white liquor or Schnaps) made from maize or sorghum (gao liang) which is consumed in large quantities.

Most of the grape wines on sale in shops and supermarkets in big Chinese cities come from the corporate wine producers such as Dynasty Wines or Great Wall Wines. In 1990 Dynasty, a joint venture of Remy Martin set up in Tianjin in 1980 (only the second joint venture in China at the time), was already 10 years old.

Dynasty Dry Red Wine

Back label

Great Wall Red Wine

Back label

As everything, wine-making goes back a long way in China. However, after the end of the cultural revolution and the start of the economic reform era, there was hardly any expertise left. With the help of wine-makers from France, Italy and Australia, Chinese vintners have made remarkable advances. The product range of the large corporate producers is quite impressive.

Today grape wines are gaining popularity. Especially red wine is popular among male consumers and a kind of status symbol as well. For Western wine connoisseurs some of the consumption habits of the Chinese are strange (or disgusting). For instance the custom of drinking first class Bordeaux wine mixed with soft drinks, called “Red wine set menu” (one bottle of red, ice and two cans of sprite or coke).

The largest producing region is Yantai-Penglai in Shandong province with about 40% of total production in China. It is estimated that China will match the quality of Bordeaux wines in about 50 years time.

I will check it out next week. I’ll keep you posted.

Karl Marx and Chinese Grape Wine

November 28, 2008

To state it from the outset, Karl Marx never ever tasted Chinese grape wine in his lifetime. However, Karl Marx, the most famous son of my home town Trier, used to own for some time some of the better vineyards properties along the Ruwer river, a tributary of my beloved Mosel river.

The Marx family vineyard was found in the location “Viertelsberg” a medium quality terroir near the castle ‘Gruenhaus’. In 1857 the family sold its vineyards in Mertesdorf. Karl not only invested in vineyards and the wine industry but he also loved to drink Mosel wine. I frankly do not understand how Marx could survive those many years in London where good Mosel wines were certainly hard to come by in the latter half of the 19th century.

Marx would have enjoyed the samples of “College Wine” produced by the Chinese Agricultural University (CAU) oenology department. The wine is produced for purely non-commercial reasons. The bottles were presented to me by an old friend. We enjoyed it over a meal which marked our reunion. The wine went very well with the Chinese food on offer. Later at home in Bangkok we would have it with an Italian pasta. But in this case I felt that some depth and ‘strength’ was lacking.


The grapes for this wine come from Changli in Hebei province and were supplied to the oenology department by the well known Huaxia Winery. When I lived in Beijing in the early 1990s, it was marketed as Great Wall wine.


Swirling in the glass – what a beautiful ruby-red colour

The wine displays the typical varietal character of a Cabernet Sauvignon but is medium to lights bodied. At 12% alcohol it’s a bit “thin”/”light” for my taste. In comparison, it went well with Chinese but not Italian food.


A somehow classic design

PS: Despite the fact that the CAU is a modern university, at the entrance to its eastern campus, one of the few statues of Mao Zedong graces the gate. When I lived in Beijing in the early 1990s, my friend David McGrath (al marhum), chased the remaining Mao statues still standing in the capital city. He took photos of all of them. If I remember correctly David identified 8 statues. Around ‘Xue Yuan’ road where I stayed, I found 4 of these 8 in no time. All were to be found at the entrances of universities or other academic institutions.


The four Mao statues

F.l.t.r. and up to down: Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development, China University of Geosciences, University of Science and technology, China Agricultural University.