The Wine Guy Eddie McDougall – Alternative wine country: China

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Illustraion by Cat O'neil

Eddie McDougall pops across the border to find the China's best wines

The juicy bits

Despite having centuries of experience in the science of fermentation – think tofu, baijiu, yellow wine and Harbin beer – it wasn’t until the 1980s that China began to consider the production of grape wines. Now, it’s one of the most rapidly developing wine producing countries in the world. While the most popular planted varietals are for red wines, specifically cabernet sauvignon, in my opinion, this fad limits the country’s full winemaking potential. I have a strong belief that more rugged Spanish and South American varietals – like malbec, verdejo or tempranillo – would be better suited. 

Wine regions of the country

Hebei
Viticulture in Hebei is split between two regions in particular – the hilly terroir of Huailai, northwest of Beijing, and, to the east of the capital, the coastal city of Changli. Primarily cabernet sauvignon.

Ningxia
Another region predominantly planted with red varietals. Due to the extreme cold climate, the vines have to be laboriously buried every autumn to protect them from freezing to death. The first development bureau for wine in China was established in Ningxia, emphasising the area’s importance in the country’s wine industry.

Shanxi
The terrain here is mainly made up of a plateau bounded partially by mountain ranges. It has a typical continental climate with four distinctive seasons, low humidity, high intensity of sunlight and a large diurnal temperature difference. Sits on a similar latitude to Bordeaux.

Xinjiang
Formerly a massive producer of raisins, this region is now one of the biggest producers of both table and wine grapes in China. Yet, compared to the rest of the country, its modern wine industry has developed slowly because of its remote location in the far west of the country, bordering the likes of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the resulting high transportation costs.

Yantai
The largest wine-producing region in China, the province produces 40 percent of Chinese wine. Yantai’s location benefits from its warm temperate continental monsoon climate, and is currently the only wine region in northern China that’s warm enough not to have to bury its vines in winter.

Yunnan
All the vineyards in Yunnan are small and dispersed due to the mountainous terrain. However, LVMH Moët Hennessy recently invested in the northwestern sector of Yunnan, Shangri-la, to grow grapes organically for quality red wines. We all know what it means when the big boys move in…

My wine recommendations

Silver Heights The Summit, cabernet blend, Ningxia
Pair with Moroccan-spiced grilled lamb rump for a twist on a classic. $580. Available at The Flying Winemaker, 604-605 Yu Yuet Lai Bldg, 43-55 Wyndham St, Central, 2522 2187; flyingwinemaker.asia.

Chateau Nine Peaks, chardonnay, Shandong
Pair with lobster e-fu noodles to help cut the sauce’s richness. $250. Available at East Meets West Wines, Unit A-C, Golden Sun Ctr, 59 Bonham Strand W, Sheung Wan, 3955 1580, emw-wines.com.

Follow Eddie on Instagram @theflyingwinemaker

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