China Wine

November 29, 2019

This week we have a slightly different look at wine in China.

SPARKLING:  China has become interested in sparkling wine very slowly over recent years.

We started shipping still wine to China for our clients in 2006 and it wasn’t until 2010 that we sent any sparkling wine – and even then it was just a few cases in the container. Many pundits suggested that sparkling wine would not take off over there, however, the level of interest is growing as people have more occasions to celebrate than they did in the past.

Globally, sparkling wine has always been seen as a celebratory drink first and foremost, with regular consumption only following much later. While Prosecco is helping (slightly) to change this perception globally, sparkling wine is still considered a celebratory drink by the vast majority of people who consume it.  This applies to China, where last year the volume of imported sparkling wine rose to 12 million litres worth around $US82 million. A further sign of the growing acceptance is the fact that in September the first ever Sparkling Wine Festival was held in Shanghai. Organised by the Jing’an District Bureau of Culture and Tourism it is said to have attracted well over 40,000 wine and food lovers attendees.

This is a small but significant step forward for sparkling wine in the world’s (soon to be) biggest wine market. Which suggests that Australian wineries should place a fair bit of emphasis on their sparkling wines when presenting their wares to potential Chinese customers – by suggesting to the potential distributor that they could be a leader/trendsetter in this upcoming category, which will blossom over the next few years as more young people engage with wine. The younger wine drinkers lack the older generation’s preconceived ideas about red wine and are more led by their palate than mythology. Another sign of a bright sparkling future is the fact that Champagne House Moët & Chandon (owned by Moët Hennessey) has set up operations in China, as it has done in Australia and the USA.

A NEW-NEW WORLD WINERY:  Given that China’s wine industry is still in its infancy (despite its ancient roots), China should be called a “New World Wine Country” and as such one of its newest wineries, Xige Estate in Ningxia is certainly brand New-New World. Opened in 2017, the $US45 million winery is aiming to eventually produce around 13 million bottles of wine across three tiers. It is state of the art in every respect from design to equipment.  Unlike most other spectacular wineries in Ningxia, Xige Estate is owned by a qualified French trained viticulturist, Zhang Yanzhi, who is very experienced in the ‘wine trade’, His winemaker is, Liao Zusong, who has done stints at the Australian Pinot Noir Guru, “Bass Phillip”, and Shiraz specialists, “Mollydooker”.

Their aim is to overturn the international misconception that Chinese wine is either undrinkable or way too expensive for its quality. Zhang believes that most of the larger producers (often state owned) have become complacent and strive for volume rather than quality. (That sounds familiar to the situation here late last century!!)

Ningxia is China’s up-and-coming wine region on the edge of the Gobi Desert. So far it has 87 wineries and produces around 25% of China’s wine. See my article, “Is Ningxia Next”, in the WBM Sept/Oct 2018 edition.

Given Xige Estates’ drive and eagerness to succeed, I would suggest that in a few years’ time you should keep an eye out for the wines of this “cool operator” because I am sure that they will be pretty darn good.

Can you imagine one day drinking Chinese wine with your dinner at your local Chinese restaurant?  It is only a matter of time before it happens. Cheers!

This Week's Wine Review:

This week I am talking about, Running Horse Wines, at Broke-Fordwich in the Hunter Valley. If the name sounds familiar it is because I have mentioned them before in my Blog on October 11, 2019, as they caught my imagination with their cellar door being built out of six shipping containers.

Recently while up in the Hunter, I took the opportunity to visit them and try their wines. Owner and jack-of-all-trades, Dave Fromberg, showed me around his unique and very cleverly designed cellar door, with its stunning views over the Broke-Fordwich Valley and Yellow Rock, before we got down to tasting his wines.

Another unusual feature (other than the name and the cellar door construction) of this winery is the fact that they have a number of back vintages of their wines available for tasting and purchasing.

Being in the Hunter we started with the Running Horse 2017 HUNTER VALLEY Semillon: Bright citrus aromas with a lovely bright, well balanced palate. A classic young Hunter Semillon, tight and austere.

Then in contrast we tried the Running Horse 2006 HUNTER VALLEY Semillon: At 13-years-old it is developing amazingly, with a light, bright yellow colour, an awesomely complex bouquet with delightful toasty, buttery characters, yet still has plenty of good, tight acidity on the mellowing finish. TRULY SUPERB!!

The eleven-year-old Verdelho came next with its delicate, light yellow colour, vibrant, rich and toasty bouquet. The palate included very attractive stone fruit characters with a trace of honeysuckle in the rich, mouth-filling, beautifully rounded palate. It brought back memories of the divine Lindemans Hunter Verdelhao (Yes, that was the way they spelt it back then!) in the early 1980s at the same age at 10-15-years-old. BLOODY GORGEOUS!!

We then switched to the Rosé, starting with the delectable Running Horse 2015 Rosé (current release): Although the colour was fading slightly (i.e. wasn’t super bright) the wine was powering along with lovely strawberry aromatics and a silky, smooth palate with stacks of beautifully balanced flavours.

This was followed by the Running Horse 2011 Rosé: Yep, an eight-year-old Rosé that was powering along and delightful. It would give many a young Rosé a good run for their money!!

Finally we came to Dave’s pride and Joy, his Running Horse HUNTER VALLEY Shiraz: We started with the current release 2016 and then worked our way through the 2015, 2014, 2011, 2008, 2006 and 2005 vintages. Each and every one was an excellent example of the Hunter valley style of Shiraz, medium-bodied with great length and depth of flavour. Each wine varied slightly being the reflection of the vintage, except for the 2015, which due to the heavy rainfall at harvest was picked much later (nearly a month) than normal and turned out to be lighter in style and body. Dave calls it his “Hunter Pinot” as it certainly displays the characteristics that one used to be able to find in Hunter Pinot when they were still being made in the Hunter during the 1970s and early 1980s.

The 2005 Shiraz was truly magnificent, browning slightly in colour, with rich, complex aromas including some bottle maturation characters. It had lashings of medium-bodied (Hunter style) flavours and still at 14-years-old had a nice tight, slightly grippy finish that helps to make it a superb food wine.

While Running Horse Wines is a bit out of the way from the Pokolbin end of the Hunter Valley, it is definitely worth the 20 minute trip to get there (and there are other wineries to visit in the area as well).

Everything about this place is sensational, the views, the cellar door, the host, and above all, the wines – be they the young ones or the magnificently matured ones which are very reasonably priced.

I strongly suggest that you check out and make it an integral part of your next Hunter Valley visit. You will not be disappointed.

Cheers and here’s to the unique style and the taste of well-aged Hunter Semillon and Verdelho. Oh, what a ripper!!