Friday, February 12, 2020

Despite their current five year plan (yes, they still have those) calling for the doubling of the acreage of grape vines planted, China’s actual wine production fell for the fifth year in a row, in 2020. The volume produced was 413 million litres of wine down from 451 million in 2019 and staggeringly down from 1,161 million litres in 2015. That is a mind blowing 64% drop in wine production over this period!! It is a bigger drop in output than if one were to remove all of the South Australian and Tasmanian wine production from Australia’s wine production figures.

Despite the official line that the reductions are a “realignment” of sourcing by their mega wine corporations such as the state owned, Great Wall Winery, and their largest wine company, Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, and that smaller premium producers are in fact increasing their production of premium quality Chinese wine, it is a catastrophic failure for their wine industry. At the same time wine imports into China dropped by 20% in value and nearly 30% in volume, so no matter how you look at the situation, all is not ‘rosy’ with wine in China.

Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that the Chinese Communist Government levied punitive, protectionist taxes on Australian wine late last year after we became the No.1 imported wine country for the first time (surpassing the French). The real surprise is that they did not raise the same or similar taxes on French, Spanish and Italian wines at the same time in an attempt to stop the haemorrhaging of their wine industry. One can only presume that this is because the association that raised the “dumping” complaint has 212 Chinese alcohol producers in its membership, including all the major Chinese wine companies, which in turn have a strong degree of French involvement in them. Be it technical advisors, shareholders or board members.

This has led to a very uneven playing field from which Australian wine will not be able to recover in the foreseeable future, as the likelihood of these punitive taxes being reduced are, in my opinion, almost non-existent.

Meanwhile the Chinese super premium wine push is being led by wineries such as Xige Estate, in the Ningxia region. Xige Estate is a US$45 million winery built in 2017 that has high ambitions of competing directly against Penfolds in the Chinese market. While there are now a few Chinese red wines which are retailing for around/over the AU$1,000 mark per bottle, they struggle to produce the same level of quality as Australia, France and other quality wine producers due to their shorter growing season in most areas.

In many growing areas such as Ningxia the vintners have to bury their vines under soil for the winter in order to prevent them from being killed by the severe frosts. This leads to no ‘old vines’ as after around 15-20 years the trunks snap off and also wines with higher malic acid (bitterness & greenness) content than is generally acceptable in super premium wines.

So whilst our Aussie winemakers are looking for other markets to export their wines to (sales to China in the last quarter of 2020 plummeted by 98%) consider that perhaps the ‘wine bubble’ in China is in the process of bursting.

Have a great week and remember to #chooseaustralianwine and #emergingvarieties


This Week's Wine Review:

This week I am talking about a winery rather about a specific wine.

Today we are heading up to the Riverland in South Australia, long regarded as the engine room of the Australian wine industry providing masses of commercial wines. However, in recent times there has been a rising tide of premium quality boutique winemakers in the region raising the areas reputation. Most of whom make excellent wines from some of the new emerging varieties. One such outfit is the organic grower, BASSHAM WINES, in Barmera, who specialise in emerging Mediterranean grape varieties, including becoming the first Australian growers of the Portuguese white variety, Fernao Pirao, and the Spanish red variety, Prieto Picudo. I caught up with Val and Bruce Bassham at this year’s Cellar Door Fest and tried the current wines in their extensive range of delicious wines.

As you can see from the attached images, the majority of their range are emerging varieties.

In the whites, the wines of particular note are:

BASSHAM 2017 FIANO (Italian variety): Attractive aromas including honey and spices with a splash of nuttiness. The palate is expressive, full of lime and lemon flavours with an acidity that makes it a fabulous food wine.

BASSHAM 2017 VERMENTINO (Italian variety): A sensational wine, delightful bouquet of elegant floral aromatics, with a crisp, tasty, zesty citrus palate and a refreshing finish.

BASSHAM 2014 PETIT MANSENG (French variety): Beautifully aged so that it is silky-smooth and ubber tasty, truly a superb wine. Alas it will eventually be phased out as Wine Australia has advised that all the Petit Manseng we have here is actually Gross Manseng (a name that is not a “bell ringer”), Shame as it is a sensational variety despite its name.

BASSHAM 2019 VERDEJO (Spanish variety): I love Verdejo (see my article in Winestate Magazine – Sep/Oct 2016 edition) and this example is ‘well equal’ to any of the crisp, young wines coming out of the region of Rueda in Spain. Bloody Brilliant!

In the reds, the wines of particular note are:

BASSHAM 2019 TOURIGA NACIONAL (Portuguese variety): Lovely, round and svelte with stacks of delightful flavours. A great example.

BASSHAM 2017 DURIF (French variety): Big, beautiful, and superbly balanced with lashings of flavour – unlike the Rutherglen style, this one’s raring to go right now.

BASSHAM 2019 SAPERAVI (Georgian variety): OMG! What a stunning, juicy red – just oozing with scrumptious flavours, great depth and a dash of complexity. More please!!

BASSHAM 2019 PRIETO PICUDO (Spanish variety): First release, young vines – masses of potential to become a superb wine as the vines age a bit.

There are even more emerging varieties in their range such as the Lagrein (divine), Graciano, Montepulciano and Nero d’Avola.

So as you can see I hold this small boutique, organic, Riverland producer in very high regards. I strongly urge you to try some of their sensational emerging variety wines which are capably helping to improve/upgrade the Riverland’s wine reputation whilst adapting to global warming.

Cheers and please enjoy quality Riverland wines! #chooseaustralianwine  #emergingvarieties

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