Chinese Conundrum

Friday, October 8, 2021

The French wine industry has been patting itself on the back for regaining its position as the most imported wine in China (only after Australia was taxed out of the market). They have gone from mid-30s percent market share up to a smidge over 50 percent (Australia was 41.9 percent, now down to 6 percent) and a whole raft of other countries have been doing “happy dances” at their sudden and unexpected rise in sales of wine to China. For example, South Africa and Argentina are both sprouting that they are going to focus on the China market for their wines.

BUT they need to take heed of Australia’s cautionary tale. The Australian wine industry did nothing wrong and were eviscerated for political reasons.

There are some very early warning signs that the fiery dragon didn’t just start and finish with roasting Australia. The French (and others) need to take note there is a growing rumble that China is not happy about France taking a position in support of the Uyghurs. This alone could be enough for the Chinese, in their current titchy mood, to send the French “to Coventry”.

I just came across another little sign that the Frogs may be headed for that big pile of “doo-doo”.  French mega wine company, Castel Frères (the third largest wine company in the world), has just been fined in China for using superlative language such as “best quality” and “most ripest”, in its advertising.

The strange thing is that every single Chinese winery lays it on thick and fast using super-superlatives AND YET the very first ever winery to be fined was a foreign one, and a French one at that!

The Chinese really lay it on thick. In 2019 I stood in a vineyard just outside of Penglai City, that boldly said on a brass plaque: “here grow the best grapes in the world” – ironically it took three different people to be able to tell me that they were actually Merlot grapes – they knew they were the best but not what variety they were (so typical Chinese). I wonder what Château Pétrus would say about that?

Other signs of a restless dragon are the fact that last year, Xi Jinping, visited Ningxia Province where the Chinese wine industry is busy expanding into the desert. While there he extolled his fellow countrymen to drink Chinese wine and he announced that the new 5-year-plan (Yep, they still do those!) includes a provision for doubling the area under vine in China. If this is even anywhere near achieved that would make China the third or fourth largest wine producer in the world.

Then very recently (4-6 weeks ago) the central government rallied against business drinking and started a crackdown, like it did on gift-giving of alcohol back in 2014. We saw how that disrupted the wine market, albeit temporarily.

So the signs that the Dragon is going to push back some more are that they are getting more and more titchy internationally by:

►Gradually reducing trade with democracies and increasing trade with autocracies.

►Looking to double domestic wine production.

►At the same time rallying against business drinking to curb consumption.

►The President promoting locally made wines.

►A subtle slowing down of customs processing.

►Fining a foreign wine company for misleading advertising

Hmmm, who wants to focus their wine sales on China now?

Well that’s it for this week. Stay safe, always #chooseaustralianwine and when possible drink #emergingvarieties.  Cheers!

This Week's Wine Review:

September 17 marked, International Grenache Day, and thanks to the Barossa Grape & Wine Association, plus a few other wineries, my wine judging panel and I tasted thirty-two Grenache on the day, including one excellent Spanish Granacha and the very good amateur-made, “Five plus One” McLaren Vale Grenache 2018.

I preface these comments by saying that I drink wine for the enjoyment of its flavour and am indifferent to the level of alcohol in the wine. Thanks to Uber I am not worried about the breathalyser. I look for a well-balanced, integrated, flavoursome wine, be it anywhere from low alcohol up to supercharged high alcohol.

The wines ended up being divided into three categories. Firstly, there were a number of “new elegant, lighter style” wines which we oldies thought were “a bit thin, green and pissy” because the grapes had not been allowed to fully ripen before harvest and thus the superb, rich, Grenache flavours were lacking. While I don’t promote high alcohol wines per se, in my opinion Grenache needs to be fully ripe in order to impart its divine flavours and that ipso facto means, higher alcohol. If you want to make lighter style, lower alcohol wines – try another variety.

The second category was the superbly crafted, mid-weight (medium alcohol) wines which have a goodly degree of flavour and complexity without the full blown ripeness/alcohol. Here the skill of the winemaker in obtaining the max flavour out of the grape was evident. This category is in my opinion the future of Grenache.

The third category were the full blown, really ripe fruit/higher alcohol, almost old fashioned wines, which we oldies are accustomed to and love. The handful of these wines were still lower in alcohol than they were a few years ago, which is great. They were full blown, rich, succulent, magnificent wines with only one suffering from the “hotness” of unbalanced flavour to alcohol.

So which were the stand-out of the line-up? Well, in no particular order they were:

● Kellermeister ‘Whiskers’ Grenache 2019

● Greenock Creek Grenache 2020

● Turkey Flat Grenache 2020

● Z Wine ‘August Old Vine’ Grenache 2021

● Cirillo Estate ‘The Vincent’ Grenache 2020

● Purple Hands ‘Planta Circa’ Ancestor Vine Grenache 2018

● Cirillo Estate ‘1850’ Ancestor Vine Grenache 2014

● And a special mention to the Seppeltsfield Grenache 2021 which has just won the Rod Schubert Trophy (Class 19) at the Barossa Wine Show. A young juicy flavour packed wine that is already raring to go.

So that is my take on Grenache. I will always lean towards the richer, fuller style and drink other varieties such as Pinot Noir and Blaufränkisch when I want lighter style wines.

Cheers and remember to always #chooseaustralianwine