A Chinese Toast

The 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards dinner was held last Wednesday with the results of the top awards winners announced on the night. For the first time in its history a Chinese Wine took an International Trophy, the highest award level, in the Red Bordeaux Varietal Over £10 class.

I’ve travelled to China a few times now and have barely scratched the surface of its domestic wines which were, up until a few years ago at least, regarded as a low quality, high volume offerings. Truth be told some of what I did drink over there remains so, however, slowly but surely, an ethos of quality over quantity is spreading amongst a small number of Chinese wine producers which hopefully will continue after this week’s news.

Of course I haven’t been to Ningxia province where the award winner (the Jia Bei Lan 2009 Cabernet blend) was made – and it is not available in the UK – but I did manage to go to Château Bolongbao outside Beijing nearly a year ago, which I wrote about on Reign of Terroir in my Fabrique en Chine post last December. Here I picked up a bottle of 2004 品丽珠 (Cabernet Franc) for the princely sum of £30 and this weekend seems like the perfect excuse to open it and toast Chinese winemakers!

On first pour the wine looks remarkably clear and pale for a Cabernet Franc, more Pinotesque with a tawny hue giving the appearance of much more age than the 2004 on the label would suggest.

The nose is smoky and sweet, a touch of spice but also some stewed fruit, developing tobacco aspects after a little time in the glass. There’s a little vegetal aspect hidden away and overall it’s very pleasant (as long as you’re not looking for something fresh and fruity).

The taste is delicate with a port-like flavours, although without the alcohol. There’s a touch of raisin as well, subtle, but definitely there – I wonder if 2004 was a hot year near Beijing? The tannins are light and fine-grained, with some chocolate texture from the mid-palate through into the finish which at first seems short but then you notice a lingering aftertaste, not quite bitter, not quite sweet. There’s just enough acidity to balance the tannins and retain a freshness than means I’m now onto the third glass and heading towards a fourth (good job the abv is only 12.5%!).

The wine is good, 3+ stars, maybe approaching 4. It’s not a £30 wine compared to some that you can get in the UK, but this is something that you can’t get here and I’m not disappointed I bought it – I’m enjoying the flavours and textures plus it has an emotional aspect after coming back with me all those thousands of miles from a small winery a short distance outside of Beijing City.

Gan bei!

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