I just returned from a 22-day whirlwind tour of South Korea, Japan, and China, hence the 2-week neglect of the Crew. Plus as an additional hindrance, in typical Communist Party fashion, WordPress.com was actually blocked from Chinese servers. However, other than that let down, these past few weeks have been simply amazing. The Chinese people were extremely friendly and the filtered, censored, unitary, yet at the same time diverse and colorful culture was absolutely fascinating.
Since my last day was spent in Beijing, visiting the Great Wall of China, I thought a tasting of Great Wall Wine would match up perfectly. But first let me breakdown the current wine situation in the People’s Republic of China. Chinese wine began to take shape in the 1980s when French and Western wine caught on and many French-taught Chinese winemakers emerged. China is currently the 6th largest grape-wine producer in the world with over 500 producers currently registered. It is only a matter of time before China takes the number on spot. 83% of the wine is sold domestically and many producers have implemented marketing tactics similar to Napa Valley in order to attract and accommodate visitors. As of 2007, 90% of the wine consumed was red and females tend to be the more avid drinkers. The most productive wine regions/provinces include Xinjiang, Tianjin, Shandong, Jinlin, Hebei, Henan, and Yunnan. Many regions suffer from extreme climates, requiring such methods as burying vines to protect against the cold.
Dynasty, Great Wall and Changyu are the leading producers, and a number of premium producers are also emerging, such as Huadong (Shandong), Shanxi Grace (Shanxi), Lou Lan (Xinjiang), Turpan (Xinjiang), Suntime Manas (Xinjiang), and Bodegas Langes (Hebei).
Great Wall Wine Company Ltd. is located at the foot of the Great Wall next to the Guanting Lake. COFCO Wine & Spirits, which owns the Great Wall brand, is one of the top 500 enterprises in the world. Great Wall Co. currently produces 7 different types of wine (dry, semi-sweet, sweet, fragrance-infused, sparkling, distilled, and compounding) and 40 different labels. The Great Wall Dry White Wine and Great Wall Semi-Sweet White Wine have become famous in the domestic market, winning 14 Gold and Silver medals from Chinese and international wine authorities.
1990 Great Wall 4-Star, COFCO Wine and Spirits
Appellation: Guanting Lake, China (Office location only. I lost the label and the WWW proved worthless when trying to confirm the AOC of this bottle)
Blend: cabernet sauvignon, merlot
Source: Olé Supermarket Beijing
Tasting Notes: Maroon in the glass. Aromas of tea, light oxidation, mushrooms, vegetables, wet moss, grass, black cherries, and strawberries. A medium-bodied dry wine with unbalanced low acidity and mild tannins and flavors of mushrooms and unripe red fruits. This wine was past its prime and suffered from a little TCA.
Closing Note: I do not recommend this particular bottle; it was far too old. However, I did taste a much younger bottle of Great Wall Dry Cabernet for around $6, and although it had no complexity, it had a vibrant acidity and fresh fruits in the mouth, which made it much more drinkable. I’d give it a 10-11 rating. Chinese wine experts are convinced that within 50 years Chinese wine will rival any top shelf French wine; so it will be interesting to watch as Chinese wine progresses.