BELLE TAY­LOR Go west, wine lovers, for China’s best

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Think of wine tours and what comes to mind? Chateaux in France? Bu­colic scenery in New Zealand? Hip cel­lar doors in Cal­i­for­nia? The Ningxia Hui au­ton­o­mous re­gion? If you are a Chi­nese wine lover, then vis­it­ing Ningxia or Shanxi prov­ince to sam­ple a few reds might not be such an out­landish sug­ges­tion. But for most for­eign tourists, China is bet­ter as­so­ci­ated with the Great Wall than great drops of the good stuff.

En­ter one of the more novel Chi­nese tour com­pa­nies go­ing around, China Wine Tours. Run by Marc Cur­tis from the United States, CWT has been tak­ing groups of mainly US tourists to some of China’s top winer­ies for about three years.

“The first ques­tion I al­ways get is, ‘There is wine in China?’” Cur­tis says.

“The ini­tial re­ac­tion be­fore they go is real cu­rios­ity, real won­der if it’s go­ing to be even drink­able and then when they try some of the re­ally good wines they are quite pleased.”

Cur­tis says some of the big­ger winer­ies, such as Great Wall and Dy­nasty, are cater­ing well to tourists, but his picks of the bunch in terms of qual­ity are some of the smaller winer­ies.

“The best win­ery for a long time has been Grace Vin­yard in Shanxi, but it’s get­ting a real chal­lenge now from Ningxia, He­lan Moun­tain and the Yel­low River ar­eas, which have be­come quite the re­gion for grow­ing wine grapes,” Cur­tis says.

“Sil­ver Heights seems to be top­ping the list now as the best wine be­ing made in China ... winer­ies in Ningxia are def­i­nitely mov­ing up fast on the ‘Wow! I gotta try this’ list.”

Cur­tis’ tours com­bine wine tast­ing with some of China’s bet­ter-known tourist at­trac­tions, such as the Ter­ra­cotta War­riors and the Great Wall, but his cen­tral pas­sion is ex­pos­ing Chi­nese wine to the wider world.

“The con­cern for qual­ity, es­pe­cially in th­ese small bou­tique winer­ies, is mak­ing quite a dif­fer­ence,” Cur­tis says. “The un­for­tu­nate thing is, th­ese smaller winer­ies do not make enough to ex­port, so the only ones ex­port­ing at this point are the large producers whose qual­ity is real ques­tion­able.

“My con­cern, par­tic­u­larly in Amer­ica, is that peo­ple try some­thing like Great Wall or Dy­nasty out of cu­rios­ity — and they try th­ese wines once and that will be it, be­cause the qual­ity is just not up to world stan­dards. So I think it’s bet­ter when peo­ple come here and try the wines be­cause the qual­ity is good.”

Cur­tis says he tries to limit the tours to be­tween two and four a year, and says the best time to visit is har­vest time in the fall.


The re­cent TopWine China, 2013, show gave Bei­jing wine lovers a chance to try wines from just about ev­ery grow­ing re­gion in the world. In case your palate isn’t quite so­phis­ti­cated enough to spot the dif­fer­ence be­tween an Old World tem­pranillo and a New World cab sauv, you could tell where your wine came from by the out­fits that help­fully traded in cul­tural stereo­types: the Ger­mans had girls in dirndls, Ital­ians looked snappy in leather shoes and smart suits and the Aus­tralians ... had peo­ple dressed as slightly lumpy kan­ga­roos.

While French wine has a strong rep­u­ta­tion in China, many other Euro­pean wine grow­ing re­gions that are keen to build a pro­file here were show­ing off their wares at TopWine.

Spain had a no­table pres­ence at the show, with a wide range of wines from the Rioja re­gion, which are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly avail­able in China. The Rioja is ac­tu­ally split into three dif­fer­ent ar­eas through­out Spain, and pro­duces some fine Old World reds with rea­son­able price points. Think, big, fruity reds that will cel­lar well and pair ex­cel­lently with red meat. The Bode­gas Olarra Anares Reserva 2005 was ex­cel­lent drink­ing, as was the younger and lighter Bode­gas Olarra Cerro Anon 2010.


At the TopWine China show, Aus­tralians dressed as slightly lumpy kan­ga­roos.

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