Traditionally a baijiu and huangjiu country, the concept of Chinese wine may at the first sight appear as peculiar as employing Oriental brush strokes and paper to depict biblical stories. But if the Yellow River Piano Concerto can be performed with European wind instruments, there is no reason why wine and vine cannot prosper in a country with a protracted history of viticulture and winemaking.
Chinese viticulture and winemaking are often associated with Xiyu (literally: the Western Regions). In the 2nd century BC, when the Roman Republic was busy finishing off its archrival Carthage in the Third Punic War, Imperial China under the Han Emperor Wu was preoccupied with defeating Xiongnu and projecting its power deep into the Western Regions. Envoys and missions were dispatched to the Central Asian kingdoms, many of which were Hellenised by Alexander the Great’s Macedonia in the preceding century, bringing back horses and grapes to China.
When the Roman Empire was embroiled in the Crisis of the 3rd Century, China was in the midst of the Three Kingdoms period, one of the bloodiest in its history. Wei Emperor Cao Pi – son of the stereotypical Machiavellian warlord Cao Cao and elder brother of the foremost poet of the time Cao Zhi – remarked that wine tasted sweeter than cereal-based alcoholic drinks. During the Tang dynasty, wine consumption became increasingly common thanks to Pax Sinica and state tolerance of the time – after all, the imperial Li family had non-Han lineage.
In the 21st century, both consumption and production of wine in China are on a meteoric rise. With approximately 500,000ha under vine, China is ranked top 10 worldwide by both vineyard area and production volume. Red grape varieties and red wine – particularly Bordeaux blend – represent more than 80% of all vineyards and wine production, and 90% of Chinese wine is consumed domestically. Responsible for ca. 40% of national total, the Yantai-Penglai region of Shandong is the largest wine-producing area of China, whereas Xinjiang valiantly maintains its historical status. All the while, Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Jilin, Hebei, Shanxi, Ningxia, Gansu and even Yunnan are on the ascendant.
When Marco Polo reached China in the 13th century, he was impressed by wines from Turfan, Xinjiang. Some 200 years since, Admiral Zhenghe commanded seven voyages across the oceans into unchartered waters, the largest of which was the sixth voyage in 1421. The 1421 Silver Series is in various ways Chinese viticultural and winemaking history in a bottle. Jacky I.F. Cheong
To discover the hidden treasure of Chinese wine, contact Ms Bolormaa Ganbold of PREM1ER Hospitality Management and PREM1ER BAR; W: www.premiergroupworld.com; E: email@example.com; T: +853 6233 5262
1421 Silver Series Chardonnay 2010
A single-varietal Chardonnay sourced from Fukang, Xinjiang and produced in Yantai, Shandong. Bright citrine with luminous golden reflex, the nose is lifted and refreshing, offering lemon peel, greengage and peach pit for fruits, infused with fresh herbs and Longjing green tea. Supported by crispy acidity and clear minerlaity, the palate is citrus-driven and invigorating, delivering lime peel, grapefruit and green apple for fruits, supplemented by rock salt and crushed rock. Medium-bodied at 12%, the tangy entry continues through a vibrant mid-palate, leading to a minerally finish.
1421 Silver Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
A single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from Fukang, Xinjiang and produced in Yantai, Shandong. Dark garnet with rich carmine-purple rim, the nose is fragrant and leafy, effusing bilberry and black cherry for fruits, imbued with blackcurrant leaf, cedarwood and pencil shaving. Buttressed by abundant acidity and fresh tannins, the palate is herbaceous and lively, emanating cassis and damson for fruits, complemented by tomato leaf, tobacco and cigar box. Medium-bodied at 12%, the juicy entry carries onto an expressive mid-palate, leading to a herbal finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages