Is Chinese Wine Any Good?
   2013-07-10 11:28:03      Web Editor: Wu Tong

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China's thirst for wine is growing. Over 270 million litres were imported into the country in 2012, up over 10% from the year before, according to data from China's customs authority. As China's middle class grows, so too does the demand for foreign wine. But China also produces wine. Here the challenge is not just matching the quality of produce from more established markets of Europe, South American and Australia. There's also the question of image. Can consumers - both in China and abroad - be persuaded to choose a local brand over a more exotic name? We visited the Bar Home vineyard in Xinjiang to find out.

The company is clearly used to visitors. They've developed a small museum dedicated to wine. Pictures and diagrams on the wall explain the process of making the world famous drink. Downstairs we stepped into a cold and dank cellar with racks  containing hundreds of unlabelled black dusty bottles, each held horizontally with the cork end pointing slightly downwards.  Around the corner was a glass wall with several huge casks of presumably fermenting wine. Later we were taken out into the  vineyard itself. The one we saw was the size of a football pitch, filled with rows of grapevines. Each one had a  weatherbeaten sign at the end specifying the kind of grape such as French Blue and Merlot.

This was June, though and the grapes were still small, green and unripe. Bai Linyan was working in the field. She told us the  grapes will ripen in August when it can take dozens of them up to 4 days to harvest. I wanted to know if she enjoyed - or had  even tasted wine. The answer was no. Linyan is from the Hui ethnically minority, which is predominantly Muslim.

Looking on at the edge of the field was Ma Wenjun, head of the vineyard. He claims Xinjiang is an excellent environment for  growing grapes. The health of the vines and the strength of the sun seemed to prove him right. However, he did admit that wine from China suffers an image problem.

"Virtually no Chinese wine is exported abroad; we import far more," he said. "Chinese people prefer foreign wine. Domestic  wine needs to be better promoted. But despite this, foreigners highly praise Xinjiang wine; and its taste is very suitable  for Chinese because it has a low acidity, little tannin, and a soft and mellow taste."

Later our group got a chance to judge for ourselves the quality of this vineyard's output when we were taken for dinner in a  European style banquet hall. The result was mixed... A long wooden table stretching down the middle of the long room  contained several empty glasses, which were soon to be filled with a deep red wine. I smelled mine deeply and swilled the liquid in the glass trying, unsuccessfully, to look professional. I took a loud slurp and swallowed. Not bad, I thought. Not  too bitter, and not too sweet. Palatable. But others disagreed. One Chinese member of our party described the wine as  "undrinkable." And another said, "It's good, but it's a little bitter and it's not entirely to my taste. But top marks for  effort."

It seems you can't please everyone. It might take a little more time to convince these people - and the international market  - of the quality of Chinese wine.


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