While we don't have much that's worth drinking on our shelves just yet, expect Chinese wine to get a lot of attention in the months and years to come. Many writers, critics and other wine folk who have visited their winemaking regions and/or tasted the wines coming out of China say that the country is poised to make a serious breakthrough in the global market.
Take, for example, the recent win of the He Lan Qing Xue winery's 2009 Jia Bei Lan Cabernet blend at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards. In a competition that only gives out 25 awards to the best among the 12,000 entries, the winery's win in the Red Bordeaux Varietal Over £10 in the International category is pretty huge.
There are a lot of wine lovers in China who are willing to spend some serious yuan on fine wines. Bordeaux has long been the target of Chinese fine wine buyers because of the pedigree of the wines -- to an extent, the wine is a status symbol. New World wineries -- especially in California and Australia -- recognize the growing demand for premium wines in China, and as such are spending more time in the Asian market.
Case in point: Penfolds chose Shanghai as the city to release its ultra-rare Bin 620, a Cabernet Shiraz blend made from Coonawarra grapes in only the rarest caliber of vintages (this most recent bottling was from 2008). At over $1,000 per bottle, it's twice the price of even the Penfolds Grange, considered to be the winery's icon red. How rare is the Bin 620? Well, the last time Penfolds made it was in 1966. The demand for fine wine in China is sky-high, and the decision by Penfolds to launch the Bin 620 there shows how serious they are when it comes to the Chinese market.
And hey, while the NBA players and owners were busy hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement, a recently retired basketball star decided to take his future into his own (giant) hands -- he made some wine. Chinese player Yao Ming, the staggeringly tall (seven-foot-six) former Houston Rocket, has gotten into the wine business. Yao Family Wines has produced a 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; a limited run of 1.5-litre bottles will be auctioned off in China, with proceeds going to Special Olympics and the Shanghai Special Care Foundation.
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On a completely different note: I know it's still a while away, but it's never too early to start thinking about the Winnipeg Wine Festival. With the 2012 feature region being Canada, it'll be a great opportunity to try some fantastic British Columbia and Ontario wines being poured side by side.
Festival organizers have put together a couple of wine fest holiday packages this year. For $195 you can get four tickets to the Saturday matinee tasting, a $25 Liquor Marts gift card and four wine glasses etched with the festival logo. Those looking for a happening evening can spend $695 for two Saturday matinee tickets, two wine glasses and the gift card, plus two tickets to Thursday's Gala Dinner and an evening in a downtown hotel on May 3 (to be determined at press time). Phone 925-5633 or visit specialolympics.mb.ca for details.
SOUTHBROOK 2007 CABERNET MERLOT SHIRAZ
(Niagara Peninsula, Ont. -- $14.95, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Plum, cherry juice, spice, caramel and blackberry candy notes on the nose hint at a straightforward, juicy red on the palate. Sure enough, this medium-bodied red blend brings all of the above fruit flavour-wise, albeit with some light herbal notes and modest acidity and tannin. While it's a little mellow for heavier/spicier beef dishes, it would definitely work with burgers or ribs. 86/100
KANU 2007 KCB CHENIN BLANC
(Stellenbosch, South Africa -- $17.91, Liquor Marts and beyond)
It's not often you get to try four-year-old South African Chenin Blanc, and the KCB brings an intriguing nose of honey, lemon rind, herbal, ripe pear and vanilla notes -- the latter in part thanks to nine months in oak barrels. It's a full-bodied, viscous white, with bright lemon and rich, toasty vanilla notes, some tart peach and a hint of green apple. It's a complex white that changed every time I tasted it over the course of a few days. 88/100
MEDEIROS 2008 RED
(Alentejano, Portugal -- $15.96, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This blend of Aragonez, Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon brings indigenous Portuguese varieties together with more widely known grapes, with satisfying results. Mint, leather, savoury spice, blackcurrant, plum, earth and white pepper notes do well on the nose. On the dry, full-bodied palate there's complex raisin, spice, black tea, white pepper and blueberry notes, medium tannin and a decent finish. Try with meaty pizzas, beef stew or some hard cheeses. 90/100