Time was when grapes were for grape juice in China and some decidedly dodgy local tipples, but these days Chinese wine is taking on the world. China is slowly gaining attention as a viticultural player. The country is already the world’s fifth biggest market, and it has quite a heritage in wine – archaeological digs have uncovered evidence the Chinese were making wine in 212 BC.

December 2011, in a blind tasting in Beijing, Chinese reds, mostly Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends, took the top four places in a China vs Bordeaux blind tasting competition. Although the testing was not considered massively representative, it was seen as symbolic that Chinese wines are indeed coming into their own these days.

You hear fewer jokes these days about the New Rich putting ice in their Lafite, or pouring bottles of Petrus into a punch at a family dinner.

These days the hills of Shandong, Shanxi and Ningxia are home to vineyards growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes.

Among the top Chinese wines are the 2009 Chairman’s Reserve from China’s Grace Vineyards in Ningxia province, Silver Heights’ “The Summit”, also from Ningxia, a small, sparsely populated region in north-central China.

In September 2011 , He Lan Qing Xue’s 2009 Cabernet blend, also from Ningxia, won at the Decanter World Wine Awards. This must have been as big a shock as when the Californians started winning gongs for Napa Valley’s finest.

While Chinese wine is coming on strongly, and quickly, New Zealand and South Africa don’t need to worry about being overtaken just yet – there are probably less than a dozen good wineries in China, with Grace Vineyard, in central China’s Shanxi Province, and Silver Heights, in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the standouts.

France is aggressively marketing its wines to take advantage of the growing sophistication of Chinese tastes.

The agriculture ministry has promised 400 types of wine from 12 regions all over France will land in China in batches over the next three years, and it is also keen to help educate people about wine with a campaign to include tastings for importers, distributors, cellar owners and chefs.

Chateau Lafite, Pernod Ricard SA and Moët-Chandon have invested in planting vineyards in China, aiming to produce quality wines and develop their brands in what is expected to become the world’s largest wine-consuming market.

The campaign includes France’s 12 wine regions and China is the fifth biggest importer of French wine both in terms of volume and value. The value of wine France exported to the mainland increased by 75.5 per cent last year.

With so much conspicuous consumption going on in China, there is an understandable preference for the most expensive wines such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Petrus and Domaine Romanee-Conti among the favourites, but mid-range wines are finding a market with the middle classes in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.                                                                                    19th May,2012

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