The Wines of Ningxia China

ningxiaAs with almost every other product known to humanity, China is making inroads into the world of wine. In 2015 it was the 11th largest producer in the world and 5th in consumption. The fastest growing wine region in China and the one that gets the most attention from wine writers is Ningxia, in North Central China and home to China’s first geographically protected wine region. Wine grapes have been growing in this region at least since the Tang dynasty (620 A.D.) but international varieties were not introduced until 1982. Today there are 85 operating wineries and  over 87000 acres of commercial vines planted in this largely desert region with winters so cold they must bury the vines to prevent crop damage.

As one might expect, the government is providing massive support for the industry with a “build it and they will come” philosophy. The government funds the planting of vineyards and the construction of hi-tech, state of the art wineries, and then encourages young people to take over the facility and operate it, in many cases allowing them ten years to decide if they want to continue.

They grow Chardonnay, Riesling, and Vidal for whites and and the Bordeaux varieties, Pinot Noir, and most intriguingly Cabernet Gernischt and Marsalan along with some indigenous varieties for red wines.

I had a chance to taste several Chinese wines at the Society of Wine Educators Conference in August. My overall impression? Uneven but respectable. The better examples would score in the high 80’s, but some clear misses. With the kind of support they have and a population eager to drink I have no doubt this region will continue to develop.

Here are some brief notes on the wines I tasted:

Kanaan Winery Riesling 2013  Clean and crisp with some apparent sweetness and good acidity. Apple and white peach.

Legacy Peak Chardonnay 2014  Buttery and over-oaked. Good intensity but some oxidation on the nose.

Sha Po Tou Cabernet Gernischt 2013   This is actually a clone of Carmenere from old Bordeaux stock.  Intense plum and flowers, new leather and smoky. Medium tannins and acidity. Quite interesting. 24 months in new French oak.

Domain Pushang Marselan 2014 Dark fruit, vanilla, and smoke, very aromatic. A rich palate with complex evolution. My favorite of the tasting, Marselan is a cross between Cabernet and Grenache.

Ch. Zhihui Yuanshi Son of Mountain 2011  A blend of 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. Floral and earthy, minerality on the midpalate and a soft finish.

Helanqingxue Jiabeilan Qingxue 2013  A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this was leathery and had sherry notes on the nose. In the mouth it was coarse and quite tart.

Kanaan Winery Pretty Pony 2013  Mostly Cabernet with some Merlot in the blend. Black cherry and dusty earth, a long finish with fine tannins.  A mix of French and Hungarian oak, old and new.

Silver Heights The Summit 2013  Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot  Rough and not quite integrated but with lots of structure.

Legacy Peak Cabernet/Merlot 2013  Aromatic with black cherry and blackberry, apparent sweet oak and lots of eucalyptus. 14.5% alcohol. The biggest of the wines and quite rich.

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