Posted on 06 March 2009.
Chinese wines account for something like 90% of the total wine market in China. The big companies – Great Wall, Changyu, Dynasty etc. – are essentially state-run enterprises or joint ventures harnessing considerable clout when it comes to grape purchasing. These ‘wineries’ – let’s say ‘wine producing companies’ – also distribute nationally and hit on-trade and off-trade locations simultaneously: so you can find their wines in hotels, restaurants and supermarkets (other wine retail is pretty limited in China, especially in the north). It’s rumoured that state-owned agricultural giant Cofco derives around 20% of its profits from Great Wall alone: so someone’s got to be buying the stuff – a lot of it.
What Chinese consumers are not told is that these ‘Chinese wines’ are often blended with bulk imports, whenever another country yields a sizeable surplus. But this can actually be beneficial given the state of the Chinese wines with which imports of usually already finished wine – most recently from Chile and Spain – are mixed. In assembling the wines for a blind-tasting of China’s best for Jancis Robinson MW on her last visit to Shanghai, there were some examples with suspiciously fruity ‘New World’ noses. At least these were drinkable, however. Other Chinese wines either suffer from poor wine-making or the impossible hurdle of trying to make quality wine from inferior grapes. Faced with the fear of rot and crop-loss many farmers understandably pick early; so unripe odours, harsh acidity and green tannins are all common problems. Read the full story
Posted in Commentary
Posted on 13 February 2009.
Any informative guidebook or primer in Chinese history/culture will allude to China’s enduring and extensive gastronomic heritage. Unsurprisingly, wine of various sorts and myriad other fermented beverages have played their parts in centuries of culinary and social evolution, marking the rise and continuity of Chinese culture itself. That culture has been extraordinarily adept in absorbing influences whilst keeping them ‘Chinese’: whether in the forms of Buddhism or Islam. But the gastronomic inheritance is arguably much more ‘resistant’ and more continuous; and the pragmatic, philosophical approach of Confucianism has meant the Chinese have never really gone in for en masse religion, at least in its more metaphysical ‘Western’ forms.
Ancient Chinese wine vessels
Photo credit: tsa.uconn.edu
|The romance of wine is, however, a lasting source of veneration. All forms of alcohol are classed as jiu, (酒), grape wine being putao jiu (葡萄酒). No one knows precisely what kind of wine the early Chinese poets celebrated, but various types made from fruit (especially plums), rice or sorghum are likely. One poem from the early Tang Dynasty is specific, however, its first line reading ‘Beautiful grape wine in a moonlit cup’ – but most texts stick to jiu alone. I freely admit to being neither
a Chinese historian nor a Chinese literature specialist; but it’s safe to say the wonders of Tang Dynasty poetry would be unimaginable without wine and, further back, whole dictionaries have been devised to explain the types of plants and foodstuffs that appear in the early literature. Read the full story
Posted in Commentary