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