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Enter the dragon: Chinese wines embodying lessons from the West

www.irishtimes.com by John Wilson09/02/2021  

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One of my more interesting Zoom tastings last year was with Austrian wine producer Lenz Moser. We weren’t tasting Austrian wine, though: instead it was Chinese wine. Moser has decided to focus on Chateau Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia in China, where he makes the wine as well as looking after global sales.

“Twenty-fifteen was the breakthrough vintage for us,” he says. “We harvested two weeks later than usual, because the moon festival was early, and all of the pickers disappeared to celebrate. The wine was instantly better, with more alcohol and ripe tannins – previously it had been 12.5 per cent and herbaceous like a Loire Cabernet Franc. 

“Grapes here mature quickly because the air is so dry. If you get a hot wind from the mountains, you end up with raisins. This vintage [2020] will have low sugars and ripe tannins. It’s exactly what I was looking for. There are huge vintage variations here every year.”

Uniquely, they bury the vines every winter, when temperatures can go down to -28 degrees. “We grow the vines at an angle of 25 degrees and then bend them 25 degrees more and put 30-40cm of soil on top of the vine. The vine sleeps for four months and then we plough it off again at the end of March. Within a week you get budbreak. Organic is a big thing in China and last year we made a decision to go biodynamic. In a dry desert vineyard it is absolutely doable. The problem is to find the right cover crop and we are very close to that.”

At the moment they grow almost 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon. “Ningxia is perfect for Cabernet: we get 3,000 hours of sun a year, we are a height of 1,100 metres, with cool nights and hot days, which preserves the acidity. I am big fan of Bordeaux and Chile; when you taste it you know immediately where it comes from. This region has the smallest Cabernet Sauvignon berries I have ever seen, with thick skins and therefore a great skin-to-juice ratio. Here in China they don’t want tannins – it doesn’t go well with the cuisine and they don’t like the flavour. They like big boys with lots of alcohol and ripe fruit.”

Changyu produces a range of wines selling from €16 up to €165 – for a wine called Purple Air Comes from the East. Of it he says: “This it is the future of my wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon that is all elegance and freshness. That is what I have learned from Bordeaux. You can drink it and not just taste it. I always have to have something elegant in my glass.”

Kanaan Winery, a neighbour of Changyu, produces the Riesling below.

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Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir 2018, Chateau Changyu Moser XV, Helan Mountain Range
13.5%, €19.99
More of a rosé than a white, with attractive dried flower aromas, and plump, textured peach and strawberry fruits, finishing dry. This would go nicely with richer seafood dishes; scallops or grilled salmon. 
From wineonline.ie; the Malt House, Trim; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3,  martinsofflicence.ie 

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Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Chateau Changyu Moser XV, Helan Mountain Range, Ningxia
14.5%, €22
Clean, ripe blackcurrant fruits, a touch of spice and soft, ripe tannins on the finish. Some rare beef, or roast stuffed mushrooms. 
From wineonline.ie; the Malt House, Trim; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie. 

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Kanaan Winery Riesling 2018, Helan Mountain, Ningxia, China
14%, €30.95
Medium- to full-bodied with light floral aromas and rich apple and pear fruits cut through with citrus acidity. Try it with stir-fried prawns or lightly spicy chicken. 
From Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Redmonds, Dublin 6; redmonds.ie; the Malt House, Trim. 

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Chateau Changyu Moser XV Family 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Ningxia
14.5%, €35
Very smooth, elegant blackcurrants and cassis, with plenty of structure, and ripe tannins coming through on the long, dry finish. Decant and enjoy with roast beef or lamb.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie.