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Dialogue Shuai Zekun by WinetoAsia19/08/2022  


Shuai Zekun is associate editor for James and a specialist in Chinese wine. Originally based in Beijing, but working out of Hong Kong since last fall, Shuai discusses how scoring works, what qualifies for 100 points, the low-intervention wine trend in China, how his ping pong hobby syncs with wine tasting, his time spent in Mexico exploring wine, and more.


On the difference between 89 and 90 points.

Balance and drinkability are factors I tend to consider more for wines that score 90 points. A score of 89 means I might find it hard to drink a big glass of the wine—it's not my style, perhaps it's a bit overripe or too extracted—but it's good quality, so it is recommended for those who like that style.

And the difference between 94 and 95 points.

The difference is greatness. Both are well-balanced outstanding wines of quality that show depth and intensity, complexity and length.

But beyond that, 95-plus wines should have a "wow" factor, with distinctive character. It might be racy fruit, texture, tannin quality, discerning varietal typicality or the positive sense of place. The wine should show winemaking prowess and good aging potential, too.

I like to evaluate wines scoring 95 points and above again after a few hours to check if they are persistent. Most intuitively, I believe 95 points should be something very special where you would want to finish a whole bottle. See, it all comes back to drinkability again.


On recently awarding 100 points for the first time.

There are two types of 100-point wines: one doesn't really exist and one is part of my job.

Aesthetically, there is no such thing as a 100-point wine. But my job, and what we do, is to rate, give opinions and recommend quality wines to consumers.

Humans love to simplify complex things, so we rate, rank and give scores. Even though understanding wines through numbers is not beautiful, it is efficient, practical and popular because it makes wine easier to understand and helps producers sell more.

If a wine speaks to me and touches me, much as music or a movie or a piece of art might, and there is nothing else that I believe can improve it, except for time, then it has the potential for 100 points. Such wine is of great quality, of course, and has some personal connection, too. Also, those who love scores should also read the tasting notes, because they provide context and depth.

On the links between ping pong and wine.

Just like tasting wine, I get a bang out of testing ping pong rackets. There isn't any 100-point racket, just one that suits an individual player the best.

I recently got a Butterfly Super Viscaria racket, which suits my playing style. A lot of people like it and a lot people don't. It's very powerful and fast but also pretty easy to control and to switch from backhand to forehand.

Anyway, there is some relation between rating rackets and rating wines and rating everything else from music to art to coffee. Appreciation is very conducive to comparing, contrasting and ultimately rating.


On the rise of natural wines in China.

Now it is more popular in cities where wine has a stronger presence. Curious young drinkers and avant-garde winemakers who are more open to new things are driving this trend, especially those who have lived abroad and understand the logic of making this type of wine.

It is still a niche taste now, but isn't wine in general still a niche drink for most Chinese households? Just don't underestimate the growth of its popularity.

On Chinese labels priced rmb200 to rmb300 for aficionados.

There are many choices now. Canaan Winery from Huailai County makes good-value wines at that price point. Their Mastery range is quite consistent and almost everything is worth trying.

Also, try some wines from Ningxia, such as Petit Mont's M4 and Dunkelfelder.

One of my favorites is Grace Vineyard's Tasya's Reserve range. And Rkatsiteli from Puchang is a good choice.


On his growing interest in wine in Mexico.

I was working as a Mandarin teacher in Mexico and in love with the place. As a Chinese teacher, I had more holidays, so I'd always visit wine regions such as Valle de Guadalupe. I have also been to lesser-known regions such as Coahuila and Zacatecas. I still remember going to a new winery called Don Leo. They have a unique elevated terroir in the Valle de Parras.

Most Mexican wines are consumed domestically. So, the idea was to take advantage while I was there. I would buy three or four bottles every week to taste, then drink with friends.


On what Mexican producers he would like to see in China.

Let me name a few: L.A. Cetto Reserva Privada Nebbiolo, which might not be a Nebbiolo at all, but is good and is great value. This is one of the biggest producers but the quality in the mid-range is very solid.

Something from the producer Adobe Guadalupe, such as 'Rafael', a Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo blend.


Villa Montefiori has plenty of good wines: 'Selezionato' is probably the best-value. Don Leo, either the Syrah or Pinot Noir. Casa Madero '2V' Chardonnay-Chenin. And if you looking for something very premium, ícaro and Torre Alegres.