01 | Ao Yun 2017 — Yunnan
Currently, this is the closest thing China has to an iconic wine. Ao Yun translates to “flying above the clouds” — an apt moniker for a wine made from vineyards planted 2,200 to 2,600 metres above sea level. The blend is dominated by cabernet sauvignon, with a touch of cabernet franc. Small percentages of other grapes have been added with each vintage, with the 2017 including syrah, petit verdot and merlot. The high altitude provides for abundant sunshine hours and cool weather, a critical component for ripening these varieties while preserving its freshness. Altitude also has the effect of altering taste perceptions, so interestingly, the final blend of the Ao Yun was assembled at sea level in Hong Kong for the last two years.
02 | Chateau Changyu Moser XV Purple Air Comes From The East 2016 — Ningxia
Chateau Changyu Moser XV is a joint venture between Changyu Pioneer Wine Company (China’s oldest and largest wine producer) and Lenz Moser of Austria (“XV” refers to 15 generations of the Moser wine family). This exotically named wine is composed of 100 percent cabernet sauvignon and is a selection of the best barrels from the chateau. Moser’s recent focus has been on balancing alcohol levels in the wine. To do so, he uses less efficient yeasts in the winery, resulting in a wine that walks a tightrope between elegance and concentration.
03 | Chateau Nine Peaks Qi Chardonnay 2018 — Shandong
The man behind Chateau Nine Peaks is German-born Dr Karl-Heinz Hauptmann. A successful banker and founder of Telor Capital Management, his passion for wine has led to substantial investments in wineries such as Bessa Valley winery in Bulgaria and Alira in Romania. No expense has been spared for his latest project, which boasts five floors, a grand ballroom capable of seating 300 guests and two VIP dining rooms. Winemaking is based on the French model under the experienced hand of Marc Dworkin. This Chardonnay has been 100 percent barrel-fermented and aged on the lees for 10 months, lending a creamy complexity and textural finesse to the wine.
04 | Domaine de Long Dai 2018 — Shandong
Launched two years ago, this wine is the result of 10 years’ worth of meticulous planning and adapting to the local environment. Fully aware of the desirability of a wine bearing the Lafite credentials, the team went to extreme lengths to thwart counterfeiters: take the label, which is impossible to remove without damaging, and the artfully-hidden microchip that can be scanned for authenticity. The second vintage of Long Dai, the 2018 enjoyed optimal weather during the growing season which made for a healthy crop. The wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, marselan and cabernet franc. Marselan, which makes up 17 percent of the blend, is a cross between cabernet sauvignon and grenache. Its resistance to mildew is particularly useful in Shandong, which is prone to heavy rain during the monsoon season.
05 | Grace Vineyard Chairman’s Reserve 2015 — Shanxi
Family-owned Grace Vineyard is a pioneering force in China’s wine industry, having been founded in 1997. Shanxi is known for its coal-mining industry and founder Chan Chun Keung wanted to create a business that was more environmentally-friendly. Even in the early days when China was awash in poorly-made wines, Grace Vineyard signified quality and could be found in luxury hotels like The Peninsula Hong Kong and onboard Cathay Pacific First Class. The Chairman’s Reserve is their top wine, a long-lived red made from hand-selected cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and cabernet franc grapes.
06 | Helan Qingxue Jia Bei Lan Grand ReservE 2016 — Ningxia
The Jia Bei Lan Grand Reserve 2009 turned heads when it won an International Trophy at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards, firmly entrenching China as a wine producer to watch. All that success hasn’t gone to winemaker Zhang Jing’s head however. She remains as focused on raising the bar at Helan Qingxue and eschews trappings such as a fancy website or grand chateau. The 2016 vintage is a concentrated and powerful blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.
07 | Kanaan Winery Riesling 2019 — Ningxia
Wang Fengyu, one of the founders of Helan Qingxue, is an experienced viticulturist, but his daughter Wang Fang had no winemaking experience when she started Kanaan Winery in 2011. What she did have was a clear goal and strong convictions. Her enthusiasm for winemaking is equalled only by her obsession with horses, both of which are happily married, with labels such as Wild Pony, Pretty Pony and Black Beauty adorning her wines. Her education in Germany spurred her to concentrate on making riesling in China, one of very few winemakers to do so, although plantings of Italian riesling (a less distinguished and unrelated variety) can be found in Tianjin.
08 | Silver Heights The Summit 2018 — Ningxia
At her father’s behest, Emma Gao travelled to Bordeaux where she not only brought back a knowledge of winemaking but also a husband, Thierry Courtade from Château Calon-Ségur. Demand has been consistently high, and their reputation is such that the wines have even featured at state dinners. Since 2017, the winery has been incorporating biodynamic practices into the vineyard, in the belief that it provides “vitality, energy and structure” to the soils. The Summit is their flagship wine, a blend of 92 percent cabernet sauvignon and 8 percent petit verdot for 2018 (prior vintages have included merlot or cabernet gernischt).
09 | Puchang Vineyard Clovine Sweet Beichun 2014 — Xinjiang
Quite a stunning sight, this vineyard is a splotch of green amid barren red-brown desert dunes. As few pests and vine diseases have the ability to survive in such marginal conditions, Puchang Vineyard is managed organically. Like other vineyards in northern China, the vines have to be buried in the soil during winter to protect them from freezing to death. The only vines they do not need to bury during winter are those of the red Beichun grape; a local, frost-resistant crossing of muscat of Hamburg with vitis amurensis. From this unforgiving region comes a unique dessert wine that entices with floral notes and offers sweet relief for the palate.
10 | Tiansai Vineyard Skyline of Gobi Grand Reserve Marselan 2017 — Xinjiang
Established in 2010, this winery has the backing of China’s most respected winemaker professor Li Demei and Melbourne-based Lilian Carter who consults for wineries in Australia and China. Although they produce wines under a wide range of labels, owning the vineyards rather than buying in grapes has allowed for strict quality control. They have found success with the aromatic and deeply-coloured marselan grape. The Selection series presents an accessible entry point into this variety and is available locally.
Photos DBR (Lafite)/Domaine de Long dai, Château Nine Peaks, Tiansai Vineyard, Puchang Vineyard