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Enter the Dragons

by Tom Cannavan, 04/07

China is the expanding world superpower that just can't keep out of the news at the moment. Though a minor part of the Chinese story in global terms, wine in China is going through a revolution - and not just the growing consumption of wine by China's billion-plus population, but the country's potential to become one of the globe's powerhouse wine producers.

There is no doubt that the quality of Chinese wine is on the up and up, with inward investment from large European and New World wineries. The Dynasty winery - in which Remy-Cointreau has a share - debuted on the Hong Kong stock exchange last year, and 300 million shares were immediately snapped up by global investors. There are now around 400 wineries in China.

Chinese wine consumption is forecast to grow seven times faster than the average for the rest of the world, and by 2009 the Chinese are expected to drink 766 million bottles of wine per annum. The domestic industry is ramping up to meet that demand, but also to stake its place in the world of premium quality wines. Already the sixth-largest wine producing country on the planet, vine plantings are rumoured to be increasing by as much as 20% per annum.

One of the longest- established and best-known names in Chinese wines is Dragon Seal, established in 1987 in the Hebei province, around 100 kilometres northwest of Beijing. French winemaker Jerome Sabate overseas a French-trained Chinese team, in a winery equipped with stainless steel tanks imported from France, in various sizes to allow separate vinification of each batch of grapes. The top wines of the range are matured in a mixture of French and American oak barrels.
  


   Independent merchant Red or White (01225 781666) has just been appointed the first UK agent for Dragon Seal. They have set up a website for Dragon Seal in the UK

At the same time, innovative merchant Bibendum has introduced its own Dragons into the den: two wines under the Noble Dragon label. This is a joint venture between the Changyu Pioneer Winery (China's oldest winery), Lenz Moser of Austria and Bibendum. All fruit is Chinese grown, and the UK, Austrian and Chinese teams worked together for two years to develop this brand.

Interestingly, Changyu says in its mission statement that it aims to become one of the world's top 10 biggest producers by 2008. Enquiries to Bibendum on 020 7722 5577.
  

I have just tasted through each of the ranges. I was impressed by this selection, which certainly does show the potential for Chinese wines, but which stand up pretty well right now as examples of fresh, modern, well-made wines with a bit of real personality and solid varietal character. China is certainly one to watch over coming decades, and any of these wines will make a fascinating introduction.

Dragon Seal







Noble Dragon