May 27 2013
How do Chinese Vintages Compare to European Ones?

How do Chinese Vintages Compare to European Ones?

The popularity of Chinese wines has been increasing over the past few years, with China now representing one of the biggest import markets in the world – most of this activity is focused around Hong Kong, where fine wine and vintage collecting attracts high bidding wars. In terms of the production of Chinese vintages, the wines exported from China are an unusual blend of traditional European grapes and more distinctive flavours, and both overlap and diverge from European vintages.

The quality of European wines is typically down to the traditional methods of winemakers, and to the specific tastes and grapes of regions – Champagne or Burgundy in France have well established vineyards that maintain strict rules over wine production. Red wine produced in Europe generally tends to be higher in tannins, and more earthy than wines produced in ‘New World’ wine regions such as Australia, South Africa, and China.

New World wines have historically depended on adapting European grapes and viticulture techniques to their particular climates and growing seasons; there are noticeable differences in terms of aroma and taste between, say, a Cabernet Sauvignon from France, and one produced in Australia. The same is true of China, where the market has traditionally imported European trends and made them unique to its territories.

Good wine in the Chinese market is dependent on the climate and the extent to which modern wine making techniques have been in place – wines made in China’s Shaanxi Province tend to be of high quality, producing Niya branded wines and versions of Cabernet Sauvignon. At the same time, vintages such as Grace Vineyard Deep Blue incorporate traditional grape and fermenting techniques into high yield cultivation.

China tends to focus on high quantity yields, resulting in a lot of mid range priced wines for exporting – this approach grants China an advantage over the emphasis on quality taken by European vintages. However, China is producing more premium brands, which include Zhangyu and Great Wall, both of which are now beginning to compete with the thriving Chinese import market for European and other international wines.

One of the key differences between Chinese and European vintages, then, is the sheer quantity of production possible in mainland China, and the range of different methods. For example, Chateau Hansen, a vineyard that borders the Gobi Desert, has been able to use the low temperatures and arid conditions of the region to export premium wines such as Cotes du Flauve Jaune du Desert de Gobi – these wines provide a Chinese specific variation on Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot processes and grapes, with spicier and more peppery tastes added to vintages.

In this context, Chinese wines are often distinguished by their slight variation from established European wine vintages; the strength of China’s fine wine importing market means that supply and demand within the country is often weighed towards reproducing and mass producing the kinds of popular vintages available to collectors; still, though, wine remains much more of a luxury item in China than Europe, and still depends on European methods for its identity.

About the Author:

Sarah is a food and wine writer who regularly contributes to a range of food and drink websites and blogs. She and her husband love tasting events when looking for a tasty red wine to go with their roast dinner.

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