French chateaus and Italian vineyards are the typical scenes of winemaking. One that many see as being challenged by the rise of New World wine. No longer are wines from Chile, Australia and China the lower grade ‘bargain’ wine that people have long associated with the New World. Instead, they are robust in flavour, variation and can indeed compare to their more traditional counterparts.
One region that has become more and more relevant in recent years is the Shanxi region, located in northern China. Known more for coal than wine, the vintages coming out of this region year on year are gaining a world of excitement from those keenly watching the development of the New World wines.
It is far from the typical wine region, such as in Italy and France, so why has Shanxi become so popular in recent years?
History of Chinese Wine
Perhaps more surprising than it should be considering China’s long and complex history, but the history of wine in the country can be dated back to an incredible nine thousand years. They were the first to use wild grapes in wine and are attributed with having the first confirmed alcoholic beverage in world history. Such early Chinese alcohol included drinks made from wild grapes, hawthorn, rice and even honey.
However, it was not until around 618-907 AD that the drinking of grape wine became commonplace – this was during the Chinese Tang Dynasty. A Tang conquest of a Silk Road state, known as Gaochang, lead to the learning of a new method of winemaking. One that the poets of the dynasty celebrated vigorously, particularly wines produced from this method in the Shanxi region. The history of winemaking is, thus, inherently tied to this region of the country.
A province of China located in the north, the name translates to ‘West of the Mountains’ in reference to its close location of the Taihang Mountains. It is a region known mainly for its crops of wheat, maize, millet, legumes and potatoes. However, the coal mining of the province is also particularly prevalent and a major contributor to the wealth of the region.
Winemaking has sprouted in the north of this region, despite this more industrial flavour to its economy. The hills and mountains of the region mean that inland there is more of a continental climate, ideal for the growth of wine, which has resulted in a number of vineyards growing on the terraced hills. Silty sand soil means that the area provides excellent drainage, however, due to strong winds the issue of erosion is one that has meant experimentation on the Shanxi winemakers part.
The experimentation in question has largely revolved around finding the right grape to grow in the region. For example, many believe the Chardonnay is particularly suited to the more acidic soil of the region and sun-filled weather. On the other hand, the region also faces an issue in winter as vines have to be buried to avoid the chill.
One important vineyard in the area is known as the Grace Vineyard. They are particularly notable for their Chairman’s Reserve Bordeaux Blend, a bright red delight which is paving the way for quality wines in the region. Fairly tannic with an oaky flavour, there is a mixture of fruit and spice flavours which complement wonderfully on the palate. It is an indication of more to come from the world of Chinese wine, an exciting next chapter for New World wines.
Thinking of adding a new region to your collection – adding a new twist to your Spiral Cellar? As part of the New World of wine, the Shanxi region is producing some particularly brilliant vintages which could be collectable in years to come. Making now the perfect time to get ahead of this particular wine trend.