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Ningxia Wine Competition

POSTED ON 01/01/2014

The Ningxia Wine Competition

‘It’s going to be quite cold during the tasting in the Cave. Please wear a warm coat’. Despite the warning from Revue du Vin de France China, the judges of the 2013 a Ning Xia Wine Tasting Competition were taken aback at the numbing cold of the cellar in the mountains in which the competition took place. Perhaps they had been lulled into a false sense of security. When I arrived after the two-hour flight from Beijing two days before, it was a balmy late September 21C at 8pm in Ningxia’s capital of Yinchuan.

Luckily, smugly even, I had the advantage of hindsight as I’d already been there. I had met up with the Singaporean wine teacher and sommelier Tommy Lam and his wife for a day trip to Leirenshou, Domaine Chandon and the giants of Changyu Moser XV and Cofco. Our visits that day included a precarious drive up a rocky mountain pass inhabited by indigenous deer into the wild interior of the Helan Mountain range.

Here we inspected the disused phosphorus mine carved into the mountainside, now used to store 1000 bottles from every winery in Ningxia (there are roughly 60) so that they could be independently entered into competition and also stored for library stock. We might just as well have been inside a fridge.

Tommy Lam apparently had the ear of one of the top officials within the Grape and Flower Industry Development Bureau of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. He had been charged with coming up for a name for the new cellar and tasting room in the mountains. After a day of brainstorming, we eventually came up with The VinDome. Why The VinDome? Vin to lend a degree of French sophistication to the idea of wine, Dome to convey this as a place of respect in a hollowed out mountain top.

At various dinners and receptions that week, we were to gain further insights into the government’s commitment to investing in wine in Ningxia. At a reception held in the palatial building of the provincial governor Lin Hui, and her right-hand man, Hao Linhai, Lin Hui talked proudly of her aim of developing Ningxia as the premier wine region of China. Luckily, these dinners didn’t offend against the new austerity regulations: ‘there should be no welcome banner, no red carpet, no floral arrangement or grand receptions for officials' visits’.

The week spent visiting wineries had revealed both the advantages and disadvantages of Ningxia in achieving those aims. On the plus side, Ningxia’s combination of northerly latitude and high altitude at 1200 metres are clearly positive factors, along with low rainfall, warm summers, abundant water from the Yellow River, diverse soil types based on clay, clay / loam and alluvial sands and the benefit of the protection of the Helen Mountain range. According to the distinguished Argentinian viticulturalist, Edy del Popolo, there are similarities with Argentina’s Uco Valley with the warm temperate climate making perfect ripeness achievable in most years.

On the minus side however, there are many major challenges facing the winemakers of Ningxia today. Most vineyards are less than five hectares in size and are largely owned by growers with a quantity-based mindset and rudimentary vineyard management. Vine varieties are often mixed in the vineyard and in a poor state of health. Soils are low in organic matter, but above all, the cold winters that can reach -27C require the vines to be buried or they’ll die.

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting they say, and so it was that a group of 12 tasters from overseas and within China arrived at the VinDome, its exterior wall now featuring a beautiful frame with the two-day old VinDome name. Some I knew, like Fongyee Walker MW, Jeremy Oliver from Australia and China's own Denis Lin. Others were new faces. Suitably wrapped up in coats to keep us warm, with heaters under the table barely making a difference, we sat down amid a battery of media cameras to taste 64 Ningxia wines blind.

Despite the many viticultural challenges outlined above, and even though there were some wines that would not pass muster on the shelf of a British supermarket, there were a number of very pleasant surprises in the wines we tasted. The best wines were red, and generally those based on cabernet sauvignon, which, with the local cabernet gernischt, aka carmènere, and merlot, is the model chosen by most wineries for their premium reds. In the best wines, aromas, textures and flavours were convincing, and, without excessive oaking or alcohol, the wines were both balanced and fresh.

The awards ceremony took place at the stunningly beautiful Yuanshi Winery. Digital innovations apart, it was like a mediaeval banquet with a chaotic, noisy buffet below while the dignitaries sat upstairs like demi-gods at a long banqueting table, aloof from the crowd. The awards were duly announced and and a jolly time was had by all. Even at the formal banquet upstairs, the government hosts kept getting up as you were in mid-mouthful, coming round to toast and chat to you. And we of course did the same, and so it went on throughout the evening. For this is the Chinese way.

Ningxia Wine Tasting Competition 24 September 2013 – My Top 6 Reds

46. 2011 Silver Heights ‘The Summit.
Sweet cedary oak fragrance, juicy ripe cassis fruit quality with richness of black cherry and cassis and nicely applied oak. 17.5 / 20.

2009 JiaBeiLan Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mature Bordeaux-like nose showing cedary oak and concentrated dark red fruit in traditional Bordeaux-like style and fine freshness. 17 / 20

2011 JiaBeiLan Cabernet Sauvignon.
Fresh, aromatic, pleasant dark berry fruit, and juicy with nicely rounded oak and good vinosity, and a degree of complexity. 17 /20

2012 NingXiaHong Group Shapotou Manor Wine (Cabernet Gernischt).
Bright fruit with dark berry andblackcurrant tinged with green pepper and with tannins nicely rounded out by oak, showing some vanilla oak. 17 / 20

(No. 51) 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Peppery , cherried fruit quality with succulent tannins and a hint of spice and pepperiness and red fruits in almost Côte Rôtie Ningxia style, very fresh and vibrant. 17 / 20

2011 NingXiaHong Group Shapotou Manor Wine (Cabernet Gernischt).
Vivid aromas showing a touch of oak and fresh dark cherry fruits, cassis and pepper fruit with good fruit concentration, fine-grained tannins and succulent, savoury acidity. 16.5 / 20

Chinese Version

文 /Anthony Rose 译/张 然
品味宁夏
贺兰山东麓葡萄酒产区有独特的优势,也面临许多挑战,这次品鉴的葡萄酒颇有亮点。
Anthony Rose
常住伦敦。英国葡萄酒记者和作家,在www.independent.
co.uk开设周专栏。也为Decanter、 The World of Fine Wine
等杂志供稿。很多知名葡萄酒大赛的评委和主席。The Wine
Gang 的创办人之一。博客www.anthonyrosewine.com.,微
博Anthony _ Rose。
“在山洞里品酒会很冷,请穿得
暖和点!”尽管有《葡萄酒
评论》杂志提醒,参加2 013
年度贺兰山东麓葡萄酒博览会金奖评选的评委
们在山里的藏酒洞里还是被冻得够呛。或许山
下的天气给了他们错觉。当我从北京经过两个
小时的飞行到达宁夏银川,迎接我的是温暖的9
月底的夜晚,气温达21摄氏度。
我有点故地重游的得意。那一次是和一
位新加波的葡萄酒讲师及侍酒师Tommy Lam
及他的妻子到过那里,用一天的时间参观了类
人首、夏桐、张裕莫塞尔十五世酒庄和中粮长
城云漠酒庄。那一天,我们曾驱车颠簸来到一
个巨石嶙峋的山口,那里有着出没贺兰山山脉
深处的野鹿。
这次我们参观了半山腰上一个废弃的磷
矿井,现在用于储存来自贺兰山东麓约60个酒
庄的酒,每家酒庄的存量是10 0 0瓶。《葡萄酒
评论》的工作人员从这里的存酒中随机抽样,
作为盲品用酒,这避免了任何作假的可能。
在一周的各式各样的晚餐和招待过程中,
我们对政府发展宁夏葡萄酒的决心和目标有
了更深入的了解。在一次招待会上,我们见到
了自治区的领导,他们非常自豪地介绍了把宁
夏发展成中国优质葡萄酒产区的目标。
一周参观酒庄的时间让我们认识到了宁
夏贺兰山东麓产区许多优势和不足。从积极方
面看,宁夏所处的纬度和120 0米的高海拔,加
上雨水少、夏天温暖、来自黄河的水源足够、
以粘土为基础的土壤类型多样化,还有贺兰
山脉的保护作用,绝对都是种植葡萄的有利
因素。按照著名阿根廷葡萄栽培学家Edy del
Popolo的观点,这里和阿根廷Uco Valley温暖
的气候相似,在大部分年份都能使葡萄达到
完美的成熟度。
消极方面上看,如今的贺兰山东麓产区的
酿酒师也面临着很多的挑战。很多葡萄园的
面积不足5公顷,为葡萄农所有,以追求产量
为导向,管理也比较粗放。不同的葡萄品种经
常是混种在一起,健康状况堪忧。土壤远非有
机,而最重要的一点是寒冷的冬天,气温可以
达到零下27摄氏度,葡萄藤要埋土,不然的话
就会被冻死。
俗话说,试过了才知道。于是,12名来自
世界各地和中国的评委齐聚于藏酒洞,有些
人我认识,比如赵凤仪(Fongyee Walker, 葡
萄酒大师候选人)、澳洲的Jeremy Ol iver、中
国的林殿理,其他是陌生的面孔。我们裹着大
衣,齐齐坐下,面对密密麻麻的媒体的照相机
和摄像机,盲品了64款来自贺兰山东麓的葡萄
酒。
尽管还需要面对上面提到的葡萄栽培方
面的挑战,甚至有些酒可能不能通过检验放上
英国超市的货贺,但在我们品尝到的酒中,还
是带给了我们许多惊喜。最好的应该是红葡萄
酒,基本上以赤霞珠为主,混酿当地的蛇龙珠
和梅洛,这种配比方式是大部分酒庄生产最高
级别的红葡萄酒选用的。最好的几款红葡萄
酒的香气、质感和风味都很有说服力,没有过
分的橡木和酒精感,不仅平衡而且新鲜。
颁奖典礼在熠熠生辉的源石酒庄用一种
全新的方式举行,像中世纪的宴会一样,楼下
是嘈杂的自助餐,楼上则是重要宾客,像半神
一样正襟危坐在长条型的宴会桌前,远远离开
人群。奖项宣布后,所有人都享受了愉悦的时
光。在楼上,当我们吃到一半的时候,政府的
东道主频频起身前来敬酒,和我们聊天。当然
我们也入乡随俗,如此贯穿了整个夜晚,这就
是中国的方式。
2013年9月24日的贺兰山东麓国际葡萄酒博
览会金奖评选中我认为最好的6款红葡萄酒:
2011年银色高地“阙歌”
散发甜雪松和橡木香气,果味成熟,黑
醋栗和成熟的黑莓气息和橡木味很好地融
合。17.5/20
2009年加贝兰珍藏版赤霞珠
成熟的波尔多酒的雪松橡木以及集中的
黑色和红色水果气息,新鲜优雅,传统的波尔
多风格。17/20
2011年加贝兰珍藏版赤霞珠
新鲜的香气,愉悦的黑色浆果,多汁,饱
满橡木气息,很好的酒质,复杂度不错。17/20
2010年巴格斯赤霞珠
胡椒和樱桃的香气,肉感的单宁,一丝香
料、胡椒以及红色水果气息,几乎是宁夏版的
罗第丘(Côte Rôtie)。非常新鲜、活泼。17/20
2012年宁夏红集团沙坡头蛇龙珠
明亮的黑色浆果、黑醋栗和一丝青椒的
气息,单宁圆润,以及橡木带来的香草气息。
17/20
2011年宁夏红集团沙坡头蛇龙珠
活泼的香气,显示出一些橡木气息,以及
黑樱桃、醋栗、胡椒香气,有着很好的集中的
果香,优雅的单宁和多汁的酸度。16.5/20
Envies

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