Trying the ever-expanding line-up of weird and wonderful wines available has never been easier, and these days even the budget supermarkets have gotten in on the act with their ‘Discovery’ series (Aldi) and ‘Wine Atlas’ range (Asda).
I was surprised and very interested though to hear that Sainsbury’s had added a Chinese red wine to their range last month, which was then followed shortly after by a white wine from the same producer. Initially something of a tie-in to Chinese New Year, they were available for a short period by a tempting introductory price which has now reverted back to a standard RRP. For the time being then it seems that they will form part of their core range.
China can sometimes hit the wine headlines for the wrong reasons (not least the bottle forgery and rife counterfeiting that appears to go on), but very rarely get mentioned for the wines that they actually produce. Always on the lookout for unique opportunities I decided to give them both a try.
Founded in 1892, Changyu is the oldest and largest winery in China, located in Yantai, a coastal region in the Shandong Province on the eastern side of the country. The Noble Dragon brand was created in 1931 and so, even though these wines may be relatively new here in the UK (BBR stock a small range), there is still well over 80 years of winemaking experience being brought to the table.
Both of the bottles are smartly presented with sandy labels approximating the look of old parchment paper and the use of a traditional-looking scripted font. The line drawing of their estate is akin to many an old-fashioned bottle label and perhaps hints at their love of all things Bordeaux.
Changyu ‘Noble Dragon’ Red Blend 2013, Yantai, China, 12%, £10
This red blend is mainly comprised of Cabernet Gernischt (aka Carménére) and complemented with both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Gernischt is something of a regional speciality and the sprawling 1400 hectares used by Changyu equates to 70% of the plantings in the whole of China.
On the nose there is pure, ripe juicy dark fruit of blackberry and redcurrant, followed up with a touch of smoke and the florals of both wood and vanilla (the wine is aged for 6 months in small oak barrels).
The palate, whilst full of all the dark fruit suspects you would expect from a triple-Cabernet blend (blackcurrant, black cherry, plums) was just a touch drying to my palate.
The fruit is well ripened and forms the backbone of what this wine is all about in the mouth, but the class and depth comes from the wood ageing and the Cabernet Franc which adds further perfume.
The acidity is prominent, just on the edge of too much, and the net result is that it feels a touch too thin. This probably isn’t also helped by the modest alcohol level of 12%.
The end palate adds touches of bitter chocolate and coffee, but the fruit drifts and the overall length is quite short. Whilst this is well made and representative of a soft fruit lighter bodied blend, I did find myself missing the crunchy fruits from a good Cabernet.
I’m very glad to have explored it at the introductory price of £8 which is about the right price to me for the style and character. At the full price of £10 there would be other bottles ahead of it in the queue, so I’d be interested to see how well this sells to the general wine-buying public at that price-point.
Changyu ‘Noble Dragon’ Riesling, Yantai, China, 12%, £9
Riesling is another grape that thrives in Yantai and, when looking at the deep golden yellow colour of the wine, its surprising to discover there is no wood ageing involved. There was also a slight spritz in the glass perhaps suggesting it was bottled fairly quickly after ferment.
The nose had a good tropical tone with dried pineapple, lemon citrus, and a touch of green apple flesh evident. This wine is once again all about the ripe clean fruits, but is raised by a twist of blossom florality giving it some depth and interest.
The palate veered towards a sweeter Riesling style, and the low alcohol level probably helped to give it an off-dry feel. A medium weight and almost golden gloopy texture brought forward the fruit from the nose and added in honeysuckle, yellow melon, and a little peach. The fresh acid cut through, balancing the fruit and drew you towards a hint of bitterness (and perhaps slightly under ripe fruit) on end palate.
The wine had a good length with a slightly tangy nature, is priced well at £9, and pipped the red to be the best out of the two bottles. Worth looking out for!