A lesson for Indian wineries – via China

Jia Bei Lan, Bordeaux Blend 2009, Ningxia Province, China

I’ve never tasted this wine, nor had I heard of it before. But the October 2011 issue of Decanter magazine held a big surprise that made me sit up and take notice. A wine from China (Jia Bei Lan, Bordeaux Blend 2009) had won the trophy in the Bordeaux Blend over £10 category at the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA). Decanter’s competition is one of the more comprehensive (over 12,000 wines entered) and prestigious competitions of the world. In winning this trophy, the Chinese wine ‘saw off established competitors from Argentina, Chile, California, South Africa, Australia…and Bordeaux’. (Decanter Magazine, October 2011 issue, page 58). The judges too were some of ‘the most demanding palates in the business’ – including Gerard Basset MS MW OBE (the world’s Best Sommelier 2010), renowned wine educator Michael Schuster and Steven Spurrier.

I’m not the only one taking notice (and neither should I be). The folks at Decanter certainly recognize the significance – they devoted almost three full pages to spotlighting China and this wine in the October 2011 issue. The one’s who should really be paying attention to this in India are Indian wineries, as they (and Indian consumers) stand to gain the most from examples such as this.

So what made this possible? There are several reasons (including good wine making and a good consultant).  I’m repeating though what I consider to be the fundamental factor: Terroir. Good grapes are the foundation of good wine, and good grapes come from vines that have experienced ‘stress’. The article explains that ‘the winery is situated in land-locked Ningxia Province, in north-central China, just below inner Mongolia. The soil is sand and clay. Apart from freezing dry winters and dry, hot summers, the continental climate gives up around 200mm of rainfall a year. It is winter, though – when temperatures fall below -25° Celsius – that necessitates and unusual evasive tactic: burying the vines throughout the cold weather’.

This is another reminder (by solid closely-related example from a neighboring country), that the best wine in India cannot come from Nashik or other areas where natures forces the use of ‘tropical viticulture’ and the following of southern hemisphere harvesting cycle in the northern hemisphere. The vines in Nashik (or in Karnataka) simply do not experience the kind of dormancy and stress that is necessary for producing great grapes and, in turn, great wine. I’ll hazard a prediction here: India’s best wine is yet to be made – and will come from rain-shadow areas of the Himalayas. Don’t expect this to happen soon though – Indian wine companies are yet to set foot in that rugged terrain which may hold some of the most promising terroir in India.

I’ve been at Vinexpo Honk Kong and other trade fairs where Chinese wine has been exhibited. I’ve always walked right by those exhibitors – never bothering to taste their wine. That’s definitely going to change in the future. For one – I look forward to tasting the Jia Bei Lan, Bordeaux Blend 2009.

Racism in the world of wine? Follow an interesting side discussion here.

About Gaurav Anand

Certified Sommelier Gaurav Anand is an India based wine writer, consultant, educator and founder of Wine Forays. He earned his Sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and holds the WSET Advanced certification in Wines & Spirits. Above all, he is a wine lover on a full-time mission to taste and discover the best wines in the world.
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