A good friend brought a bottle over for dinner last weekend that is quite possibly the coolest wine that I have ever tasted. He had told me he was bringing a wine from China, and knowing nothing about wines from that area, I was expecting a sake type rice wine. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
Once I saw that he had brought a red wine, my first thought was to recent press I have read about the popularity of French wines among the Chinese, and how demand has driven up prices for the super elite Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. So I figured that some industrious winemaker must have caught wind of this and planted vines to make wine locally for the Chinese market. Again, my guesses and assumptions were way off.
From the back of the label: “In 1892 a well-known overseas Chinese merchant, Mr. Chang Bishi, made an investment by establishing the Changyu Pioneer Wine Company. The name Changyu is formed from his surname “Chang” and the Chinese Character for “prosperity”. Mr. Chang saw that the eastern province of Shandong had ample sunlight, suitable temperature, moderate humidity and the perfect soil quality for growing sweet, aromatic grapes.
This Cabernet Gernischt is produced from a grape variety that originated in France over one hundred years ago. This rare grape is no longer grown in France, however, it still flourishes at Chateau Changyu-Castel’s Beiyujia vineyard. This light-bodied, old-world style wine is actually a clone of today’s Cabernet Franc, which is widely grown around the world.”
This varietal was wiped out in France during the Phylleroxa epidemic that plagued much of France during the late 19th century. Thankfully, the wines for the Changyu-Castel vineyards were safely transplanted to China before that time.
The wine was very unique. It was medium bodied with very smooth and silky tannis. It had an earthy and mushroomy essence similar to some Bordeaux wines I have tasted, but it was unlike any wine I have tried. That was what made this wine so cool. It was made from grapes grown on vines planted well over a hundred years ago from a varietal that is now extinct everywhere but in this region of China. While it may be similar to a French Cabernet Franc, the soil and climate of the Shandong province are undoubtedly unique to that region of the world, leading to a wine unlike any other. And lastly, this wine is nearly 20 years old proving that wines from regions outside of Europe certainly can age gracefully.
Have you ever tried any wines from obscure regions? Feel free to share in the comments section.