By Benjamin Cost
A panel of Chinese and French wine judges has ruled a Chinese wine superior to Bordeaux in a blind taste test held in Beijing! Four vintages from the up until now, virtually anonymous Ningxia wine-lands were awarded the top four spots in a sampling that featured ten wines-half from the renowned Bordeaux vineyards and half from the Ningxia region.
A cabernet sauvignon from Ningxia’s Grace Vineyard captured first prize while a 2009 Medoc from the Lafite vineyard in Bordeaux snatched fifth place.
Though China boasted home court advantage, the French side refrained from “wine-ing” about the Sino grape-favoring verdict:
All the wines in the contest were produced in 2008 or 2009, and all were priced between 200 and 400 yuan ($30-$60) in China — putting the Bordeaux at a disadvantage because China levies a punishing 48 percent import tax on wine.
Nonetheless, Bordeaux expert Nathalie Sibille said the Chinese wines had “performed very, very well”, adding, “this region (Ningxia) has enormous potential”.
In fact, the triumph conjures up a similar wine-related underdog story from the seminal France-US epoch in wine-tippling history, this one with more bad blood. The stage was Paris, 1976, where heretofore dubbed “lesser quality US” vintages from California’s Napa Valley beat out wines from heavily-favored France by a landslide. The historic victory would etch a non-French wine into the minds of sommeliers everywhere, an unprecedented feat that China has possibly also achieved by winning the recent contest.
For with this milestone under its belt, like the US variety did, Chinese wines might finally trump their “cheap” connotation. Because it was not too long ago when the best Chinese labels barely eclipsed the likes of Boone’s Farm and Thunderbird. And even today, a good Chinese wine is either considered an oxymoronic phrase or a knockoff of a Western vintage (the aforementioned Bordeaux breed, to name one). But considering the almost sweeping taste-test win and the fact that China is predicted to become the largest wine market in two decades, that may all be about to change.
Hopefully China’s wine world accomplishments will prove a catalyst for both the Middle Kingdom’s wine scene and its products in general, which despite a myriad of mishaps, are starting to come into their own. Just take a peek at the rocky start of the Japanese car industry, the now proclaimed poster-boy for technology and luxury. Yeah, it used to be cheap too.