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14th April 2017

Changyu Very Much!

A visit to Changyu in Yantai, Shandong, China

I am currently in China, on one of my annual work trips teaching and giving masterclasses, as well as working on a very exciting new educational and communication project for the future.

This is mainly why I have not been attending very much to Riviera Wine Academy, and indeed this blog.

Yesterday I was treated to a visit to the original Changyu wine facility in Yantai. Having travelled widely around central and eastern China, I have to say that the seaside city of Yantai is one of China's most lovely (along with Tsingtao and Dalian), and the Spring time weather, with the fruit blossom on the trees, is perhaps the nicest time of year to visit.

Changyu is the oldest of China's wine producers, and it might surprise you to discover that it was founded in the 19th Century, in 1892, with original vines from pre-phylloxera Bordeaux, including a variety thought until recently to be unique to China: Cabernet Gernischt.
It transpires that this is the same as Carmenere, now famous from Chile, and replanted in Bordeaux. However, grape vines change and develop over time, meaning that - just like Primitivo and Zinfandel - although Cabernet Gernischt and Carmenere are genetically the same, they produce different styles of wine. In fact Cabernet Gernischt produces wines rather more in a Bordeaux style, so perhaps the Bordelais should replant that!

Originally Changyu was founded with the help of a winemaker from Austria, Max von Balboa, and this has delightfully come full circle with the wines of Changyu's property in Ningxia, China's most recent and exciting wine region, being made with Lenz Moser, one of Austria's most celebrated winemakers today.

Some of the statistics of this company are staggering:
As well as winemaking facilities abroad in France, Italy, Spain and New Zealand, Changyu operates in six of China's regions: Beijing, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Shandong (Yantai), Liaoning and Shaanxi. In 13 winemaking facilities, and from a total of 230,000 hectares of vineyard, they produce an astonishing 156 million bottles per year.
Some 35 million of these are a single brand - which must be one of the world's largest - a Cabernet called Jie Bai Na (Noble Dragon). When a company is making as much as this, they must be doing something right! Unlike many large scale wine producers, however, Changyu keeps its separate facilities differentiated from one another and this means that scale does not come at the expense of diversity and quality. I was delightfully astonished by the quality of a wine made in such large quantities.

After meeting and tasting with Dr Li Jiming, Changyu's head of winemaking, I was treated to a very delicious lunch (Shandong is one of China's culinary superstar regions) with Tan Shao un (Susan), the Export Manager. It was very refreshing to discover that the export policy is one of recognising and working with local markets, which is why Changyu has had the success in global export markets that has so far eluded so many of China's other good producers. Long may this continue, because China, now the fifth largest producer globally (in all probability), has a lot of wonderful wines to offer, in a massive variety of styles due to its hugely different regions spread across the country.


Noble Dragon White (Italian Riesling) 2015
With a slight spritz on pouring this has fresh green fruit aromas. Just off dry, with moderate alcohol and soft acidity, this has fruity pear flavours with some zest on the finish. Pleasant and soundly made cold-fermented slightly off dry white. 14

Changyu Moser Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noirs - Ningxia 2016
Very feint pink colour, (more visible in the bottle). Slight spritz on pouring. Rose petal and black currant leaf aromas. Quite warm alcohol (14.4%), but good backing acidity. Fleshy rosé textured fruit. No real phenolic bitterness on the rounded and rich palate. Quite stylish. 15.5

Drunken Poet Cabernet Sauvignon - Xinjiang 2015
Cabernet Sauvignon. This is from Changyu's everyday range, and is inexpensive. It's simple and appealing with lots of fresh berry fruit aromas, and light dry tannins. There is a leafy fresh hint and a pleasant fruity finish. It's not a complicated wine, but it achieves everything it attempts, and offers good value for (not very much) money. 14

Changyu Noble Dragon Cabernet - Shandong 2009
Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) Cabernet Gernischt (60%)
This is the 35m case brand. It spends 9 months in oak, and offers some inviting sweet spices and black fruit aromas. Rounded, quite fresh acidity, berry fruit. Simple, but well-structured and soft. The oak is apparent but not dominant. 16

Changyu Castel Selection Cabernet Gernischt - Shandong 2012
With 12-14 months in oak, this wine is much spicier to scent with some cedary Bordeaux-like aromas, there is black fruit underneath. Dry tannins and a refined finish. It seems a little warm with alcohol, but retains good acidity. 15

Changyu Moser - Cabernet Sauvignon - Ningxia 2013
Much deeper and more youthful colour from this wine made with the help of Lens Moser in Ningxia. Very pure Cabernet aroma with black fruit, and not dominated by oak, although there is some spice (it spent 15 months in barrel). Almost Cabernet Franc like chalkiness to scent. Rich extract and depth with black fruit, big tannins and mouthfilling flavour. Warm oaky spices, lots of oak to taste, but balanced. Good acidity, although could be a shade higher. Well ripened tannins, good fruit extract. Intense and long finish. Really good. 17

Changyu Blue Diamond Ice Wine Vidal - Liaoning 2013
At the Canadian-assisted dedicated Ice Wine winery in Liaoning, they make three levels of ice wine from the various pressing levels, of which this is the middle. It is exported to the UK and Canada amongst others. Very pure fruit scents of apricot with some honey-caramel, no citrus. Much more mango (a Vidal characteristic) to taste, good fruit extraction and weight. Good sugar to acid balance (although a little more acidity would help) but definitely superior to the Ningxia ice wines I've tried. 15

I hope perhaps to re-vist Changyu in future to experience more of the myriad wines they have to offer.




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