Sunday, June 21, 2009

LeDom du Vin: Dragon's Hollow: China, New Frontier and experimental ground for winemaking

Dragon's Hollow China

For the purist who knew Great Wall, one of the most famous Chinese wines sold in Europe (and in the rest of the world), here is a new challenger from China: Dragon's Hollow.

Dragon’s Hollow, one of the first Chinese winery to produce a high quality grapes, is located at the foot of the He Lan Mountain range in Ningxia Hui, China (about 600 miles west of Beijing, central-north China).

The vineyard was started in 2003, but the vines were originally planted in the early 90’s. The land covers an area of 6,000 hectares and is the largest top quality vineyard in Western China. The landscape looks like a huge green mirror inlaid in the vast expanse of the Loess Plateau.

China’s best varieties of wine grapes are grown in this region profiting from the sandy soil which is rich in organic content. Experts from both China and abroad have found the natural conditions in this region are comparable those found in France’s Bordeaux region and agree that it is the best ecological zone in China for growing top quality wine grapes.

The lofty He Lan Shan Mountains shelters the vineyard from cold winds in the winter and local spring water is used to irrigate the vineyard in the spring and summer. Dry weather and long hours of sunshine ensure that the grapes grow to full ripeness with superb colors, a full aroma, and an enchanting taste. The long and cold winter helps to ward off plant diseases and insect pests.

Winemaking is Ningxia has a history of over 1,000 years. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) a famous poet wrote a poem in praise of the wine made in Ningxia . During the 11th and 12th centuries the Xixia Kingdom flourished here. The Capital city Yinchuan, used to be an important town on the ancient Silk Road where many merchants came to trade. They brought the local wine to other parts of the country making it known far and wide. Rock carvings in the Helanshan Mountains are testimony to the cultural exchanges between different ethnic groups in ancient times. Today the people of Yincuangxia are carrying forward the fine tradition of wine making by adopting high technology and modern management.

2006 Dragon's Hollow Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay China

(eastern foot of the "He Lan" Mountain appellation)
Suggested retail price $12-$15
Distributed by Domaine Select in NYC

First, I need to say that I tasted this first wine blind and need to admit that this wine wasn't easily recognizable because of its texture (somewhat lighter and not as complex as a Burgundian Chardonnay, with a "je ne sais quoi" of New World ripeness, a more tropical fruit touch to it, without being over extracted or too ripe), but also because of its bright acidity that reminds me more of some other grapes (sort of a sauvignon-like texture in the palate), pretty vivid for a Chardonnay or too light.

The nose is bright, clean, fresh with aromas of citrus, lemon peel or zest, green apple and a touch floral. Light on his feet, the palate is refreshing, balanced and clean yet not too complex but very pleasing for a first experience with a Chinese white wine (I tasted some reds before, but no whites until today). The finish is simple and easy going with an excellent balance.

Overall, even if a bit light for my taste, I enjoyed it very much and I think my customer will be please to experience such wine. I think that with a tiny bit of age, the vines will get slightly better and more interesting. For now, it is rather uncomplicated, discreet and straightforward. I hope that the next vintages will bring more layers of complexity and depth. But in this kind of price range, it remains a very strong value (especially in today's market where everything is so expensive).

I tasted this wine last winter and it was a bit closed. However, because the lightness and the vivid acidity that this wine shows, it seems more appropriate for the summer months and seems to have evolce the right way since then. Let's just hope that we will have a good summer and a warm Indian fall, because so far this spring season has benn awfully rainy. This is a wine to discover and to appreciate on salad, oyster, shell fish and grilled river white fish.

After this very interesting tasting game, David (the brand manager of Dragon's Hollow) poured me a glass of his second wine:

2006 Dragon's Hollow Vineyards Riesling China
(eastern foot of the "He Lan" Mountain appellation)
Suggested retail price $12-$15
Distributed by Domaine Select in NYC

Dragon's Hollow Riesling is definitely more expressive on the nose than the Chardonnay (although it remains quite discreet and restrain compare to some Alsace or German Rieslings).

It displays floral and fruity aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle, white peach and apricot skin mixed with notes of wet stone minerality. The palate is dry (dryer than an Alsace and definitely more than a German Riesling) and offers similar flavors of citrus, lime, honeysuckle and a twist of petroleum. Showing more depth and multiple layers of fruit combined with a great acidity, it appears less mono-dimensional than the Chardonnay.

Overall, both have a great balance and some interesting features despite the fact that they are both quite light; yet they will surely quench the thirst of someone looking for a fresh, bright, clean and down-to-earth white wine.

In my opinion:

The wines from China just started to arrive in the American market and they are fairly unknown to most drinkers. Fortunately, made out of international grape varieties, they will ease the expected hesitation of the consumers at first.

Unfortunately, for some people, it will just be another Chardonnay or another Cabernet (or any other international grape) from another country that doesn't have a past of winemaking history. It may fashion a certain interest at the beginning, but who knows how long is it going to last, especially if they don't rapidly focus on high quality wines for a decent price.

If they don't offer wines made from lesser known (or less commercial) grape varieties, after a while the Chinese wines may end up not selling too well and not necessarily continue to attract the customers (except may be by curiosity or because the wine is a truly good value compare to other wines from other countries made from the same grape).

They may have to specialize into certain grapes to keep up with the market (like Malbec in Argentina; Carmenere in Chile; Tannat in Uruguay: Shiraz in Australia; Sauvignon in New Zealand; Riesling in Germany; Gruner Veltliner in Austria; Tempranillo and Garnacha in Spain; Sangiovese and Nebbiolo in Italy; Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Oregon; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Bordeaux and California; etc...only to talk about the most well-known grapes, because they are dozens more coming from the 70 leading wine producing countries in the world).

However, I'm glad that there are quite a few open minded people like David Henderson to lead the way into introducing winemaking and wine tradition in new countries. I wish him luck with Dragon's Hollow Vineyards and will be proud to be one of the first in New York to carry his wines and suggest them to my valuable customers.

We have now carry at the store Dragon's Hollow since last fall, but I think customers will better appreciate these wines now that we timidly entering in the summer months.

Keep an open mind on everything, do not judge too quickly when you don't know and don't be too stubborn about what you like or dislike, taste it before making in hasty conclusion.


LeDom du Vin

Info and picture taken from Domaine Select website at:

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