New and Old Releases of Exciting, Must-Try Chinese Wines

by Ian D’Agata

I have been writing about China’s wines more or less regularly for about ten years now; in order to do so credibly and not just in a run-of-the-mill way thanks to some week-long all expenses-paid junket, it helped that I first visited China in 2005. It also helped greatly that I was originally co-chairman of the Expert Judges Panel (originally a triumvirate, with Jancis Robinson MW and Bernard Burtschy, back then the wine columnist for Le Figaro daily) and later the sole chairman of the China Wine Summit (China’s most important Chinese wine show and wine competition). Clearly, ever since I moved to China many years ago (the country where I live and work full-time), the pace at which I write about Chinese wines has risen exponentially. Furthermore, visiting Chinese wine-producing provinces regularly throughout the year has allowed me to gain further knowledge and hands-on insight into China’s wine terroirs, wineries and wines. And such first-hand awareness has helped me reap the reward of a real understanding for what’s going on in the country wine-wise. Granted, nothing in this world of ours is perfect, and so there’s few things China’s wine scene can look to improve upon still; but the amazing speed at which things move in this country (and admittedly, the amazing willingness to study, learn and work hard of most Chinese people) is such that the quality of Chinese wines has risen dramatically and continues to do so all the time.

China is one of the world’s ten largest wine producers; and when it comes to red wine consumption, the ranking is much higher than that. Fact is, the younger Chinese generations, unlike those of their parents and grand-parents that still prefer to drink baijiu (white spirit), huangjiu (yellow rice wine) and tea at all times of the day, are increasingly embracing the culture and joys of wine. Go to any wine show in Beijing or Shanghai and there’s something like 500-800 people in the large room happily tasting away; more pertinently, they are all young people, easily in their twenties and early thirties. They all like, and are interested in, wine; and for the most part, they also have a really pretty good handle on the wines of France, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa and Germany; knowledge about the wines of other countries is not as strong either because courses set up by those other countries are not as successful or because they are lacking altogether, such that learning about their wines becomes eminently more difficult.

But for sure, there’s a growing interest among Chinese wine lovers in Chinese wines: it really couldn’t be otherwise, given the progressively improving quality of the country’s wines. Ten years ago, China’s wines were not as exciting as they are today (though there were many that were perfectly palatable and not at all as bad as some people out West like to guffaw about) and so interest in wine and Chinese wines in particular was understandably limited. But nowadays, there are numerous Chinese wineries making world-class wines. The fact that many such wines are often the result of using grape varieties nobody else in the world is all that successful with (Marselan, for example) or are wines made with grapes not too many other countries produce wine with (Petit Manseng and Cabernet Gernischt, for example; the latter is possibly -but not necessarily- a biotype of Carmenère) only adds to the bright present and future Chinese wines have to look forward to (some, at least).

Improved quality of the wines aside, another sure-fire sign of the fact “Chinese wine has landed” is that there begins to be surfacing, albeit slowly, a realization of the existence of terroir in China and its importance relative to wines. For example, while five years ago it was just a matter of “Hey, you know what, we seem to make pretty good Marselan wines here”, now it is becoming increasingly more and more a matter of: “Hey, you know what, the Marselan wines of the Huailai Hebei area are different from those of Ningxia, from those of Shandong, and from those of Xinjian”. And that is in fact very, very, very true: the realization that there is a diversity of expression (and a very obvious one, in some cases) between wines made with the same grape and more or less in the same manner but with grapes grown in different provinces, is starting to hit home. I recently held a tasting for a dozen of Shanghai’s best sommeliers (Michelin-starred restaurants plus a few non-starred bistros but with huge wine lists) and it was apparent just how surprised but also immediately cognizant those young men and women were of the clear-cut differences that exist between Marselan, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Gernsicht wines made in different parts of the country. Even better, that there are just as clearcut differences in the wines made within provinces, a diversity that is also starting to be addressed and studied. For example, Ningxia is an enormous wine production area. To say that the wines of the Ningxia subregion of Yinchuan are the same as those produced in another Ningxia subregion such Hongsipu or Qingtongxia is really non-sensical. Importantly, local wine lovers, both professionals and not, are starting to gain awareness of this.

Yes, there are exciting times in Chinese wine: if all play their cards right, from producers to government institutions to researchers to consultants, you might just borrow a phrase and say: “Hey, you know what, the wine future here looks so bright we’re gonna need to wear shades”.

The wines in this tasting.

All the following wines were tasted either in my office or home in Shanghai or at WineApp, a beautiful wine store and bistro that recently organized a “movie night”  showing the movie “Waking the Sleeping Grape”, that narrates and describes the rise of Chinese wine in the country. The screening was preceded and followed by a tasting of high-quality wines from wineries featured in the movie.

Ao Yun.

Ao Yun 2019 Adong Cru Red Wine Yunnan China    95

Fully saturated bright ruby-purple. More exotic and spicy on the nose than the 2019 Xidang cru, with deep aromas of blackberry, smoked beef, minerals and violet. Large-scaled and round on the palate, with a fleshy but suave texture, and a spicy character to the black and blue fruit flavours complicated by a strong presence of dark chocolate. Lingers very impressively in the mouth. At once big but refined, its underlying firmness suggests it will reward several years of aging. Strikes me as the best Adong yet (I have previously tasted Adong wines from barrel and bottle), with the Syrah really making its presence felt here. A blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Syrah, 6% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Drinking window: 2027-2038.

Ao Yun 2019 Xidang Cru Red Wine Yunnan China   96

Bright medium red. Fresh, spicy redcurrant and strawberry aromas are complicated by white pepper, mint, lavender, peony, noble cocoa and violet nuances. Sharply focused and refreshingly tangy in the mouth, with red berry and red cherry flavours displaying outstanding concentration and precision, plus a captivating light touch thought there’s an obvious luscious fruit-filled creaminess here too. This rich, dense, suavely structured wine finishes with strong floral lift, precision and cut. A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Cabernet Franc, but it’s all that Cabernet Franc that really makes its presence felt. Extremely refined wine that will age effortlessly. Spectacular stuff; to generalize, Euro-palates will prefer this 2019 cru, while North American palates will prefer the 2019 Adong. Drinking window: 2026-2036.

Ao Yun 2019 Ao Yun Yunnan China              96+

Good full ruby-red. Complex, soil-driven aromas of raspberry, licorice, loam, violet and brown spices (cinnamon, nutmeg). Fresh, ripe and broad in the mouth, with attractive subtle sweetness to the deep flavours of red berries, coffee extract and spicy underbrush. Plenty of suave flesh to support its broad, fine tannins. The aftertaste is very long and very suave; this strikes me as an even more politely-styled Ao Yun than usual. Well done: though it’s relatively young estate, this LVMH property is making truly world-class red wines. A blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 10% Syrah and 6% Petit Verdot. Drinking window: 2027-2038.

Canaan Winery.

Canaan Winery 2019 Pinot Noir Mastery Chapter and Verse Hualai China                     89

Deep ruby with purple tinges. Rather ripe aromas of cherry-cola, blueberry and herbs, with oaky spices and floral notes emerging with aeration. Juicy and vibrant, with ripe dark cherry and dark berry flavours that are ripe and suave. Finishes long, with a firm but noble tannic backbone, but I would have liked a little more verve; I might be wrong, but some past vintages of the Mastery Pinot Noir seemed more fruity and lifted to me. They have done a tremendous amount of clonal research on Pinot Noir at Canaan, with separate clonal microvinifications, and so I fully expect this winery to be making world-class Pinot Noir wines sooner rather than later. Drinking window: 2024-2028.

Canaan Winery 2018 Syrah Mastery Chapter and Verse Hualai China                      92

Deep moderately saturated ruby. Typical Syrah aromas and flavours of blackberries, violet and smoke, along with olive tapenade and mineral nuances that blossom with air. Nicely juicy and focused in the mouth, boasting both blueberry and blackberry flavours and a note of aromatic herbs.  Closes delicately chocolaty and spicy, with welcoming floral elements. I really like this wine’s clarity and juicy delivery of plump fruit. Drinking window: 2025-2030.


Chandon Sparkling Wine Dry Rosé Ningxia         88

Deep pink-red colour with large bubbles. Very forward red cherry and red berry aromas and flavours are thick and slightly sweet. The medium-long finish is broad and very fruity, and reminiscent of grape juice. Made in a very consumer-friendly style that is mellow and sweet, this is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir from the Yinshuan region of the Ningxia province. Drinking window: 2024-2026.

Chateau Nine Peaks.

Chateau Nine Peaks 2020 Cabernet Franc Qingdao China      91

Bright red-ruby. High-pitched aromas of blueberry, minerals, violet, licorice and herbs. Fresh and lifted, with a firm spine of acidity lifting the dark and red berry, mint and floral flavours. Closes long and youthfully chewy, with slightly drying tannins. Drinking window: 2025-2030.

Chateau Nine Peaks 2008-2023 15 Anniversary Party Qingdao Shandong China              91

Good moderately saturated ruby. Aromas of dark berries, blackberry jelly, violet, cracked black pepper, forest herbs, mushrooms, and smoke.  Juicy and nicely precise, offering sappy blackberry and mulberry flavors and a hint of bitter chocolate on the fleshy, suave, ripe palate.  The smoky note repeats on the long, satisfying finish, which offers a hint of velvety mocha sweetness. A complicated blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24.5% Petit Verdot, 14% Merlot, 4.5% Alibernet, 3.5% Marselan and 3.5% Syrah, pressed after 25 days of maceration and aged for 12 months in 225 liters barriques (5% new). Drinking window: 2025-2028.

Devo Winery.

Devo Winery MV02 Traditional Method Sparkling wine Helan Mountains Ningxia             92

Bright straw yellow with a persistent thin bead of small bubbles. Green apple and pear are complicated by hints of tropical fruit (mango, passion fruit) and yeasty nuances. Very fresh, with nice mineral tang to the orchard and tropical fruit flavours present. Closes long and lively. This has sneaky complexity and is well-balanced, juicy and fresh. I hadn’t had this specific wine before, but consider me impressed: I think it can give more than one grower’s Champagne as well as other other sparkling wines from around the world a run for their money. From the Jinshan Mountain at the eastern foothills of the Helan Mountain range, this is the second blend (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) of this wine that spent 24 months on the lees. Drinking window: 2024-2028.

Domaine de Long Dai.

Domaine de Long Dai 2020 Hu Yue Red Wine Shandong          93

Bright purple-ruby. Forward, perfumed and expressive on the nose, with ripe blackberry and black cherry aromas interwoven with suggestions of potpourri and licorice. Broad and nicely fleshy but also lifted on the palate, with the dark berry and ripe cherry flavours showing a bright juiciness and perfumed floral lift. The fruit expands and deepens on the velvety smooth, long finish. This is already approachable and is a remarkably good second wine, easily on a par with Bordeaux’s second vins, though clearly each speaks of its own distinct terroirs. It’s also not the first time that Hu Yue bests Long Dai when young, which is strange given it is the latter that is the Grand Vin. Then again, it is also true that over time the latter wine develops more power, complexity and depth and has much greater staying power. The 2020 Hu Yue is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 12% Marselan, 8% Syrah and 6% Merlot, aged twelve months in oak barrels. Drinking window: 2024-2032.

Domaine de Long Dai 2019 Long Dai Red Wine Shandong      91+

Good dark ruby. Black cherry, plum, forest floor and a very strong note of licorice on the nose, with some green notes of mint and herbs that mostly dissipated with air. Then large-scaled and tactile in the mouth, in the mouth, with menthol, herbal and earthy notes to the flavours of dark fruit and licorice, but currently the earthy-herbal notes overshadow the primary fruit. Finishes long and rather broad, with serious palate-saturating and slightly chewy, meaty tannins. I’m a fan of what the team at Domaine de Long Dai is trying to accomplish: there’s an underlying delicacy here, but the wine is currently in an awkward stage. Forget about this in the cellar for another six to eight years to allow it to show its best. A blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc and 20% Marselan. Drinking window: 2028-2038.

Giantmont Estate.

Giantmonte Estate 2019 Cabernet Franc More Sun Red Wine Yinchuan Ningxia              93+

Vivid red-ruby. High-pitched, expressive aromas of raspberry, violet, orange peel, minerals and rose. Silky, open-knit red fruit flavours show very good depth and tangy firming minerality, plus captivating inner-mouth perfume. The bright floral note repeats on the finish, which leaves traces of candied rose and crystallized cranberries behind. This is a knockout Cabernet Franc wine that stays remarkably fresh and light on its feet despite its 14.5% alcohol. Very impressive: I look forward to visiting the winery soon. Drinking window: 2025-2034.

Helan Qingxue.

Helan Qingxue 2021 Chardonnay Jia Bei Lan Yinchuan Eastern Foothills of Helan Mountains Ningxia China                      91

Luminous straw yellow. Slightly buttery, yeasty nuances complement bright orchard fruit aromas and flavours. Very easygoing white wine but with sneaky concentration and that closes long and mineral. This is not weighed down by excessive vanilla, buttery or yeasty notes. Stainless steel-fermented, it offers plenty of freshness and drinking enjoyment. Drinking window: 2024-2027.


Kanaan  2021 Lao Wang Red Wine Yinchuan EasternFoothills Helan Mountains Ningxia                        89

Good full ruby. Plum liqueur, blackcurrant, smoke, violet and pepper on the nose. Nicely structured in the mouth with solid underlying tannic spine giving shape to the big, ripe flavours of dark fruit, coffee and herbs. Maybe not the most nuanced red you’ll ever drink, and at 15.5% alcohol not especially light on its feet, but offers plenty of flesh and flavour and will prove ideal with thick beef stews and grilled steaks. 100% Syrah. Don’t confuse this winery, Kanaan, with the similar-sounding but altogether different Canaan winery. Drinking window: 2026-2030.

Longting Vineyard.

Longting Vineyard 2020 Petit Manseng Late Harvest Jade Art Series Shandong                      94+

Vivid yellow-gold. Very intense aromas of mango, peach, crystallized ginger, sweet spices and candied white flowers. Multilayered and tactile, with Petit Manseng’s typical chewy grapiness and gorgeous acid-sugar balance showcased to full effect on the long suave finish. Tastes sweet, but less so thanks to piercing acidity. The normally late harvested Petit Manseng grapes used to make this wine (from a cool, low sunlight, long hang-time plot of vines) were picked even later than usual in 2020 (in November) in three successive vineyard passes or tries. Once again, Longting’s late harvest Petit Manseng is extremely refined yet concentrated, and packs in a ton of flavour with only 11.5% alcohol. It is stably, every year, among China’s ten best wines, and it’s no different in 2020. Outstanding, world-class sweet wine that will match very well with raw oysters, scallops, shrimp, pumpkin soup, butternut squash, poultry and mushroom casserole, aged and blue cheeses, cream and fruit desserts. Drinking window: 2024-2035.


Puchang 2020 Rkatsiteli Xinjiang China               93

Pale straw yellow. Aromas and flavours of yellow and green apple, nectarine, and a touch of honey, nicely complicated by hints of lemon ice and of grilled hazelnut. Then similar flavours to the aromas, with lovely freshness and lift on the harmonious, high-acid long finish. About 60% of the wine was aged in 3000 liters oak barrels, but this wine comes across as mineral and lively. Beautiful stuff.  Drinking window: 2024-2028.

Puchang 2018 Beichun Turpan Valley Xinjiang China      92+

Deep ruby-red. Aromas of black and red cherries, quinine, cocoa and coffee, with a violet undertone and strong complicating presence of loam and licorice. Smooth at first, then more austere in the middle but with building creaminess to the sweet and silky flavours of dark cherry, smoky plum, sandalwood and sweet spices. The aftertaste is long, mouth-coating and round, not to mention very ripe, almost Amarone-like in fact, but well balanced overall­­. Stainless-steel fermented, and aged in old oak (third fill) 500-liter and 225-liter barrels for twelve months, then another eighteen months in bottle prior to going on sale. This bottle seems a little less fruity to me than previous ones I have had, but it’s still a special wine. Drinking window: 2026-2032.

Puchang 2017 Saperavi Turpan Valley Xinjiang China                92

Good bright medium red. Lovely violet and peony lift to the aromas of red cherry, raspberry and tobacco.  Suave, smooth and lightly aromatic in the mouth, with very good inner-mouth perfume to the flavours of redcurrant, candied flowers and licorice.  Nicely focused and vibrant on the fruit-crammed finish that lingers nicely. This is really quite good. Drinking window: 2024-2029l

Puchang 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Turpan Valley Xinjiang China            87

Good full deep ruby-red. Floral nuances add further dimensions to the aromas of cassis, black cherry, menthol and iris. Then slightly angular in the mouth, with a fruit-challenged personality; offers lovely floral lift to the savory, dry flavors of ripe plum, dark cherry, cedar, graphite and spices.  Finishes firmly tannic and a tad too dry for my taste. Drinking window: 2027-2031.

Runaway Cow.

Runaway Cow 2022 Rosé Penglai Yantai Shandong China      90

Bright pale pink. Delicate aromas and flavours of white and pink flowers, strawberry, and fresh citrus. Fermented at low temperatures, no malolactic, this finishes like it starts, fruity and fresh. Not especially long or complex, but this very enjoyable pink wine will prove a winner at any garden party or summer luncheon. A very successful, truly lovely, 100% Cabernet Franc rosé wine. Drinking window: 2024-2025.

Runaway Cow 2021 Chardonnay Penglai Yantai Shandong China       89

Bright straw yellow. Apple, pear, pineapple and small white flowers on the nose. Then similar fruit flavours, with plenty of acidity and juicy freshness on the long close. Uncomplicated easygoing Chardonnay wine that eschews all the usual heavy toast, butter and leesy notes in favour of a much easier to drink, enjoyable, fresh white wine. Aged one year in clay pots. Only 12% alcohol. Drinking window: 2024-2026.

Runaway Cow 2021 Orange Wine Penglai Yantai Shandong China     91

Medium yellow-orange colour; as far as orange wines go, this is brighter deep yellow in colour than orange, a refreshing look. Then complex, deep aromas of candied apple, orange peel and white pepper, nicely lifted by a touch of osmanthus flowers. Then bright and juicy, with a tactile but suave texture and featuring flavours of orchard fruit, banana and almond. Closes long and fine-grained, and not at all oaky. 100% Chardonnay that was barrel fermented and spent about seven months in oak barrel.  Drinking window: 2024-2027.

Runaway Cow 2020 Red Blend Penglai Yantai Shandong China   91

Bright dark ruby. Aromas and flavours of graphite, strawberry, hawthorn fruit and ink, plus nuances of mint and eucalyptus. Fresh and lively on the long pure finish with supple oak tannins from the eight months barrel aging. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Marselan and Petit Verdot. Drinking window: 2026-2030.

Silver Heights.

Silver Heights 2021 Pinot Noir Jia Yuan Ningxia        90

Good red-ruby colour.  Musky, slightly reduced aromas at first, with redcurrant, plum, black tea, iron and ink merging with air, then a late hit of violet and pomegranate. Juicy, lively and smooth, with a restrained welcome juicy sweetness to the moderately-structured flavours of crunchy dark berries, spices and Pu’er tea notes. Closes broad and weightless, with a persistent floral nuance hinting at whole-cluster character. 100% Pinot Noir that was clay pot-fermented at low temperatures using natural yeasts and aged for about a year in 50% new oak. Drinking window: 2024-2028.

Tiansai Vineyards.

Tiansai Vineyards Chardonnay T20 Dry White Wine       91

Bright, medium yellow. Ripe but oak-dominated aromas of lemon and ginger, with hints of tropical fruit, plus a whiff of smoky reduction. Sweet, lush and ample in the mouth, with no shortage of sweet spicy notes to the reticent tropical fruit flavours. Closes gentle but mouthcoating, and long. This is a world-class Chardonnay wine that all those who enjoy a strong note of sexy vanilla and spice will adore. Drinking window: 2024-2026.


Xiaoling 2021 Hong Po Shangri-La Yunnan China            92

Good bright straw yellow. Glyceral aromas and flavours of beeswax, yellow orchard fruit, white sesame, honey and herbs. Slightly chewy and round thanks to some skin contact. Closes long and fresh. The wine’s name, hong po, means the “red slope”, even though it’s a white wine. Drinking window: 2024-2029. Drinking window

Xiaoling 2019 Xiaoling Grand Vin Shangri-La Yunnan China       94

Bright red-ruby. Strawberry, blackcurrant, vanilla, green peppercorns and spicy herbs on the nose and in the mouth, with lovely violet lift. Noteworthy acidity has mellowed out over the past year since I last tried this, and it helps nicely extend the flavours on the long, perfumed back end that features a cool minty pepperiness. A really refined wine sporting a cool-climate quality to it, especially on its nose. A 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Merlot blend. Drinking window:2024-2030.

Xige Estate.

Xige Estate 2021 Chardonnay N.28 Ningxia China           90

Bright medium-dark straw yellow with some gold. Oak-derived aromas of butter and vanilla, with hints of yeastiness and tropical fruit. Then rich and suave, with more of the same tropical fruit, buttery and sweet spice flavours. Made in a very international way, so the vanilla and sweet spice notes dominate, but for those who like this style of Chardonnay, it will prove a winner. Drinking window: 2024-2026.

Xige Estate 2019 Cabernet Gernischt Single Vineyard Jade Dove Pigeon Mountain Ningxia China                    92+

Bright ruby-purple. Aromas and flavours of redcurrants, hawthorne flowers, strawberry, cedar and graphite, plus a perfumed violet topnote. Fresh and lifted in the mouth, with very well-balanced acidity and suave tannins. Long and suave on the aftertaste, with repeating violet notes. It’s good to go now, but laying it away for a few years in a good cellar will only help this develop more nuance and depth, hence the “+” sign on my score. This single vineyard 100% Cabernet Gernischt wine is a true Chinese classic wine, and never fails to deliver in every vintage. Drinking window: 2025-2030.


Zaxee 2020 Zaxee 2560 Derong County Garze Tibet Sichuan           91

Opaque, deep purple. Exotically perfumed, ultra-ripe nose evokes dark berry jam, prunes, licorice and balsamic oils. Fleshy blackberry and dark plum flavours are both primary and broad, chocolaty and coffee-like, picking up a spicy quality with air. Very ample and round, finishing with good clarity and plenty of sweetness of fruit. Those who like big fat behemoths red wines will love this.  Drinking window: 2025-2030.




Ian D'Agata

Editor-in-Chief of Terroir Sense Wine Review
President of Terroir Sense Academy
Vice President of Association Internationale des Terroirs
Chief Scientific Officer of TasteSpirit

Ian D’Agata has been writing and educating about wines for over thirty years. Internationally recognized as an distinguished expert, critic and writer on many wine regions, his two most recent, award winning books Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Italy's Native Wine Grape Terroirs (both published by University of California Press) are widely viewed as the "state of the art" textbooks on the subject. The former book won the Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year in 2015 and was ranked as the top wine books of the year for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times and the New York Times, while the latter was named among the best wine books of the year by Food & Wine Magazine and the NY Times.

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Ian D'Agata