1995 Hau Xia Cabernet Sauvignon, Changli of Hebei Province, China

I’ve been wanting to try Chinese wine for a year or so, as I’ve followed the increasing growth of the Chinese wine industry and the growing popularity of wine in China. On a business trip to LA a couple of weeks ago, I happened to eat a rushed meal at the bar in a restaurant with an extensive by-the-glass list, and what should appear on one of the pages but this little gem.

When I placed my order, the bartender raised his eyebrow, and said “Oh, adventurous, aren’t you?” I don’t normally take that as an encouraging sign, but I bit my tongue and decided to go through with my order.

Hebei province lies in the northeast of China. It is bordered on the West by the Taihang Mountains and on the east by an dramatic indentation to China’s northern coastline known as the Bohai Gulf. The only reason most Americans might have heard of it will be the fact that it is the province nestled most closely the city of Beijing. Beyond its proximity to China’s capital, Hebei province is known for its Shanhaiguan Pass which marks the easternmost end of the Great Wall, for its mild climate, and increasingly, for its wines.

HuaXia Winery is situated In the somewhat rural town of Changli which rarely makes it onto anyone’s travel itinerary, except perhaps those interested in its ancient, well preserved Yuanying Pagoda. The third largest producer of wine in China by volume, Huaxia is a subsidiary of COFCO, the Chinese National Cereals, Oils, and Foodstuffs Corporation. Founded in 1988 after 9 years of experimentation with French style winemaking and grapes, Huaxia Winery is particularly proud of its location at 40 degrees North latitude, the same as Bordeaux. The message on their site is too good not to share:

“God blesses Bordeaux with distinguished red wine. But we do share the sunshine soil and good vintage. No distance, but affinity lies between fine wines. The genuine aroma of Bordeaux. The natural fragrance of China. HuaXia GreatWall Dry Red China. Made along 40N. Purely authentic.”

In keeping with the tradition of such undertakings as the Great Wall of China and the Three Gorges Dam, HuaXia doesn’t do anything at a small scale. Their current operation includes a processing facility covering 86,000 square feet, including a bottling line with a capacity of producing 10,000 bottles of wine per hour; a cellar with capacity for 5000 barrels, and a press operation capable of processing their annual harvest which now hovers somewhere around 50,000 tons of grapes. Such size puts them on a par with some of America’s largest single producers of wine.

The glass of wine that appeared in front of me didn’t look strange, nor did the bottle it came from. Apart from the unfamiliar name and some Chinese characters on the label, this might have been any wine bottle from anywhere. I think my desire to try Chinese wine stems from a curiosity and a fascination with the future of the global wine industry. When China enters any market, things change dramatically, and I expect no less from the wine industry. But I wanted to taste for myself the quality of the goods — as if I might be able to judge the stitching of a backpack or an athletic shoe.

And what did I discover?

If someone can put 100,000 cases of this stuff in every major global wine consuming market at a couple of dollars per bottle, the bottom will fall out of the wine market overnight. It’s not fabulous, but it’s good enough that someone, somewhere ought to be very, very scared.

Tasting Notes:
A bright medium ruby color in the glass, this wine has a nose of simple cherry fruit aromas tinged with a pencil lead quality that I associate with Bordeaux. In the mouth it is medium bodied with reasonable balance, and very typical red berry flavors of a claret-style Cabernet with hints of cassis and black cherries. It has no real tannic structure left to speak of, but beyond that, it does not betray its age. I’m particularly impressed by its lack of greenness, though one would have expected those flavors to have mellowed over time. The wine overall is not complex, but it is pleasant, and easy to drink. Really, quite surprisingly, decent.

Food Pairing:
I would be more than happy to have this as a house pizza wine.

Overall Score: 8/8.5

How much?: Should sell for around $10 if you can find it.

The only internet merchant I could find selling this wine is located in Holland, and not much use to most readers. The wine is imported by Volubilis Imports Inc. Drop them a line if you’re desperate to get your hands on some.