In the Admiral's spirit

Updated: 2011-12-04 08:08

By Pauline D Loh (China Daily)

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In the Admiral's spirit

In the Admiral's spirit

In the Admiral's spirit

In the Admiral's spirit

It's a very good year, 1421 - the year the Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He led the mighty Chinese fleet south on the first of many voyages of discovery. And now, the same year marks another milestone. It is on the label of China's first traceable wine. Pauline D Loh tells you more.

Wine made in China. It suffers the same credibility problems that other Chinese produce battles in and out of the country. If the wine is good, connoisseurs query if it has been secretly imported and then placed in a Chinese bottle. It seems nothing the Chinese vineyards do can convince them otherwise. Until, that is, a Hong Kong oenophile and a Chilean winemaker decided the answer is to let the world know where the grapes come from, where they are grown and who made the wine. The result is a pair of white and red that has quietly hit the market, stirring up both interest and curiosity.

The crisp fresh Chardonnay and the unusually cold climate influenced Cabernet Sauvignon are now in very good company - served at Beijing's top hotels like The Raffles, The Westin, Opposite House, Ritz Carlton and restaurants like the venerable Maison Boulud.

The other smart move Johnny Chan and Andronico Luksic made was to piggyback on a traceable products project by the Metro China hypermarket group. In fact, Metro specially commissioned 1421 to produce a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon to be exclusively sold under their Star Farms Traceability System.

Under this system, all products can be traced back to the farms or producers through a simple smart phone application. We were given a demonstration by Randy Lee Svendsen, 1421's spokesman and Ken Chan, key operations manager of Beijing Summit Wines.

The barcode on the bottle was scanned and information started popping up on Chan's phone, zooming right to the vineyard in Xinjiang where the grapes came from, and including a short biography of Australian Yarra Valley winemaker Sergio Carlei, the man who turns the juice into wine.

"The vineyards in Xinjiang are watered by the snowmelt from Tianshan, and the long cool growing season allows the grapes to mature slowly and develop the best flavors," says Svendsen, who is packing up his home in Las Vegas because he has decided he's going to spend the rest of his life in China.

He firmly believes that 1421 augurs well for the Chinese wine industry, and he is committed to promoting the wine through his regular columns in hotel trade publications and through his networks within the food and wine industry.

It is through Svendsen's contact with the Grace Beijing Hotel that we got to know about the wines. It is also a pleasant surprise to stumble onto a wine producer who believes in traceable quality, and who collects grapes from vineyards that are converting to organic cultivation, and willing to follow biodynamic principles in the winemaking, thanks to the Australian influence.

1421 uses grapes that come from vineyards sharing the same latitude as Bordeaux, and the vines were brought back from France by Johnny Chan and planted about 11 years ago.

The cold winters also mean there are few diseases, while the warm sunny days and cool crisp nights provide ideal growing conditions.

"What we are producing are wines based on what the terroir can offer, therefore, reflecting the true characteristics of the wines, refreshing and easy drinking to enhance the multi-layers of flavors in food today," Svendsen says. This is as good a mission statement as any, and we look forward to more vintages from 1421.

China Daily is organizing a Readers' Club Dinner featuring Beijing's organic farmers at the Grace Beijing Hotel's Yi House restaurant on Jan 16, 2012. We are pairing the food with the Admiral's Reserve wines, and look forward to converting more fans for the Admiral's collection.

For more details on how to join the China Daily Readers' Club dinner, please send an e-mail topaulined@chinadaily.com.cn.

In the Admiral's spirit

(China Daily 12/04/2011 page13)