Magic Dragon: Tasting China’s biggest wine brand

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15th April, 2019 by db_staff

China’s Noble Dragon is a long-established brand, and one that is growing in prominence around the world. In a blind tasting at ProWein, db set out to see how it stands up against the best in its class.

The tasting covered both Old and New World wines, including some of the world’s best-selling brands

At ProWein last month, the drinks business hosted a blind tasting of wines from seven countries, and China’s Changyu Noble Dragon was selected as one of the top five of the global best-selling expressions. According to the results that were released after the tasting, three of the judges gave Changyu Noble Dragon a score of more than 90 points.

Patrick Schmitt MW, editor-in-chief of db, and the chairman of the panel, said: “Blind tasting is the most objective way to test the quality of wine, because everyone will focus on the wine itself by throwing away all external factors. According to the results, I must say that Changyu Noble Dragon performed very well.

“It is fruity and rich, and I believe that people who have tasted it will see the potential of Chinese wine.”

The tasting covered both Old and New World wines, including some of the world’s best-selling brands, such as Prestige de Calvet from France, Canti Vino Rosso from Italy, Woodbridge (owned by Mondavi Winery), Barefoot from E. & J. Gallo Winery, Echo Falls from Accolade Wines, Jacobs Creek from Australia, Penfolds Rawson’s Retreat Private Release from Australia, Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo from Chile.

The panel included a judging team consisting of Masters of Wine: Alistair Cooper MW, BBC Radio Oxford wine programme anchor; Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) judge; Richard Bampfield MW, chairman of the Association of Wine Educators; and Victoria Stephens-Clarkson MW, Decanter World Wine Awards judge. Cooper said: “I hope to see more Chinese wines competing at an international level in the future and establish their own reputation.”

Changyu Noble Dragon was founded in 1931, and was made by the Italian winemaker Badi Dorchi, using the Cabernet Gernischt grape. In 1935, it was defined as Claret in its first advertisement, in the North China Daily.

In 1937, after approval by the Trademark Office of the Ministry of Industry, Changyu registered the Cabernet trademark.

In an article that featured in Brewing Magazine in 1939, the publication favourably compared the wine with those from Bordeaux, Chianti, and California, saying: “Noble Dragon is a wine that first represents a northern temperate climate and its quality can compete with the wines of America.”

In the ProWein tasting, Changyu Noble Dragon held its own against some of the best-selling wine brands in Europe and the US, demonstrating its strength.

At the Changyu exhibition booth at ProWein, Cheretti-Kowal said: “The quality of the wine is outstanding. I tasted two grades of Changyu Noble Dragon today; both are extraordinary. The special select is soft and velvety, with a pleasant herbal aroma; the masterclass Changyu Noble Dragon is full-bodied, with a firmer taste, and is very good. It is of an international standard of wine, which really impressed me.”

Changyu Noble Dragon is sold in more than 5,000 stores in Europe, including Sainsbury’s in the UK, Schneekloth wine stores in Germany, Soysuper in Spain, Rutishauser Barossa in Switzerland, and Delta Club in Russia.

By the end of February 2019, Changyu Noble Dragon’s global accumulative sales exceeded 532 million bottles, making it the first dry red brand in China that is popular with Chinese and foreign consumers.

As Baudouin Havaux, chairman of the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, said, talking about Changyu Noble Dragon during ProWein : “A famous Chinese wine perfect for the European market.”

Alistair Cooper MW and Victoria Stephens-Clarkson MW taste the wines

About Noble Dragon

Noble Dragon is China’s largest wine brand, and hails from Shandong-based producer Changyu. It was launched in 1931, and sells 30 million bottles globally every year.

It was the first Chinese wine to be stocked by UK supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

The best-selling wine in the range is made from a blend of Cabernet Gernischt, Cabernet Sauvigon and Merlot, all sourced from the Yantai wine region in Shandong, and the chief winemaker is Dr Li Jiming.

Speaking to the drinks business after the tasting, Dr Li said the blend currently contains around 70% Cabernet Gernischt – which means ‘mixed’ Cabernet, although it has been confirmed by grape geneticist José Vouillamoz that the variety is actually 99.99% Carmenère.

As much as 70% of all China’s Cabernet Gernischt goes into making the Noble Dragon brand, and the producer is hoping to use even more, as it aims to increase the production of the wine brand to as much as 50m bottles every year.

Dr Li said that Cabernet Gernischt was well adapted to Yantai, and produced wines with soft, ripe fruit, while the Cabernet Sauvignon from the same region is used to add structure to the blend.

The wine used in the tasting hailed from the 2015 vintage, had a 12.5% ABV, 4g/l residual sugar, and had been aged in barriques, with 30% new oak.

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