Battle of the giants: blind-tasting the world’s biggest wine brands

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9th November, 2020 by Patrick Schmitt

How would Noble Dragon from Changyu stack up against some of the world’s most popular mass-market wine brands? Patrick Schmitt MW and a team of experts put it to the test in a recent blind-tasting event in London.

The blind tasting of the world’s biggest wine brands was conducted at London’s Asia House on 14 October

Measuring success in the world of wine is generally done by one of two ways: by looking at the level of critical acclaim, or by the scale of demand. And while both are valid ways of doing things, one approach is concerned with collectable status, the other is focused on the quantities of wine consumed.

In a set of tastings in London’s Asia House last month, we considered wines that had achieved the ultimate in each measure of success. The first concerned the issue of critical acclaim, by looking at a collection of wines so sought-after that they were chosen when heads of state come to dine. The second tasting, the focus of this report, considered wine brands that are so big they are distributed worldwide, and are consumed in the millions.

These names will be known to you all, from Antinori to Jacob’s Creek, Gallo to Mouton Cadet, but one of them, which is just as big as these wine trade leviathans, is from China. The question we wanted to answer was whether this large-scale label was as good as its competitors from other parts of the world, or, indeed, better. And if so, surely it would have just as much right to be on the shelves of major retailers worldwide?

To test its quality and style we laid on a special tasting for professionals: a blind sampling of the world’s leading big-volume wine brands. The idea was to see whether the style and quality of the Chinese wine – Noble Dragon from Changyu – was similar to longstanding respected global names.

Having taste tested it with some of the globe’s most admired palates, it turned out that yes, it was. Indeed, for many it was in the top three best of the world’s biggest brands, beating a raft of labels from respected brands (see results boxout opposite), and coming in first place with Jacob’s Creek and Antinori.

This was important for two reasons. It showed that China’s Changyu can produce a wine in an appealing style at an inexpensive price point, and it also showed that it can make something of good quality on a large scale.

But there was something else that was particularly important about this result. For many people in China, their first taste of wine will be Noble Dragon. This means this single label has an extremely important role to play – it is recruiting new drinkers to the wine category.

Should the wine not be soft, ripe, appealing, and refreshing then it might fail in this endeavour. Thankfully, it was all these things. And, with that in mind, its quality is key to the rapid emergence of China as a wine market – a development the entire world of wine stands to benefit from, including those brands it bettered in our blind tasting.


The results with scores on 100-point scale

Changyu Noble Dragon Reserve – 90
Jacob’s Creek Cabernet Sauvignon – 90
Villa Antinori Rosso – 90
Mouton Cadet by Mouton Rothschild – 89
Casillero de Diablo by Concha y Toro – 89
Torres Sangre de Toro – 89
Trivento Malbec – 89
J.P. Chenet Merlot – 89
Rawson’s Retreat Private Release by
Penfolds – 88
Canti Vino Rosso – 88
Woodbridge by Mondavi – 87
Black Tower Smooth Red – 86
Gallo Family Vineyards Merlot – 86

Comments from the judges on Noble Dragon Reserve

Eric Zwiebel MS
“It is a good wine, well made, fruity, with bit of structure, and it was one of my top two favourites.”
Beverley Blanning MW
“It has a very attractive raspberry nose, and it’s easy drinking, soft, forward – a decent wine.”
David Round MW
“I really liked wine 1 [Changyu Noble Dragon Reserve]; it was open, with ripe, expressive fruit on the nose, and
it was quite soft and fleshy on the palate, with a little bit of creaminess there, good intensity; it was very
approachable, with no edges. It was one of the stronger 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 more than 30 million
bottles globally every year.
It was the first Chinese wine to be stocked by UK supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, and is sold in 30 countries. The Changyu Noble Dragon Reserve Dry Red in this tasting comprised 80% Cabernet Gernischt, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2018 vintage. Cabernet Gernischt is independently cultivated in Changyu, China. The grapes are sourced from the Yantai wine region in Shandong, and the chief winemaker is Dr Li Jiming. It spends over six months in medium-toast fine-grain oak barrels.

The tasters

Patrick Schmitt MW
David Round MW
Simon Field MW
Patricia Stefanowicz MW
Beverley Blanning MW
Isa Bal MS
Eric Zwiebel MS
Svetoslav Manolev MS

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