Tasting a new chapter
If there is one brand that has helped to reverse China’s once sullied reputation as a wine producer, it’s Li Demei. epicure finds out how a Ningxia winery managed to bag top honours at last year’s Decanter World Wine Awards.
Seasoned oenophiles know that surprises are aplenty in blind wine tastings. But even those who thought they had ‘seen it all’ would have been caught off guard by the recipient of the top award at the Decanter World Wine Awards at London’s Royal Opera House on September 7 last year. He Lan Qing Xue, a winery located in Ningxia, a region in northwest China, won the coveted Red Bordeaux Varietal Over £10 International Trophy for its Cabernet blend, Jia Bei Lan 2009. This was the first time in the Decanter World Wine Awards’ history that a Chinese wine has snagged the highest prize out of the 25 international trophies that were presented. Accepting the accolade was Li Demei, a winemaker who has consulted at the winery since 2006.
The 41-year-old Li, whom Rong Jian, 66, the president of He Lan Qing Xue, refers respectfully to as Li lao shi (teacher), is an affable man who speaks Mandarin, English and French. He talks in an unhurried, measured manner; a characteristic honed in the classrooms of Beijing Agricultural College, where he lectures. “We never expected to win this trophy,” says Li. “We thought Jia Bei Lan was good, but to come on top of 12,000 other wine samples [in the competition], we were really surprised. That was also the first time we participated in the event.” In the final judging stage, Jia Bei Lan was blind tasted against regional trophy winners like Catena Zapata’s Appellation Cabernet Franc, and Bordeaux-style blends from regions like Australia and California.
Excerpt from the January issue of epicure.