Thursday 23 March 2017

Everyday China – Changyu Noble Dragon

China is not well known for its wine – which, of course, means nothing. Just because something’s not well known doesn’t mean there isn’t someone who knows it well. Don’t even try and dismiss the wines of an oenologically-challenged country – Greenland, say, or Bangla Desh. Because there’s always some smart-arse pops up, saying “How dare you dismiss their wines!

“Obviously you haven’t tried tried Hiffen-Liffen, that rare blend of Triffen and Whiffen, let alone the extraordinary Mujid-Pujid or the languid Mesut Ozil.

“You really are displaying your ignorance.  Presumably you’ve never even been there! Do you just buy your wines from the supermarket?” Well, largely, yes.

But fortunately, a supermarket is now allowing me to satisfy this particular smidgen of curiosity – because here is Changyu’s Noble Dragon, China’s mass-market red wine, being sold in Sainsbury’s.

Immediately, a bottle of Noble Dragon presents some talking points. That irritating flange/lip/thing at the neck of the bottle, which means that some corkscrews won’t work on it. An odd little plastic imitation of a wax seal, stuck onto the top of the cork, which doesn’t actually seal anything. And pictograms everywhere, which for all I know might be either pairing recommendations, or hazardous liquid warnings.

But at the same time it’s extraordinary how they’ve picked up all the clichés of traditional European wine labelling. There’s the drypoint-like image of the “chateau” in Yantai. There’s the use of Germanic and script typefaces. There’s the reassurances of heritage (‘Since 1892…”) and quality. “Eighty years of quality assurance” – sounds like the Prudential.

There’s a little map of China on the back label, because, of course, we should know exactly where in China it comes from, in case we expected something from a neighbouring appellation.

And could it be deliberate, to reinforce the distance, the otherness of this wine, that, given the wealth and resources of the company, the English on the back label is surprisingly poor? “It is round and smooth in mouth, acting elegantly as a full bodied wine.”

It has, as they used to say of actor Karl Malden, quite a nose.  It reminds me of those mornings after, when one had to face the fragrance of a full ashtray. Then there is some initial cherryish action going on, but it’s quite shallow in flavour. Finally there’s a very dry finish, followed by quite a bitter aftertaste.

This is the biggest-selling wine in the world; in 2015, it sold 450 million bottles, more than the entire output of Rioja. Which, frankly, I would prefer to possess.

This could be a cheap wine from anywhere, really, although a cheap wine from anywhere would give you more change out of a tenner. Noble Dragon gives you none. Which means its curiosity value is about £4.01, the amount you’re paying on top of a similar cheap Chilean Cabernet.

Given the success rate of supermarkets at selecting wines from anywhere else, there is no reason to assume this is representative of the quality Chinese wine can achieve. But at least my curiosity has been resolved. Mind that dead cat.


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