Sunday, September 9, 2012

Grand Welcome Banquet in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

August 29, 2012 - After time to relax in our rooms a bit, we were asked to meet in the hotel lobby at 5:15 in order to walk over to a formal reception with the governor of the Ningxia region. Most of us dressed in formal clothing and arrived at the reception room to find we each had a large white lounge chair to sit in with our name printed on a red sign in both English and Chinese. Translators assisted with the very impressive ceremony of announcing each official – around ten of them, as well as our group of eight. Then Claudia, the current president of the OIV, received a welcome plaque from the governor and everyone applauded.

Next we made our way back to the ballroom of the Yinhuea Hotel where a grand dinner banquet was set up. As honorees we were seated at a round table for thirty people with the rest of the government officials, including the governor. The table was beautifully decorated with roses, carnations, and small berry plants. We were served approximately 15 courses with 4 Ningxia wines. The first was an Italian Riesling, which is the clone they prefer to grow in this region. It has a floral nose with peach, but a heavier body with more texture – similar to gruner-vetliner. It paired well with many of the fish courses.

We also had 3 red wines with the first being 100% cabernet gernischt which was light bodied with the typical roasted bell pepper notes – not one of my favorites. Next was a 100% cabernet sauvignon, which was better, but had a slight plastic note. Finally, they served the Decanter Award wine – Chateau Helan Qingxue Jiabeilan 2009 - which was truly amazing. I thought I was tasting a fine Bordeaux. It was very well balanced with cassis fruit, good acid, fine-grained tannins and well-integrated French oak. It had excellent intensity and a long finish.

The governor did the toast “gam bei,” which means “dry glass” and everyone tossed back their wine. The pours were only 1 ounce, instead of the traditional 3 ounces, so the gambeis were not as difficult as in my previous trips to China. I dutifully performed the first gambei to be polite – using the green cab G wine. Thereafter, however, I just took sips. Servers continually refilled our wine glasses, but only giving 1 ounce pours which I found frustrating as I usually do in China. Finally, I tapped on my glass to point out that I wanted at least half a glass of the Jiabeilan and was successful.

About half way through the dinner, most of the government officials got up and did continual private gambeis with people around the table. This is a common custom, but doesn’t allow you to relax and appreciate each course as much. The food, however, was amazing and beautifully presented. Lamb is the specialty of the region, and they served it in a variety of ways, including lamb soup. For dessert we had dragon fruit, which is quite unique looking and tasting. It is white with small black seeds and tastes a bit like a honeydew melon cross.

The dinner ended early – around 8pm, so Frederico and I decided to stop by the spa and have the 50-minute Chinese foot massage. You recline back in a chair and they soak your feet in very hot water. This is followed by a vigorous foot massage that took away all my jet lag. Amazingly it was only 60 RMB, which is about $11! Later a group of us met in the bar for a nightcap before I headed back to my room for a good night’s sleep.

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