Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chateau Helan Quingxue – Winner of 2011 Decanter International Trophy, Ningxia, China

(Dec. 2013) - The next afternoon we visited Chateau Helan Quingxue which is housed in a more modest structure of red brick and reminded me of a combination of Soviet and Chinese architecture. Inside there is a modern winery with stainless steel tanks, a small barrel room, and a very large visitor’s center. Though not finished yet, this part of the winery is designed to showcase all of the wines of Ningxia so that visitors can taste all of the brands in one location.

We were greeted with much enthusiasm by the petite and vivacious winemaker, Zhang Jing. She speaks fluent English, and welcomed the whole seminar group of more than 100 people to the winery, switching easily from Chinese to English as she described the history and winemaking processes. She informed us that the name, Helan Quingxue, means “Sun on Helan Mountain,” which is a beautiful name, and is not to be confused with another winery in Ningxia called “Helan Mountain.”

We visited the vineyards, and I was impressed with how close they are located to the foothills of the Helan Mountain range. It makes an impressive scene with the orderly vineyards and the dark, magnificent rise of the mountain beyond. The vineyards were planted in 2005 and total 15 hectares. The winery produces around 50,000 bottles per year, or 4,166 cases.

We tasted a 2012 Italian Riesling Jaibeilan Dry White Wine and the 2009 Jaibeilan Cabernet Sauvignon “Baby Feet.” The Riesling was fresh and fruity with floral notes. It would be an easy sell in California. The cabernet was part of the same famous batch that won the 2011 Decanter International Trophy Awards, but “Baby Feet” refers to four special barrels that were set aside with more oak and “stamped” with the footprints of Jing’s baby, whom she carried and then delivered during the winemaking process. A very sweet story.

The 2009 Jaibelilan Cabernet Sauvignon “Baby Feet” is one of my favorite Ningxia wines. It has massive structure, concentrated dark berries, complex herbs notes, minerality, and a very long finish. Yes, it also has lots of expensive French oak, but it is well integrated and drinks beautifully with beef or game. The term “Jaibelilan” is the brand name they are using on their wines and means “jubilant.”

While there we saw a group of Chinese women applying labels to wine bottles by hand (See photo). This was my second visit to this winery, and I have to admit, that it was just as joyful as the first time last year.

No comments: