Japanese Koshu hit the London wine scene as a curiosity in 2011, becoming unmissable from the wine lists of progressive fine-dining Asian restaurants.
Two years later, the potential of Indian wine was such that international wine judges were starting to take note, and Chinese wines had made a breakthrough in new markets – I recall the intrigue of a Chinese dessert wine being poured in my glass at a Livery Company dinner in the City of London.
Most recently, in the early autumn of 2023, I travelled to Changsha, China to celebrate 20 years of Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) with nearly all the leading Chinese winemakers in attendance.
Arguably, the rise of Asian wines has been nothing but spectacular, which I have witnessed across annual evaluations with Poh Tiong Ch’ng, Regional Chair of Asia, at DWWA. Serving as Acting Regional Chair at the competition three of the last four years, there’s much to take away.
Fast growth despite tough competition
Analysing the countries of origin for wines entered into DWWA reveals a story of notable growth for Asian wines.
China and Japan account for the overwhelming majority of Asian wines entered in DWWA. Then comes India with a significantly lower share, whilst countries such as Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand regularly send wines to the global competition, but they remain very small in numbers for now.
When the base is small to start, it could be argued that growth is easily achievable. Moreover, only two countries – China and Japan – have been the engines of growth.
That said, a look at the overall percentage of wines awarded a medal, compared to the percentage of Asian wines awarded, reveals disparity: fewer wines from Asia pass the bar of quality set by DWWA judges; yet producers enter an increasing number of wines.
Driven by recognition and improvement, feedback from the world’s most reputed wine competition seems a plausible basis for this, but for us judges, it’s about the wines in the glass. Below is what we’re seeing.
Scroll down to see Csizmadia-Honigh’s recommended Asian wines to seek out
The power of the dragon: Chinese wines
The vast geographic expanse of China, gifted with an incredible diversity of soils, landscapes and climates, is a talking point when it comes to Chinese wines. Samples judged at DWWA illustrate it amply.
The north-easterly provinces of Liaoning and Jilin, closer to the Russian and North Korean borders than to the capital city of Beijing, have supplied the competition with a steady stream of high-quality ice wines, typically made from Vidal grapes and frequently harvested at temperatures as low as -10 or even -25 degrees centigrade.
Xinjiang, a westerly province closer to Kazakhstan and Mongolia, has impressed judges with its range of grape varieties and styles. It’s the elegance of full-bodied Syrahs, Cabernets and Marselans which are often awarded – the freshness of Chardonnays and exquisite balance of lesser-known Saperavi or Rkatsiteli, too. Xinjiang is the province to look out for!
Speaking of Marselan and Cabernet, masses have been rated at DWWA from the inland province of Ningxia, where the two varieties prevail supremely. Quite often judges are faced with the extreme generosity of extraction, alcohol levels and oak ageing when tasting Ningxia reds, but winemakers have started to take note of the judges’ remarks, and a gradual shift to freshness is observable – even if very slow.
Huailai sub-region in the province of Hebei, a two-and-a-half-hour scenic drive from Beijing which passes by the Great Wall, is another inland source of good quality Marselan, Cabernet and Syrah.
Coastal Yantai in Shandong Province provides a final example for geographic diversity, where the close proximity of the sea lends freshness and elegance to its red wines.
Invariably, red wines continue to dominate domestic wine…
Source : https://www.decanter.com/decanter-world-wine-awards/the-rise-of-asian-wines-through-the-lens-of-decanter-world-wine-awards-520350/