Grace Vineyard Tasya's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, $43
WITH several food-safety scandals tainting the reputation of Chinese products in recent months, the mention of made-in-China wine will no doubt raise some derision.
But I've discovered a gem.
At a recent food and beverage trade show in Hong Kong, I was introduced to Grace Vineyards, a Chinese winery whose Chairman's Reserve - a limited-quantity Bordeaux blend - held great potential.
The founder of the winery, Hong Kong millionaire C. K. Chan, was inspired to start his own winery after he was invited to dinner by the central Chinese government in Beijing, where the food was good, but the wine was not.
'It's not that they can't produce good wine, they don't know how to,' explains his daughter Judy Leissner, the company's chief executive.
As research, Chan, Leissner and their French partner scoured China for three years for the ideal terroir, and imported vines from France.
Denis Boubals, known for his viticulture expertise in Europe, was also roped in.
Making quality wines in China proved to be a huge challenge. While geographical information was available, there were no records of climate details which take at least 50 years to compile.
In the end, they zoomed in on the Taigu region in Shanxi province, which has a promising Mediterranean climate - relatively cool and dry with long days and cool nights.
But soon after they started, they made the major decision to cut production by half, which got the local government very concerned.
Leissner justified: 'We had to, for quality control. Our biggest challenge was to teach the farmers how to harvest. At first, we wanted only six bunches from each vine, but the farmers thought that it was a waste, and always ended up harvesting 16 bunches instead.'
The winery held educational seminars and introduced a minimum payment scheme, where farmers are paid according to quality, not quantity. It also discovered new varietals that can grow on Chinese soil, such as Chenin Blanc.
In a bid to educate the Chinese market that there is more than just Cabernet and Chardonnay, they also introduced Tasya's Reserve, which includes 100 per cent Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Currently, the Chinese domestic market snaps up most of their annual 500,000-bottle production - a far cry from 2002 and 2003 when they had to give away their wines.
Now, they are looking for their second winery, which will be in the ancient city of Xi'an.
Named after Judy's daughter, Tasya's Reserve is a medium-bodied wine with aromas of cherries and spice, which follow through on the palate. Good flavours, although the finish is a tad short.
Black pepper beef cubes
Cafe de Amigo (109 North Bridge Road, 02-15, Funan DigitaLife Mall, Tel: 6835-0238)
My Wine Shop (368 Tanjong Katong Road, Tel: 6345-5779)
Ang Leong Huat (16 Tagore Lane, Tel: 6749-9988)