The Asian region has come of age when it comes to wine. In 2016, Eddie McDougall began to take his love of locally-produced wines one step further by championing them with the launch of the Asian Wine Review. The review is the first and most comprehensive guide to wineries, and a rating guide for over 300 Asian-made wines. Here, we ask Eddie, aka “The FlyingWinemaker”, to provide a little snapshot as to what’s happening right on our doorstep.
China remains by far the largest Asian manufacturer of grape wine and continues to pull away from the rest of the region by volume, producing an average of 11.5 to 13.5 million hectolitres per year over the past five years. If you bury yourself in some history books, you’ll discover that production began in China in 1892 with the establishment of Changyu Winery, so it’s not exactly a new concept. Significant investment in Chinese production by Pernod Ricard, Moët Hennessy, Diageo and Rothschild is enough to assure even the most ardent doubters that Chinese wine will shortly become a large and ever-present component of the global scene. For me, it is the emergence of non-internationally backed boutique producers in China and their quality that displays the country’s best indication yet that the “culture” of wine has taken a firm hold. The cellaring potential of red wines by the likes of Silver Heights and newcomer Wens are undeniable.
India’s viticultural history dates back to the Persian era, circa 300 BC, and these foundations were then built on after the settlement of the Portuguese in Goa many centuries later. Though their beginnings were rocky due to the phylloxera infestation brought in from Europe, the winemakers in India had to traverse themselves to establish a more agriculturally sustainable and commercial wine industry, which only commenced in the early 1990s. What excites wine lovers is that this market is willing to attempt truly interesting and eclectic varietals such as nero d’Avola, tempranillo and sangiovese. This alternative approach to winemaking is the best way forward to produce an identity for Indian wines on the global scene. Key wine-growing regions are in Nashik, close to Mumbai, and the Nandi Valley, near Bengaluru in the south.
Strictly speaking, the most experienced wine-producing Asian nation is Japan. The country is masterfully churning out impressive white wines, and I’ve seen wonderful examples of the Japanese white varietal Koshu win several competitions internationally. Well-regarded regions include the Yamanashi Prefecture, Hokkaido and Nagano. All these regions have special varietals that perform better than others; for example, I have begun seeing success in pinot noir production. A modern trend that the Japanese industry has unsurprisingly taken strongly to is natural wine production. Eclectic methods of winemaking such as the use of qvevri, an old Georgian technique with egg-shaped fermenters, also showcase Japan’s willingness to bring purity back.
ASIA – it’s happening now!
It’s clear from all this that I am convinced that Asian wine firmly deserves its place at the dinner table. The days of Asian wine as a gimmick are over. Some of the infrastructure, such as French châteaux replicated in Chinese fields, may still scream kitsch, but what matters is the Asian wine revolution happening inside the bottle. Formally trained local winemaker talents, alongside international winemakers placed in the region, are at the forefront of this change. Wines of Asia are no longer “coming”; they’re well and truly “here”!
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