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Mick Pacholli
13th July 2013, 03:11 PM
There are many clichés about China, and one of them is that whatever you say about China will be true somewhere, and that's as good a way as any to sum up modern China. It’s a country of contrasts, of extremes, of vast scale and minute detail, embracing both the modern and the ancient. I’ve just returned from a 22 day promotional trip to China, and wanted to share a few thoughts on the wine culture of this incredible country.*
http://www.tooraktimes.com.au/~/media/Wolf Blass/Images/From Our Winery Blog/GreatWall.ashxThe trip itself was a real eye-opener, and involved hosting dinners and tastings with wine writers, buyers, distributors and key customers across mainland China and Taiwan.*I was also fortunate enough to try many of the main regional cuisines, and tried to take advantage of local knowledge wherever possible. Some of the dishes were very familiar (we are lucky to have a strong Chinese restaurant scene in Adelaide), some confronting (I'd never eaten sea cucumber, stinky tofu*or chickens feet before), and some were off the*scale in terms of chilli heat and intensity! The highlight was definitely a spicy hotpot in Chengdu - the amount of chilli used was incredible and was both fragrant*and mouth-numbingly hot!*Food and wine matching in China is a hot topic of conversation in wine circles, but*I found it to be very difficult to navigate in practice. Traditionally the Chinese meals will*consist of spicy, sweet and savoury dishes, often brought to the table at the same time, and then eaten in a piece-meal fashion,*rather than eating course by course in ascending strength of flavour,*as we would do in the West. And with dishes as intense as the spicy hotpot, the only thing I could think of drinking with it was several bottles of ice cold beer! From a wine perspective, I was surprised at the low interest in sparkling wines - but culturally, chilled drinks are not particularly popular, and the high acidity of many sparkling wines is also not favoured by Chinese consumers. Red wine was certainly the most popular, much of which is based on the perception of French red wines, but also I felt the 'warmth' from a red wine was much more acceptable to the*local palate than a crisp white.*
http://www.tooraktimes.com.au/~/media/Wolf Blass/Images/From Our Winery Blog/HotPot.ashxThe Chinese custom of 'gan-bei' - of raising a glass (usually of a high strength local spirit) in a toast and downing its contents to see the true character of one's dinner companions or business colleagues is still strong, but it was interesting to see it being transformed into a "cheers" and taking a sip of wine rather than emptying the glass. This might still happen 10 or more times during a meal, but people did seem interested in enjoying the wine rather than just drinking it as quickly as possible, which is a positive sign of a maturing and evolving wine culture. I had expected*many of the events to be mostly male, so was surprised to see that the wine sector in China is well represented by women as well as men, and this helps to give it*a more modern feel.*Finally, a brief note on the level of*knowledge and palate skill of the*Chinese attendees at the events. There were some who were only interested in the cost*and alcoholic content of the wine (the higher the better for both!) and there were some*with incredible wine knowledge and fine palates, and many in-between, but what was so encouraging was the willingness to learn and understand more about wine, particularly Australian wine. Food security, label integrity and a fear of counterfeiting are all real concerns in modern China, and the feedback from the trade was that Australia is in a strong position to*provide quality wines at all price points.*As a culture, China places great emphasis on age, tradition and wisdom, and it made me look at the Australian wine industry*from a new perspective. We have some of the most ancient soils in the world, the oldest producing vines in the world, and an industry that*has a healthy mix of tradition and creativity, supported by a strong legislative framework and an overriding desire to produce the best wines we can. And this is the message we need to keep taking to this exciting, confusing, exhilarating market.

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