From France to China, the past and the future

March 4, 2019

Domaine Alain Voge Cornas les Vieilles Vignes is a top label from the Rhone in France. I have found a beautiful opportunity for those who enjoy wine from the region with these: The 2009, ‘10 and ‘11 were all well written of by most critics. My favs, Jancis Robinson, Stephen Tanzer and Tony Galloni, were all over them. When RP awarded 98 points for the 2010, he created a buying anomaly. The 2009 came on around 93-95 points, rose from $57 to $80 and slid back when the 2010 came on at $132. The 2010 is now selling around $150. The 2011 came in at $58. RP only gave it 95 points; “only” is the operative word. Other reputable writers agreed on 93-95. This lovely, ready-to-drink Syrah can be found under $70; that is stealing. The 2011 also can be held for 10 or so years, while the 2010 has maybe five. Buy the ‘11. It is still very dark purple. Look for blueberry and blackberry with hints of garigue, pencil shavings and lavender on the nose. The berries flow through on the big, round, concentrated, meaty palate. There is still enough bouquet and tannic support to allow improvement, but it’s drinking well now.

While doing a little research prompted by this vertical sampling, I came across this Simon Field comment. He writes a nice hand: “Clape, Michel, Juge, Voge … There is a hypnotic monosyllabic magic to some of the great names of Cornas, in days of yore. Both Voge and Clape continue to fly the flag and do so with great aplomb. Fiercely traditional and yet disarmingly modern, these wines provide the key to the reputation of the Cornas that was and the outstanding quality of the Cornas that is now.” The sad truth is that these Rhone River Valley wineries priced themselves out of the market years ago. They are off the screen for many who flocked to California’s Central Coast Rhone Rangers, then Aussie Shiraz back when they were reasonably priced. Somewhere there is a price that the great horde is willing to pay. Places with scale and cheap labor will find that market. 

Speaking of hordes of buyers, keep your eyes peeled and mark my words. In 10 years or less, and if the crick don’t rise, folks will be falling all over themselves describing the “new” wine provinces of Shandong, Hebei, Tianjin, Shanxi and Jilin. Shaanxi, not a duplication but another province with a similar name, will likely gain prominence. You see, this is where the first university winemaking course was installed. I’m guessing two which you will learn of first are Ningxia Hui, which is the region the Chinese government supports most heavily, and I’m betting long term on Xinjiang Uyghur, the region with the largest wine grape production in China. It was originally famous for its massive production of raisins. The folks there know about grapes. Their short-term problem is that they are in the hinterlands of western China near the mountains, and there is little transportation, electrification or modernization. Sound familiar? It is the confluence of these situations that will keep the production exclusive and drive the price. Big plus for both regions is the government wants to send people there, far from the overcrowded coastal regions. “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” is a very real issue for China. China imports a terrific amount of wine. As their middle class expands, this will become more pronounced. I’m guessing the government will step in to encourage population growth in these provinces, and perhaps bring in European and U.S. expertise and money.

Most writers extoll the virtues of Shandong Province. It is well established and near a densely populated urban coast.

here is one huge problem: weather. It’s located right in typhoon alley, so it rains quite a bit. Aside from the lack of sunlight this causes, it also produces high humidity and all the problems that provokes for grapes. If you look at a global map, you may note that the bulk of the regions are on the same latitude as California’s Central Coast, Yadkin Valley in North Carolina, Virginia, and the southern Mediterranean regions.