Fizz the Season: Grace Sparkling Wine from China

If you seek to celebrate the holidays in China with some local sparkling wine, Grace Vineyard from Shanxi is a worthy choice.

Grace was founded in 1997 and ranks with sparkling wine producers like Chandon (Ningxia) and SunGod (Hebei) as China’s best.

Grace bottles its bubbly under the name ‘Angelina‘, one of CEO Judy Chan’s two daughters. The entry level includes a Chardonnay with citrus and tropical fruit characteristics, a Chenin Blanc with peach, apple and citrus notes, and a Cabernet Franc that is a touch woodier and herbal. These are the kind of bubblies a hotel or restaurant might serve by the glass. Check ’em all out here.

I’ve found in taste tests most people prefer Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc, while a few, including me, also enjoy the Cabernet Franc. It’s fun to get one bottle of each and do your own taste test. Here’s the first vintage of Grace bubbly from a few years ago.

A step up is Angelina’s Reserve. This sparkling Chardonnay is aged on lees for at least 36 months, and has delectable toasty biscuit notes to go along with its fruitier ones. It’s a treat. If you’re a sparkling wine fan, I’d suggest this and SunGod as examples of better China bubbly.

Anyway, every year people ask me suggest Chinese wine for the holidays, so I talked to Grace Vineyard about putting these bubblies and a few other niche wines on their Youzan page. This is part of a bigger project I’m doing with some graduate students in Beijing. More on that soon.

Grace added a few special red wines, too.

Grace is the sole China winery that uses Aglianico, a grape usually associated with Italy. Here’s a photo of Aglianico grapes I took at Grace five years ago:

Given how Chinese producers obsess over French varieties, and especially Cabernet Sauvignon, any Aglianico is a nice find. And a delicious one. Grace’s Aglianico 2017 is a fruity ripe berry-driven wine with nice tannins. Expect some flower (violets) and slightly spicy characteistics, too. This wine is aged 12 months in French oak, 40 percent of it new barrels, and weighs in at 14.2% alcohol. If you’re looking for a unique Chinese wine, this one certainly fits the bill.

Another special wine is Marselan, which some call “China’s grape” given how well it has done across the country since being introduced two decades ago. (If you want to know more, check out World Marselan Day, a project I started in 2018.)

I was lucky enough to try Tasya’s Reserve Marselan, named after Chan’s other daughter, a month ago with French winemaker Nicolas Billot-Grima, who helped bring this grape to China in the year 2000. The beauty of Marselan is versatility: it is capable of making both easy-to-drink and complex wines, to appeal to newcomers and aficionados. The 2017 is a good example, with loads of berry character, plus lots of evolving aromas–take your time with this wine. Chocolate, violets, blackberry, graphite, cassis–we found all these over the course of nearly two hours.

The last red added is Deep Blue, arguably the flagship wine of Grace Vineyard given how often it is found in top hotels and restaurants. This hasn’t tended to be my favorite Grace wine but I find the 2017 balanced and easy to drink. This one is 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

I’ve had Deep Blue 2017 twice. Once with some restaurant friends: it still had that dark cherry, spiciness and richness I associate with Deep Blue, but was more restrained. The second was a blind tasting along with some top China brands: it emerged as lighter and more elegant than the others in that flight. Anyway, Deep Blue’s ripeness, fruitiness and spiciness have proven to be a crowd pleaser over the years.

Also check out my 20th-anniversary Q&A with CEO Judy Chan.

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