Monday, January 23, 2012

A Surprise for the Chinese New Year


If you thought my last post on an Aligoté wine from Ontario seemed a bit on the wild side, you're going to love this one - a sparkling wine from China! Boo and I were going to have some take-out to celebrate the arrival of Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dragon. So, I stopped by the big, provincial specialty liquor store (at 41st & Cambie) to see if they had any Chinese wines in stock. I figured, if anyone was going to have some, it would be them. Even though my only other experience with a Chinese wine (#366 on The List) wasn't all that memorable, it was a couple of years ago and I figured it's worth another shot.

I couldn't find any wines on my own but the system said that they had a few in the store; so I asked for some assistance. After receiving the most quizzical of looks, I was directed to a small selection of Chinese wines. There might have two or three others, but it was the sparkling one that caught my eye. After all, bubbles can match up with all types of food and they certainly have that air of celebration.

The upcoming year is a celebratory one for many. According to Chinese astrology, it's going to be a year for the water dragon. In addition to the 12 astrological animals, there are 5 worldly elements that, alternatively, influence a given year. The water dragon, therefore, only appears once every 60 years. It is associated with thunder, lightning and arousal and plays a strong role in governing the accumulation of wealth. It is a dragon though and that can lead to unpredictability and transformation. As water can be a relaxing influence, this water dragon is seen as being calmer than the other dragons which adds to the auspiciousness of the year.

Sound worth celebrating?

1050. N.V. Dragon Seal Sparkling Brut (Huailai Hebei - China)

Without a doubt, this bottle provided no end of surprises - much like what might be in store with this upcoming Year of the Dragon. For starters, I didn't even know that there were Chinese sparkling wines - let alone ones that are being imported into North America. Dragon Seal was the first producer of sparkling wines in China and has actually been doing so since 1988. They apparently use the méthode traditionelle, use 100% Chardonnay grapes that are organically grown and make around 5000 cases a year.

The vineyards and winery are located in Hebei region and I read on one site that they are approximately 80 miles north-west of Beijing. Dragon Seal's wines (not only the Brut) have won some international awards and were apparently the reason that China's first appellation - Huailai Hebei - was set in motion.

Although the secondary fermentation in the bottle is only for a shortened 9 month period, there is still a prominent note of toast evident on the palate. I wouldn't say that the bubble action - or mousse - offered much excitement but the wine actually hits the mouth with some pleasant fruit that leads to a tart finish. The back label says that "this wine has an unforgettable finish." Unfortunately, for me, it was the finish that didn't quite cut it. I can't put my finger on what was the problem, but there was something that didn't quite sit right as the glass emptied. It was almost as if there was a medicinal nature to the underlying flavours.

By the end of our ginger beef (which the wine didn't really match up to), I think it's fair to say that Dragon Seal Brut is better than just a novelty. It was definitely better than I'd expected, but I don't know I'd be quick to pick up a bottle for next year's Chinese New Year. It is, however, Year of the Dragon and who knows where its unpredictability could see us end up.

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