Ao Yun vineyards in Yunnan province (pic: LVMH)
China Wine

Wine Advocate unveils China’s top 10 wines

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has released the first edition of top 10 fine wines in China and awarded for the first time a high score of 95 to a Chinese wine.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has released the first edition of top 10 fine wines in China and awarded for the first time a high score of 95 to a Chinese wine.

The leading American wine publication has published the China: Fine Wine 2021 report after assessing 171 reviews from 27 different producers. To be qualified into the “fine wine” category, the wines need to excel in quality, ambition and pricing, as it explains.

The wines were assessed by Edward Ragg MW, a China-based Master of Wine and co-founder of Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting. Ragg was appointed the new wine reviewer covering China for the publication in 2019.

Ragg noted that China’s wine in 2021 has excelled in quality even in international benchmarking, “Indeed, in 2022 especially there is reason for lovers of Chinese wine to be sanguine: quality has never been higher, and the range of “interesting” wines is increasing in the most positive sense of that sometimes ironically used word.” 

He also noted that the Chinese wine industry experimented with more grape varieties and production techniques following a growth of independent and progressive winemakers.

One of the biggest highlights is Ragg has given a Chinese wine 95 score for the first time, which based on WA’s scoring system falls into the category of wines for having “outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character”. 

The top-scoring wine comes from LVMH-owned 2018 Ao Yun in Shangri-la Yunnan. The yet-to-be-released 2018 Ao Yun Shuori Village Cru also received a 94 score. 

Ao Yun 2018 (pic: Wine Advocate)
Ao Yun 2018 received 95 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (pic: Wine Advocate)

First launched by LVMH in 2016, Ao Yun is a Cabernet dominated Bordeaux blend produced in remote and high-altitude Yunnan province. The Ao Yun 2018 vintage is the latest release, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 4% Petit Verdot.

2018 Ao Yun Shuori Village Cru is an individual expression of one of the LVMH group’s four grand vins villages in China. It is a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 40% Merlot. After witnessing Shuori’s beautiful series of terraced sites, Ragg has likened Shuori to France’s “grand cru” in the report.

Vineyards at Silver Heights in Ningxia (pic: Silver Heights)
Vineyards at Silver Heights in Ningxia (pic: Silver Heights)

Half of the top 10 wines hail from China’s premier wine region Helan Mountain in Ningxia, produced by reputable wineries including Kanaan winery, Silver Heights and Chateau Mihope. Backed by government support, Ningxia is described as the “Bordeaux of China” and is poised to have 66,000 hectares of vine by 2025.

Interestingly, DBR Lafite’s ambitious Long Dai is absent from the top 10 list. The winery is located in Penglai of the eastern Shandong province, China’s biggest wine producing region.

“But this Top 10 is only a snapshot for 2021 which needs to put into the context of the collective reviews”, suggests Ragg. ‘There were several 93 point scoring wines which did not make the shortlist and it should be noted that I awarded 2018 Long Dai 93 points last year. These scores are also not set in stone: I expect Ao Yun’s more recent vintages, Long Dai 2018 and 2019 and Kanaan’s Crazy Fang 2019, for example, to command even higher scores in future as they develop in bottle – that’s if they are available to be retasted!”.

Additionally, the report also shines light on independent and progressive winemakers including Ian Dai, producer of Xiao Pu 2019 Naked Syrah Marselan, and Ma Jie of the Petit Mont label. 

The report also highlighted some high quality wines with humble prices, such as Puchang’s Rkatsiteli priced at under RMB 300 (US$ 47). 

In terms of wine styles, Ragg lauded China’s ability to showcase its understanding of its grape varieties over time, with the likes of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, rather than pushing out more Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends. 

In the experimentation aspects, the report observed China’s “greater adventurousness” with the emergence of Grace Vineyard’s 2012 Angelina Brut Reserve Blanc de Blanc produced by the country’s best traditional method in sparkling, Yuandian’s skin-contacted Amphora Riesling, and Swiss winemaker Yves Roduit’s Canticle To the Land matured in traditional Yunnanese clay pots.

Apart from the Wine Advocate’s acclamation, the rising status of Chinese wine is increasingly recognised by other wine critics, such as the American wine critic James Suckling who curated the Top 10 and Top 100 Chinese wines lists since 2020. 

Here are the top 10 Chinese fine wines identified by the Wine Advocate. Please note the full report and reviews are available to Wine Advocate subscribers only. Click here to read Ragg’s report.

1. 2018 Ao Yun 

Region: Diqing, Yunnan 

Rating: 95

2. 2019 Chateau Mihope The 10th Anniversary Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah

Region: Helan Mountain, Ningxia 

Rating: 94

3. 2019 Kanaan Winery Crazy Fang Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: Helan Mountain, Ningxia 

Rating: 94

4. 2018 Silver Heights Emma’s Reserve

Region: Helan Mountain, Ningxia 

Rating: 94

5. 2018 Ao Yun Shuori Village Cru

Region: Diqing, Yunnan

Rating: 94

6. 2018 Grace Vineyard Ningxia Flagship

Region: Helan Mountain, Ningxia 

Rating: 93

7. 2015 Canaan Winery Chapter and Verse Reserve Merlot

Region: Huailai, Hebei 

Rating: 93

8. 2018 Shangri-La Sacred Land Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: Diqing, Yunnan

Rating: 93

9. 2019 Longting Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc

Region: Penglai, Shandong

Rating: 93

10. 2016 Jade Vineyard Messenger Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: Helan Mountain, Ningxia 

Rating: 93

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