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Getting into the Yunnan spirit for wine

By : China Daily | Published: 2012-May-26

Wine Review | Pauline D. Loh

They are proudly produced in Yunnan, and if you like, you are welcome to come visit the vineyards from where these excellent bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon come from. And, you can be assured that the amount of grapes harvested, and the number of bottles of vintages will tally.

I was introduced to Sunspirit's wines by Johnny Chan, the doyen of wine-selling, drinking and making. He sang high praises of what they were doing at Chateau Sunspirit in Qiubei, a scenic spot about 200 km southwest of Yunnan's capital Kunming. We decided to take the taste test.

 

It was a six-hour bumpy ride to the Chateau, but we were happily distracted by the picturesque mountain views, the stark karst landscape and a delicious lunch during a rest stop at Miyun.

At the Chateau, an imposing white castle rose like a queen among the peasants, and we were treated to quite a few surprises.

I am naturally skeptical about made-in-China wines. Some may have won awards abroad, but certain award-winners have had the source of their juices questioned, and faltered.

Others, like a certain top brand red, often fall flat five minutes after popping the cork and have to be sadly relegated to the cooking pot.

So it was with no high expectations that we sampled our wines at Chateau Sunspirit.

The red was brilliant, the white was astonishing, and the icewine we previewed would beat Inniskillin in a blind test.

Yang Huafeng, Sunspirit's general manager and resident vintner, tells us that the grapes are grown in their vineyards near Shangri-La, in Diqing Tibet autonomous prefecture. The vineyards are organic, or at least, adhere to organic practices even while they wait certification.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was smooth and mellow and slipped down the throat. Eyes closed, it takes me back to a New Zealand vineyard, or an experienced vintage from the Napa Sonoma. Eyes open, I am looking out at vineyards set against the karst landscape of Puzhehei.

Our next glass was a Crystal White, named after a local grape variety. The bouquet was almost overpowering at first sniff, and it conjures up images of honey-sweet, ripe bunches of fruit dangled over an open mouth - just like those Bacchantic images on Grecian-Roman urns.

I expected sweetness, since Yang tells me this is a Chinese favorite, but was pleasantly shocked by its crisp dryness.

I buy six bottles later for a family party, and my sybaritic brother and I both agree that if it was made into a sparkling wine, it would be perfect for parties and celebrations.

Later, I asked Yang about this, and he assures me that plans are already afoot to make a sparkling Crystal White before the end of this year.

The best was yet to be, and if there were any doubts about how serious they were about their wines, a final glass of Riesling icewine wiped them clean off my mind.

I have a fondness for icewine, and my encounters started at source at the Niagara peninsula where Inniskillin's vineyards are spread out. If Sunspirit succeeds in producing their icewine in enough quantity, Inniskillin is in for some serious competition.

Remember this name: Sunspirit, wines proudly made in Yunnan.

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