wine bottles

Exotic Wines that You Must Try in China

Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape varietal in China accounting for more than 60% of all grapes under cultivation, China has some interesting wines made from local grapes and hybrids.

These wines are refreshingly different from ones you’ll find on the rest of the planet where the vast majority of the wine is made from Vitis Vinifera, the wine grape of the world. It is estimated that as much as 99 percent of the wine produced is made from Vitis vinifera.

History Of Wine Cultivation And Consumption In China

For a long time, grapes were not a widely-popular fruit for consumption in China. And wine made from grapes was even rarer than eating them. In fact, the grape wine was extremely rare until modern times.

Historically, most of the wine produced was reserved for special occasions, a usage that is most closely reflected in the way high-end champagne is consumed today.

On the other hand, Europe has an old wine culture that is based on Vitis vinifera. Many experts in China, however, claim that Vitis vinifera in China actually predates the French use of Vitis vinifera by a couple of centuries. The grape-producing vine is thought to have originated in the Middle East.

How did the first Vitis vinifera make it to China? There are several theories; however, the most accepted is the theory of Chang Chien’s great gift. Chang Chien, a general returning to China from a journey to Fergana in 128 BCE, triumphantly presented Vitis vinifera seeds which were planted near the imperial palace, setting a precedent for future cultivation.

chinese grape basket

Source: Nathan Gray

The wine produced from fermented grapes, however, was rarely consumed for centuries after Chang Chien brought the first Vitis vinifera to China. Not until the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) pushed west into the lands that make up modern Turkey and Iran, did wine started to become known to larger portions of the population.

Why Chinese Wine Production Is Unique

It is important to note that China has many other varieties of wine and table grapes which are either native or are the result of crosses with native grapes and Vitis vinifera.  There are also varieties of Vitis vinifera that have been specially cultivated in China, which is the only place to find wines derived from these grapes. One example of the unique viticulture taking place in China is the fragrant Tuo Xian grape, which we will explore later.

In China’s wine production Vitis labrusca is represented, as is the native Vitis amurensis. In fact, there are thousands of grape varieties in the Middle Kingdom. What’s more, the Chinese have assiduously crossed hundreds of grape varieties to create the most diverse selection of grapes in the world. This is great news for an oenophile looking to experiment while on vacation in China.

The explanation of different grape varieties and how they are crossed to create new grapes can make some people’s eyes glaze over. Fortunately, you don’t need a Ph.D. in viticulture to have a great wine experience in China.

Exotic Wines To Try On Your Next Trip To China

Now that our contemplation of viticulture is over, the fun part begins! Let’s jump into the exciting wines that you are likely only to find on a trip to China.

Dragon’s Eye Wine

This fruit is widely known as longan and it is not a grape. However, it must be included in this list because the wine produced from it is a rare treat that should be savored by any lover of sweet wines or liqueurs. The Dragon’s Eye gets its name from the fruit that when peeled resembles a large eyeball. It is related to the lychee fruit but is not as sweet. As a result, it produces a fragrant dessert wine that is not as overpoweringly sweet as lychee drinks.

dragon eye fruit

Source: Wikimedia

The Interesting Wines of the Jilin Province

In the Jilin Province, there are efforts to make hybrids from the native Vitis amurensis and Vitis vinifera with varying degrees of success. The successful crosses have been given charming names such as “Red Wine Grape #1.” If you have the chance, sample a glass made from Red Grape #1.

The most interesting Vitis vinifera is referred to as Tuo Xian, and is pinkish in color and occurs in big luscious clusters. The grape has been used to create its own unique wine and blended with other grapes.

It is also used in a sweet white that is combined with flowers from the bushy Osmanthus fragrans to produce a pleasingly fragrant dessert wine. The Osmanthus fragrans shrub has been prized in China and has been used to add flavor to Chinese wines since the 14th century. Trying one of these dessert wines in a must for wine lovers who want an authentic taste of the exotic wines that China has to offer.

Five-Flavor Berry Wine

Five-Flavor Berry is the name for the fruit of the Schizandra chinensis vine, which is native to Northeastern China.

The grapes are eaten as a delicacy and have a flavor that is reminiscent of cranberry. The grapes are used in Chinese medicine, partially because there is no fruit with a higher natural concentration of ascorbic acid.

Due to its unique flavor and health benefits, the berry is consumed in many forms throughout East Asia, often in tea. In China, you can find a rare wine made from these exotic fruits which have wild berry aromas and a pleasingly complex flavor on the palate.

So now you have a good sense of where to start with your Chinese wine adventure. Drinking the exotic wine is a great way to experience China and broaden your horizons. Gan bei!

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Loren Mayshark

Loren Mayshark is an American published author and travel writer who has traveled extensively in S.E. Asia and studied Chinese art, religion, philosophy, and history while earning a BA in World History from Manhattanville College.

He has written for The Permaculture Research Institute and Uisio among other prominent outlets.

He is the author of Death: An Exploration (2016). For more visit his official website:
Loren Mayshark
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