Every time we go to China, we bring back as many Chinese wines as we can fit in our trusty Wine Check suitcase. But knowing how hard they’ll be to replace, we tend to be shy about opening them. You know, waiting for that “special occasion” that doesn’t come remotely often enough. Luckily, we’ve been following a group of wine writers who gave us the perfect excuse: “Cabernet Franc around the world” is this week’s Wine Pairing Weekend Twitter chat (#WinePW). We love Cab Franc, but it’s usually cooler climate reds from the Loire Valley. This time, we went a different route: bubbles from China.
Our pick for Food and Wine Pairing Weekend (#winepw) comes from Grace Vineyard, one of China’s leading producers out of Shanxi province. The Angelina series (after CEO Judy Chan’s youngest daughter) includes four traditional method sparkling wines. After a corporate career, in her mid-twenties, Judy Chan took the lead of her father’s winery and turned it into one of China’s best. In addition to a 2009 vintage cuvee, which goes through longer ageing on the lees, Grace’s three non-vintage, mid-priced sparkling wines include a Chardonnay, a Chenin Blanc and, today’s wine, a blanc de noir (white from red grapes) Cabernet Franc.
Pairing: easy weeknight dinner
Well, it was easy for us, since all we had to do was show up with a chilled bottle of bubbly. Our friends Anaid and Luis invited us to dinner on Monday night, which completed our excuse to finally open that bottle.
The wine showed extremely well, with those fine persistent bubbles that make flutes seem happier. The nose was medium intensity with notes of citrus, pear, lightly toasted sandwich bread and a tarragon-like herbal note. On the palate, we found a creamy texture and a warm and fuzzy baked goods quality that reminded us of Crémant.
It went great with Anaid’s garlic-Dijon roasted pork tenderloin and roasted veggies. Not surprising: vegetables are tough to pair and you’ll likely find Cabernet Franc at the top of your go-to wine pairing guide because of its strong herbal and aromatic profile. Of course, people usually refer to reds, but our Chinese bubbly worked great too. A red would have been much more difficult with dessert, but it turns out Angelina was perfect with our sliced peaches topped with yoghurt.
Making great wine is hard enough, especially in an emerging wine region with many hurdles to pass. But then, you also have to sell it. One strength of Grace Vineyard is its marketing acumen, and Angelina is a fantastic example of what they can do. The Angelina series is sold (in China only, sorry folks) online thanks to the winery’s presence on Chinese e-commerce websites JD.com and Tmall. We bought our bottles (and the branded flutes, we couldn’t resist) at a wine shop in Hong Kong. The retail price is 158 Yuan, about 24 US dollars, a great price, especially given that a number of otherwise excellent Chinese wines are crazy expensive. Grace Vineyard’s reasonable pricing across the product line stands out.
Visiting a winery is always great experience, but most people won’t take the trip to Taigu county in the Western province of Shanxi. So, a few years ago, Grace had the brilliant idea of setting up its own bistro in the southern coastal city of Fuzhou. It’s called… Angelina! There are two locations, each in a prominent tourist area of the city: the relaxing West Lake Park, and refurbished historical neighborhood Three Lanes and Seven Alleys. The genius of this is that most people who come to enjoy food and drinks at Angelina are probably unaware that this belongs to a major winery. On a hot day in Fuzhou, they are drawn to the soothing store front colors (the same as the bottle label), an affordable menu of Spanish and Italian dishes, and air-conditioning. And wine, of course. The house signature cocktail, Angie Green, is made with Angelina sparkling, spiced up with blue Curacao, pineapple juice and mint.
Traceability and authenticity
Half way through dinner, we noticed a little sticker on the neck of the bottle, with a QR code. We scanned it on our phone, expecting to land on Angelina’s WeChat (Chinese social media) page. But there was more to this than we realized. Here’s what happened.
Turns out the QR code is an anti-counterfeiting device! After years of recurrent food safety and counterfeiting scandals, Chinese consumers care about authenticity. Counterfeiting hits famous imported wines of the world, of course, but local wineries are affected too. Grace Vineyard has a good brand and it needs to protect it.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until our next trip to China to taste Angelina sparkling Cabernet Franc again. In the meantime, anyone interested in the bubbly version of Cab Franc can explore those from the Crémant de Loire appellation in France.
Bonus: atmosphere pairings
We’re tuning in as visitors for the twitter chat organized by experienced wine writers whose work we enjoy. We’re not officially affiliated with their group, but they inspired us. Like us, you should follow #WinePW on Twitter on Saturday, March 9, at 11 AM ET. (8AM for us, yay Saturday!). See the links below to all their posts.
- 2 oz Pours: 5 Cali Cab Francs by Nicole of Somm’s Table
- At the Brasserie: Domaine de la Noblaie Pierre de Tuf 2014 with Chanterelle Mushroom & Herb Omelet by Cindy of Grape Experiences
- Lamb Stew Paired with Cabernet Franc Created by Couples from Gwendolyn of Wine Predator
- Cabernet Franc Food Pairings by Steven of Wine and Food Pairings
- Cabernet Franc Rosé Paired with Pasta e Piselli by Linda of My Full Wine Glass
- Cabernet Franc: A Vegetarian’s Best Friend by Lori of Dracaena Wines
- California Cab Franc with a Homey Casual Meal by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Chicken + Loire Valley Cabernet Franc — A Devilishly Delicious Pairing by Nancy of Pull That Cork
- Experimenting Chilean Perez Cruz Cabernet Franc with Five (Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Umami) Tasty Meat by Pinny of Chinese Food and Wine Pairings
- Ironstone 2016 Cabernet Franc: Comparing the Reserve and the Not Reserve by Cam of Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Leah Jørgensen’s Blanc de Cabernet Franc Paired with Red Lentil Soup by Lauren of The Swirling Dervish
- Portobello Mushroom Chicken Braise with Dracaena Reserve Cabernet Franc by David of Cooking Chat