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What You Need To Know About Ningxia, China’s Answer to Bordeaux

Article by Lost Plate Food Tours

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You may know Ningxia as that arid and desolate region in the northwest of China full of snow-capped mountains and lots of delicious BBQ lamb skewers. You may know about the Xixia tombs, and their ancient burial complexes that are the last remnants of a forgotten time. But, did you know that the East Foothills of Helan Mountain in Ningxia is China’s first officially recognized wine appellation and is now home to some of the best wineries in all of China? In case you didn’t, here are five interesting facts about China’s answer to Bordeaux.

Ningxia only started growing wine grapes in the 80s

Ningxia Wineries China Wine Tasting Views

The vineyards are protected from extreme weather due to the Helan Mountain Range.

The dust-swept region of Ningxia was previously known for its rich mineral resources and was home to a booming mining industry. Despite China’s ancient history and traditions of making wine and alcohol of all sorts, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the first wine grapes were planted in the region, and the first wine to come out of the region was not until the early 2000s. Gone are the days of cheap industrial “wine” from large state-owned producers like Great Wall. Chinese wines are taking huge strides in quality and diversity. It’s quite hard to imagine how much the wine industry in Ningxia has changed since the 2000s, as the pioneers of the industry in the region have proven to the wine world that great wine has no boundaries.

Ningxia wineries bury their grapevines in the winter

Ningxia Wineries China Wine Tasting Grape Vine

Making quality wine in Ningxia is no easy task. Though it shares a similar latitude with the great wine regions of the world such as Bordeaux in France and Napa Valley in the US, the climate of Ningxia and the surrounding foothills of Helan Mountain is extreme in every sense. Since the region gets over 3000 hours of sunshine annually, arid dry weather with minimal rainfall, and long harsh winters, winemakers in Ningxia have to constantly battle with the elements to ensure their vineyards survive and thrive year by year. The ample sunshine during the day, coupled with cool and breezy nights, help the grapes retain acidity and slow down their ripening process, developing complexity and aging potential in the wine. The cold weather also means that winemakers must painstakingly bury their vines under the yellow earth every winter to protect their grapes from frost damage. That said, great wine doesn’t come without hard work on the winemaker’s part, and this is just one step that the wineries are willing to go through to produce great wine.

In Ningxia, Cabernet is King

Ningxia Wineries China Wine Tasting Vineyard Visit

A beautiful day at Legacy Peak vineyard in Ningxia.

If you have been in China for an extended period of time, you’ll likely know that Chinese love the color red. Culturally associated with celebration, prosperity, and vitality, China’s love for the color red also applies to grape wine. In Ningxia, Cabernet Sauvignon is the main grape variety grown in the region, making up for 70% of vineyards in Ningxia. Other varieties such as Merlot, Grenache, and Marselan are also grown in smaller quantities. That said, Ningxia is no slouch when it comes to producing quality white wines either. The 2019 vintage of Domaine Charme Viognier, a fragrant and fresh white wine we get to sample on our Ningxia wine tasting tour, was rated by acclaimed wine critic James Suckling as one of the 10 top Chinese wines.

Ningxia has over 200 active wineries

Ningxia Wineries China Wine Tasting Red Glass

Ningxia’s selection of quality red and white wines is increasing substantially year by year.

Starting from a small handful of wineries in the early 2000s, Ningxia now has over 200 active wineries in the region, and the East Foothill of Helan Mountain, Ningxia’s main wine production area, was recently designated as China’s first and only wine appellation. If your only experience with Chinese wine is through large industrial producers like Dynasty and Great Wall, you in for a surprise. With a dizzying array of boutique producers, many started by Chinese winemakers who studied abroad in traditional wine regions such as Bordeaux, a wine lover interested in China’s up and coming wine industry is spoiled for choices in Ningxia. Wineries in the region range from austere chateaus, like that of Yuanshi Winery, which was built using the left-over stones of the region’s deserted mines and quarries, to small boutique operations that are hidden away from the public eye. Just a few of the most notable wineries include the spectacular technology driven Xige Estate, Emma Gao’s Silver Heights Winery, credited by many for putting Ningxia wine on the global map, as well as the inconspicuous Domaine Pushang, run by a husband and wife team known for their fabulous wines made from the Marselan grape varietal.

Ningxia produces wines that are truly world-class

Ningxia Wineries China Wine Tasting Barrels

Wines are aged in a mix of stainless steel tanks and oak barrels at the Yuanshi Winery.

The wine industry in China, particularly in Ningxia, has progressed by leaps and bounds in the past 20 years. While it may not have the storied history of old-world wine regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, many of the wines now coming out of the wineries in Ningxia are capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the finest wines from those storied regions. In recent years, wines from Ningxia have spearheaded the Chinese wine industry in many influential wine competitions abroad, winning multiple international wine accolades. In the 2022 Decanter World Wine Awards, one of the world’s largest and most influential wine competitions, Chinese wines recorded its highest ever medal haul of 234 medals, with Ningxia leading the vanguard with 8 of 17 of China’s gold medal wines this year. Internationally renowned wine critic, James Suckling, who 12 years ago only recalled one memorable Chinese wine which he rated at 86, has now scored more than half of the 150 Chinese wines he tried in 2020 as 90 or above. This marked improvement is truly a testament to the love and dedication that the winemakers in Ningxia have been put into their product.

How can you experience all of Ningxia's amazing wine?

With us! Our 4-day trip through the beautiful wine region of Ningxia visits 8 of our favorite wineries in the region, and samples over 30 fabulous local wines, all while enjoying a smorgasbord of delicious Northwestern Chinese food to boot. If you’d like to learn more about our wine-filled trip through China’s premier wine destination, view the full itinerary or contact us with questions or to reserve your spot on one of our next trips!

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