We’ve been watching lots of Olympics coverage at my house so, when I spotted a bottle of Dragon Seal 2004 Unoaked Chardonnay at Uwajimaya the other day, I just had to buy it. Why? Because this Chardonnay is made in China! I wasn’t expecting much out of this wine; after all, China isn’t exactly known for its Chardonnay. But, we’ve been hearing so much about China every night on the TV; if there was ever a time to try a Chinese wine, the time is now! And how cool is it that the grapes for this wine are grown at the foot of the Great Wall of China?

Dragon Seal Winery was formed in 1987 as a subsidiary of Beijing Winery. The goal behind Dragon Seal was to begin producing wine in the European style by importing French vines and utilizing advanced French wine making techniques. French viticulturists studied several vine-growing areas of China looking for the ideal place to plant grapes for the Dragon Seal label. They eventually settled on the area of Hualai in Hebei province, 75 miles northwest of Beijing. The tradition of making wine from grapes dates back thousands of years in this region. The climate in Hualai is very similar to that of France’s Burgundy and Bordeaux (in fact, it shares the same latitude with Bordeaux.) Dragon Seal launched its first bottle of wine in 1988, the year of the dragon according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

Dragon Seal wines are made from imported French vines: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling are all grown here. Notably, Dragon Seal was also is the first winery in China to make sparkling wine using Methode Champenoise, the technique used for making Champagne. In addition to using French grapes for their wines, Dragon Seal uses traditional French and American oak barrels for aging the wines.

For dinner, I made Grilled Mackerel with Warm Potato & Fennel Salad. Mackerel is one of my favorite types of fish, and it didn’t disappoint with this recipe. It was so decadently oily, and the bits where the fish touched the grill were nice and crisp. To make the salad for this recipe, you boil new potatoes and toss them, still warm, with thinly sliced fennel and red onion. A mustard and lemon vinaigrette brings the whole dish together. Instead of parsley, I seasoned the salad with lemon basil from this week’s CSA box. The lemony fennel was a great match for the oily fish. Next time, I would probably make the fennel and onions into a slaw for the fish and serve roasted potatoes separately on the side.

The wine was a decent, crisp, full-bodied white wine. It had a pretty strong citrus component which actually worked really well with the flavors in the potato and fennel salad. A good effort from a country relatively new to this style of wine. Who knows, maybe wine making will begin to take off in China. If so, France had better watch out! If there’s anything to be learned from the opening ceremony of this year’s Olympics, if China wants to do something bigger and better than everyone else, there seems to be no stopping them.

2 Comments »

  1. Very interesting. The owner of our local Chinese restaurant offered me a bottle of rosé the other night, which my husband laughed about – “you’re not actually going to drink that?” Well I did and I was surprised. It was quite all right and I swear somehow it tasted Chinese. I wish I’d saved the bottle! Your recipe sounds great – I’m going to give it a try.

    Comment by Kim — August 15, 2008 @ 7:27 am

  2. Hey, I learned about someone’s tradition I’m just going to have to steal, and you might too. On the night of the opening ceremonies cook a big meal from the host country/city! Of course the next Olympics is in Vancouver BC…salmon? But next is London then Russia!

    Comment by Katie — August 16, 2008 @ 9:28 am

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