Today is the Ides of March in the West, and since the Romans loved wine so, I thought it fitting to carry out a wine tasting. I am fascinated with the state of wine in China, partly because I really love wine, and partly because I really love China. I have conducted tastings and written reviews for Chinese wine before, but whenever I try out a new label, I like to write about it as well. I found Kaweisi (卡维斯) Merlot on sale. Usually 68 RMB (about $11), it was marked down to 20 RMB (about $3.25). Keep in mind, however, that the price of wine in China means even less than it does in the US.
Using my (awful) knowledge of Chinese, I could read enough of the label to discern that Kaweisi is “China’s famous wine label,” and “Merlot dry red wine”. The Chinese characters for Kaweisi seem to be phonetic, and do not have any particular lexical meaning. The image on the label is a sketch of barrels in a wine cellar. The ABV is 12%, and the grapes are 100% Merlot. The vintage is 2014, so it is newly bottled.
The first thing I noticed when I uncorked the bottle was a distinct bouquet of sulfur, that quickly dissipated when the wine was poured. Sulfites (SO2) indeed occur naturally in the winemaking process, but some winemakers also add them to preserve the wine’s characteristics. In this case, I suspect the latter.
In the glass, the bouquet gave strong odors of raspberries and alcohol on the nose, with hints of vanilla. The color was an inky purple with touches of ruby garnet. Because the wine was obviously so new, there were no touches of amber yet.
The flavor was overly fruit-forward. While I understand that fruity (though not necessarily sweet) wine is a current trend in the US and even in parts of Europe, I am still more of a traditionalist. I prefer wines that are very dry and complex, with medium to strong tannins, and that are aged long enough to develop some of the less-fruity flavor profiles, such as earthiness. This wine showed strong flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. Strawberry was the predominant flavor. For those who are not accustomed to wine-tasting terms, when I say that it showed flavors of strawberry, I do not mean that it tasted like a sweet strawberry juice, because it was still, overall, a dry (non-sweet) wine. What I mean is that, among its subtle, dry flavors, I could make out a flavor similar to that of strawberries.
Overall, the wine was not great, but certainly drinkable. On the Wine Spectator rating scale, I would assign it about an 86 out of 100. As much Chinese wine, though it was technically dry, it was still too sweet for most Western wine aficianados. And this is a trend in Chinese wine: the Chinese overwhelmingly prefer sweet wine. This is changing among the rising middle class and the wealthy, who are more and more discovering Western wine styles and are eager to learn about them. But I still estimate that it will be another fifteen to twenty years before the bulk of Chinese wine consumers enjoy truly dry wine, by Western standards.
It is difficult to suggest a food pairing for a wine that is not great to begin with, but if I had to try to pair Kaweisi Merlot, I would enjoy it with firm cheeses such as Swiss, and perhaps with roast chicken. It did not pair well with the extremely spicy Chinese food I ate with it.