China’s must-buy wine: Jia Bei Lan to be released this week at rmb898

Note: The post below appeared on sibling blog Beijing Boyce a few days ago because this blog got hacked. I can access the blog now and am thus posting the info here. For more details on the Jia Bei Lan release price, see this piece in The Wall Street Journal and for more on the controversy surrounding Decanter and Jia Bei Lan last year, see this interview with the magazine’s publishing director, Sarah Kemp. Finally, Jia Bei Lan was released in China yesterday, at an event in Temple Restaurant, and included a tasting of the 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. I’ll have more on that soon.

By Jim Boyce

Six months after becoming the first Chinese wine to win an “international award” at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London, the Bordeaux-style Jia Bei Lan 2009 is on the verge of being released in China, starting in Beijing, by distributor The Wine Republic.

The wine, from winery Helan Qing Xue in Ningxia, will be released as Grand Reserve 2009.

The price per bottle: rmb898.

When Jia Bei Lan first won at the regional level, Decanter listed the retail price as 13 pounds or rmb130. When this blog’s sibling, Grape Wall, held the Ningxia vs Bordeaux Challenge in December, it listed Jia Bei Lan – which came second only to Chairman’s Reserve from Grace Vineyard – at a tentative rmb220. The release price is, respectively, 700 percent and 400 percent higher than those two prices.

Is it worth that much? Yes. To people who have asked my opinion, I have recommended they pick up a case or two — or more, if they can. Here are five reasons why:

1.This wine is unique. It is the first Chinese wine to take that Decanter award. Wines with such a history bring a premium.

2.It is made by chief wine consultant, Li Demei, who studied wine-making in ENITA de Bordeau and interned at Chateau Palmer. His story and, in turn, that of Jia Bei Lan, will gain in stature as he is likely to soon appear on some of those “world’s most influential wine people” lists and has three more China projects in the works, including one he says can make even better wine.

3. The Wine Republic only has ~5000 bottles. Since it needs to allocate some to its on-trade clients, such as hotels, restaurants and bar, less than half will be available for direct sale to customers. I know people who have already reserved cases and I imagine stocks won’t last long.

4. In the context of China wine market, the price of Jia Bei Lan is not unreasonable. There are other Chinese wines with far less pedigree that sell at far higher prices, including, at the extreme, this bottle that is 30 times more. Jia Bei Lan is selling for just a bit more than a non-vintage bottle of Champagne in some Beijing nightclubs.

5. In my opinion, it tastes good. I have tried Jia Bei Lan about two dozen times and generally enjoyed it. It did well in Grape Wall’s Ningxia vs Bordeaux Challenge and North by Northwest Challenge. Australian wine critic Jeremy Oliver gave a sample bottle 19 out of 20 points.

A key concern –an ironic one given the association of China and counterfeits — is that the high price will inspire the appearance of fake Jia Bei Lan. Another is that the Wine Republic does not control all stock, with a portion held by the winery for allocation to officials in Ningxia.

Even so, Jia Bei Lan’s story, taste and limited supply make it hard to resist, and I consider this as “must buy” as a wine gets in China and expect to see it being re-sold for far more than rmb898 in the months and years to come.