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A Taste of China, Episode 2: Wine and Mutton in Ningxia, 10.20.20

A Taste of China, Episode 2: Wine and Mutton in Ningxia, 10.20.20

A Taste of China is an online series in partnership with WildChina exploring the different areas of China through its unique tastes.


In the series’ second episode, we traveled live to central China’s lesser-known Ningxia province with Janet Z. Wang (JW), author of The Chinese Wine Renaissance: A Wine Lover’s Companion, Emma Gao (EG), owner and winemaker of Silver Heights Vineyard, and Mei Zhang (MZ), founder of WildChina.

Ningxia is one of China’s least populated areas. Its population is majority Han Chinese, but about a third of its people are Hui people, who practice Islam. They are descendants of traders who traveled on the Silk Road. It’s a beautiful area, with mountains, lakes, and blue sky.

Full Video of A Taste of China, episode 2: Fine Wine, Hand-Grabbed Mutton, and the Flavors of Ningxia

Quotes From the Conversation

On wine in China:

“Grape wine consumption is a new phenomenon in China. It has grown dramatically and has grown since the economic reforms of the 1980s. We have all heard of the early stories of government officials pouring Coca-Cola into a glass of Rothschild to make it palatable. Those images are from a bygone era.” -MZ

“I was taught a lot of Chinese poetry as a child, and I noticed that wine was a very frequent theme in Chinese literature. Western style wines and grapes came to China in the second century BC, during the Han Dynasty, through the Silk Road. Ever since then, many poets will write about great wine, everyone knows the first line of this Tang Dynasty Poem [Song of Liangzhou (The Battlefront)]: “Grape wine glistening in the glass of evening light.” -JW

“Traditionally, wine has been dominated by state owned brands in China. What impact have small wine makers had in the local industry?” -MZ

[In Response:] “The market is changing. We can produce artisanal wines and express our hometowns and different lands, and protect the environment at the same time. That is the meaning of what we are doing.” -EG

On the Chinese palette:

“The Bordeaux producers in France found…the Chinese palate to be fairly sophisticated because the Chinese food culture is so rich. The Chinese people were very quick to pick up wine concepts like balance, and even tannin profiles. Although generally a softer tannin profile would go with Chinese food—but the palate understands tannins and its importance in wine. So the French found that very fascinating—that it is a new market but the palate is a sophisticated one.” -JW

On wine pairings and Chinese food:

“With meat, traditionally you always pair it with red wine. But you can also try our white wine because in China, we have a lot of fish dishes.. It is not necessary to have white with fish, you can use a light red wine for fish. …Ningxia has great sunshine for red wines and cool nights for white. So, our white wine is most sophisticated.

This is hand pulled mutton. Back in the day, you would cook up a whole mutton to feed the full family. You wouldn’t have tables or silverware so everyone [eats with their hands]. You would have red wine with it!” -EG

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