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China makes move on champagne

First the bad news. The past few years have seen major changes in Chinese wine drinking habits. and now the Chinese have developed a taste for champagne, causing concern that demand may come to exceed supply.

The good news is that champagne giant Moet Hennessy is planning to meet demand by planting its first vineyard in China in partnership with the state-owned agricultural company Ningxia Nongken. Nongken already has 670 hectares under vine in the Ninxia Hui region where the joint venture vineyard is located.

Moet Hennessy had been looking for production areas in China since 2008 and, although no financial details of the deal are available, it appears to be a 60/40 split in favour of the champagne house who will retain sole ownership of the winery.

Ningxia lies in north-west China, just south of Inner Mongolia and, although parts of it are desert, there is some temperate land, irrigated by the Yellow River. France's Pernod Ricard group are already involved in a joint venture in the region.

Moet Hennessy plans to produce a top-end sparkling wine made to traditional methods under their brand name of Chandon.

The Chandon brand is used for fizzers produced in California, Brazil and Australia. Existing Chandon sparkling wines are made with the same grape varieties used in champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, aged in bottle for a minimum of 18 months. The plan is to have the Chinese Chandon ready for drinking in three years' time.


In England last week I couldn't pass up the opportunity to pop into a supermarket and take a look at the wine prices. On previous visits I'd been staggered by the disparity between English and Irish prices and by the bargains on offer. And yes, I do know about differences in duty, higher transportation costs, size of the market, etc, etc.

Ludlow on the Welsh borders has a sizeable Tesco store. I was amazed to find a depressing paucity of selection; there were few if any of the good wines I'd associate with Tesco in Ireland. Prices, after doing the GBP/euro conversion were similar -- Penfold's Koonunga Hill, to take an example, tallied within a few cents.

I wouldn't regard my local Tesco, in Sandymount, as any great shakes, but on my return to Ireland I found two of my favourites, the medal-winning Mount Pleasant 'Elizabeth' Semillon 2005 and the Tim Adams Grenache-based 'The Fergus' 2007 at a tenner apiece.

This is, as Jamie Rednapp might say, were he a wine drinker, 'top, top, gear'.