Cabernet Sauvignon is the key variety planted across many of China’s young wine regions, shows one of the first official reports on the subject, but experts warn that the grape variety 'can't be a perfect fit everywhere'.

The top three grape supplying Chinese wine regions are currently Xinjiang, Shandong and Hebei, the government report says.

Nine areas in total are identified as key winemaking regions in China, and these are:

• North East China
• Changli (Hebei)
• Jiaodong Peninsula (Shandong)
• Huai Zhuo Basin (Hebei)
• The Loess Plateau
• Xinjiang
• The Gansu Corridor
• Ningxia Helan Mountain East
• Southwest China

Duan Changqing, chief scientist of China Agriculture Research System for Grapes and Wine industry, outlined the regions at a trade conference organised by China National Food Industry Association last month.

‘A work in progress’

But, experts warned that China’s best wine regions, and the most suitable grape varieties for them, were still a work in progress.

‘The “wine regions” people are customarily talking about are actually administrative divisions,’ said LI Demei, Chinese wine authority and DecanterChina.com columnist.

Key grape varieties

Out of the total 1,560,000mu (104,000 ha) of grape vines planted in the region, 250,000mu (16,667 ha) are used for winemaking, with the majority being Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. The approximate volume of production is 100,000 tonnes of wine per year, said Duan Changqing.

Changli of Hebei province currently has 300,000mu (20,000 ha) of land under grape vines, one third of which are wine grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Syrah are the main varieties of the region, with the total wine production hitting 70,000 tonnes per year, said the viticultural scientist.

Also from Hebei province, the Huai Zhuo Basin owns 70,000mu (4,667 ha) of wine grapes, with Dragon Eye Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay as its key varieties. Every year the region produces 50,000 tonnes of wine.

Ningxia, as one of China’s most renowned young fine wine regions, has so far planted 80,000mu (5,333 ha) of wine grapes in the Helan Mountain East area, producing 40,000 tonnes of wine each year, Duan said.

‘China does not have more vineyards than France’

In a report released in April this year, the Paris-based International Organisation for Vine and Wine (OIV) said that China has 799,000ha of land under vine, indicating China has more vines than France.

However, China Alcoholic Drinks Association (CADA) corrected the report saying that out of the 13,000,000mu (867,000 hectares) under vine in China, only 10% are planted with wine grapes. The rest is made up by table grapes, stressed officials.

‘Cabernet Sauvignon can’t be perfect everywhere’

Due to the lack of traditional experience and research on choosing the most suitable wine grapes, ‘[it was considered that the] (international) “star varieties” or the most commercialised varieties would clearly make better business sense for the growers,’ said Li Demei. This resulted in the wide plantation of international varieties lead by Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘We still don’t know for certain whether China has another Cabernet Sauvignon sweet point, but one thing we do know is that not every region planting this grape is a perfect fit,’ he said.

‘Finding a unique identity’ has become a central task for Chinese quality winemakers, said Guo Ying, senior sommelier of Four Seasons Hotel China and judge of Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) at the 2015 Decanter Shanghai Fine Wine Encounter.

This article originally appeared on DecanterChina.com.