A lesser-known French grape variety has the potential to be Chinese wine's international calling card, says one local expert - but some are backing a rival.

Lowly French grape variety Marselan has the potential for great success in China, according to professor LI Demei, one of the foremost experts on Chinese wine and a columnist for DecanterChina.com.

Cabernet Sauvignon is currently the dominant grape in many emerging Chinese vineyard regions, such as Ningxia. But there is a growing search for the country’s wine identity among producers and consultants.

Marselan was only created in 1961, as a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, and professor Li believes that its versatility makes it a strong bet in China’s growing vineyard areas.

‘It’s vibrant purple in colour, with a fresh and aromatic nose of ripe fruit and Cabernet-like minty characters,’ Li told an audience at a Decanter-hosted masterclass at Vinexpo Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong.

He particularly praised Marselan’s resistance to disease, lower vigour than Cabernet Sauvignon in summer and its relatively good yield potential. However, it is also a slow ripener.

Between 133 and 200 hectares of Marselan have been planted in China to date, according to estimates. Only France has more of the variety planted.

Several top Chinese wineries have already used Marselan, including Grace Vineyard in Shanxi and the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite-Rothschild) vineyard in Shandong province.

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Marselan’s rival: Cabernet Gernischt – that’s Carmenere to you

Not everyone agrees with the Marselan plan.

Changyu, China’s oldest commercial wine producer, is keen to promote Cabernet Gernischt, the same variety as Carmenere, originally from Bordeaux but used widely in Chile.

Changyu released its first red wine made from the variety in 1937, named ‘Jie Bai Na’. It now sells 430m bottles annually.

Cabernet Gernischt has now ‘to some extent established its own character in China, and attracted a certain level of market demand,’ said WANG Zuming, head of the wine division at the China Alcoholic Drinks Association (CADA).

Rich red fruit and a green pepper nose are among the key characters of this variety in China, with many ‘food-friendly’ wines on the market, said Prof LI Demei.

Edited by Chris Mercer. Sylvia Wu is editor of DecanterChina.com.

A first verison of this story appeared on Decanter’s sister site, DecanterChina.com

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