Convenience Store Wine – Worth The Effort?

Article By Callum Newell

I was watching an interview with a French winemaker, and he did not describe his profession as such, but as a ‘builder of pleasure’, because ‘wine is only pleasure’. Yes, he is right, wine definitely should be a pleasure, and I’m sure all the wine he makes is. But not all wines are made the same. For those of us living in China, pleasure is by no means a guarantee; it is more of a lottery.

The wine drinkers among us are probably aware that the price of bottles can vary wildly here: from under 20rmb for a bottle of Chinese-made plonk, to anywhere up into the stratosphere for imported wines.

Admittedly, there are a few select places to buy a decent range of imports. Metro Supermarket, for example, has many reasonably priced options but is not easily accessible for everyone. Also, there are many specialist imported wine shops that seem to be springing up everywhere, but these all tend to be very expensive. Hence, I was posed a question: are there any drinkable wines that people can buy from the convenience stores or mini-marts that are on almost every street?

To answer this, I chose 6 bottles of wine (4 red, 2 white) from 3 different stores, all commonly found in Xi’an, with a budget of 80rmb per bottle.

For the tasting, I decided to start with the cheapest, and go through to the most expensive.

wine11 Name: Haiyu Fengqing
From: China
Price: 19.90 RMB
Shop: Vanguard (Mini-Mart)

Don’t be fooled by the friendly faced ‘wai guo ren’ on the bottle – there is nothing friendly about this ‘wine’! Strong smells of chemicals and burnt plastic ensured that my two wine tasting confidantes refused to even let it past their lips. I, however, did brave it and found it to taste just as bad as it smelt. This is certainly by far the worst wine I have ever tasted. Only ever buy this if you really hate the person you will be serving it to!

wine22 Name: Changyu ‘Sweet Red Wine’
From: China
Price: 28 RMB
Shop: Everyday

Immediate thoughts on observing the bottle was that it was a rather strange, un-winelike colour. We persevered and opened the bottle, and found while it did at least have a grape smell to it, the grapes in question would have been left to go off a long time ago! It had an unpleasant grainy texture, obviously having had a lot of poor quality sugar added to it. While I wouldn’t necessarily suggest this as a wine to serve someone you hate, it is certainly a wine you would serve to someone you wanted to make suffer!

At this point, and half thinking that this may be some cruel initiation test by my esteemed editor, I decided to abandon the original plan, and to try the most expensive, hoping that this may be at least drinkable.

wine33 Name: Karl Heinz Weißwein
From: Germany
Price: 79rmb
Shop: Tick Mart

From Tick Mart, which I consider to be the nicest convenience store chain in Xi’an. Tick has probably the largest wine selection among the smaller convenience stores, but they seem to be all imports (and rather expensive). However, I did find one import just under budget.

First thoughts about this was slight relief that it was actually wine! That’s not to say however that this wine is something special – it’s not. This semi-sweet white does have fruity aromas, with hints of pear and oak, and for me would need to be served ice-cold. This is a basic (perhaps too basic), but drinkable wine that would be OK as a last resort.

wine44 Name: Great Wall Cabernet Gernischt
From: Ningxia, China
Price: 45rmb
Shop: Vanguard (Mini-Mart)

From Ningxia, which is considered to produce the highest quality grapes in China, and using one of China’s principle grapes, Cabernet Gernischt (genetically identical to Carménère – a red wine found commonly in Chile). I found this medium-bodied red to have flavours of cherries and spices, but ultimately it wasn’t particularly well rounded and felt a little flat. I think, however, you could make decent mulled wine from this, if you were so inclined.

wine55 Name: Changyu (Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009)
From: Shandong, China
Price: 48rmb
Shop: Everyday

Changyu, based in Shandong province, is China’s oldest and largest winery. Here, they have produced a distinctly average Cabernet Sauvignon. It had what I could only describe as a vegetable-y smell to it, and a slight taste of blackcurrants, but really it’s nothing to write home about.

wine66 Name: Mogao ‘Italian Riesling’
From: Gansu, China
Price: 58rmb
Shop: Vanguard (Mini-Mart)

First impressions were that the bottle looked quite smart – that you would think the liquid inside might even be pleasant. This wine is advertised as ‘Italian Riesling’, but unfortunately it didn’t taste like any riesling, or indeed any Italian wine I have ever tried. It did have a slight lemon smell, but to taste, it was bland, with very little flavour being displayed.

So, to answer the question posed above, I think it’s obvious that in China (and the rest of the world), you get what you pay for, but in all of these particular incidences, you really don’t get much for your money.