Let It Pour

Let It Pour: Good luck tasting the world's No. 2 wine

CorrespondentOctober 19, 2013 

You’ve most likely never tasted the second-best-selling brand of wine on Earth, unless you’ve been to China lately.

Great Wall, a China-based brand of wine, finishes behind only California behemoth Gallo in a tally of the best-selling brands worldwide. This is according to an infographic recently posted at financesonline.com/beer-vs-wine. It’s so chock-full of interesting tidbits that it’s worth wading through the cheesy stereotypical caricatures used to illustrate a supposed debate over whether beer or wine is better. Apparently, some people remain under the illusion that you have to pick one.

Even though the Chinese don’t make the top 10 in per capita wine consumption, its 1.35 billion people, mammoth economy and a growing thirst for wine make it a most desirable market.

Considering its population, it makes sense that a Chinese brand has grown larger than many labels familiar to Americans. The U.S. has a mere 313.9 million people, and ranked 56th in per capita wine consumption with 63 glasses per person per year. (No. 1 was Vatican City, where per capita wine consumption tops out at 365 glasses per person per year.) Still, I was stunned to know that Great Wall sells more wine than Chilean Concha Y Toro, Australian brands HardysYellow Tail, Lindeman’s and Jacob’s Creek and Californians Sutter Home, Robert Mondavi and Beringer.

The finances.com infographic goes so far as to say the Chinese newcomer “threatens” to dominate the world market. The phrasing conjured images of wine shelves across the globe being overrun by Great Wall wine, so I headed to the only place I could think of that might have a bottle – Total Wine. Turns out neither of the helpful wine sellers I talked to had heard of it. And the chain’s buying guide booklet has no listing for it either. An Internet search indicates that the brand has previously been available on snooth.com, where it failed to impress reviewers, and wine-searcher lists a few Canadian sellers, but it’s not widely available in the U.S.

To paraphrase a Total Wine employee when I inquired if the store carried Great Wall: “Why would they?” U.S. shelves are full of the other mass-produced juices that have found their sweet spots on the American palate. Great Wall might be a threat in terms of market share, but if online reviews are any indication, few of its wines have won converts with quality. Nonetheless, I remain curious to know how the Gallo of China compares to U.S. market giants in taste.

Another name on the top 10 best-seller brand list piqued my curiosity. Hardys is No. 3 on the planet and Australia’s most popular brand. A scan of the Total Wine inventory turned up one Hardys product, its Whiskers Blake Classic Tawny port. I’m a sucker for a good wine-name legend, and this one took me in. Whiskers Blake was an old bloke whose job it was to scare birds away from the Hardy family vineyards in the early 1900s, according to the bottle.

His namesake port is a respectable version. It gleams like a ruby in the light and has a halo of deep gold. Its nose is a blend of earth, caramel and cherries. The taste is smooth with no raisin-y bitterness and hints of clove and black pepper on the finish. Like any decent port, it brings to mind thoughts of leather-bound books and deep-seated armchairs.

One of the helpful wine sellers told me the chain used to carry more Hardys, but no longer. I’m glad they kept the Whiskers Blake Classic Tawny as it does a fine job of representing the global brand. Maybe Great Wall will send the U.S. market a similar ambassador someday.

Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at amberwrites.com.

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