Soon, you’ll look at a wine list, scan the regions and see something odd: Helan Mountain Range, Ningxia Hui, China. That’s right, the country that brought us Szechuan spice, dim sum and cheap iPhones, is now exporting wine.
Dave Henderson holds up a map at the Dragon’s Hollow wine launch dinner and points out his vineyard some 625 miles from Beijing at the same latitude as Napa Valley. “The question you want to ask yourself is, ‘Why Chinese wine?’” Henderson says. He rattles off New World wine regions in South America and Africa, then answers his own question. “China is the next natural progression.”
When Henderson first started looking for a region to produce export-quality wines in China, he says the country had just a handful of wineries. Today, he tells us, there are more than 700.
Most of those wines will never see a Las Vegas table, but Dragon’s Hollow’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay are Chinese wines for international drinkers. And, Henderson says, they’re made for Chinese food.
At China Mama, the chefs seem determined to prove it. During the launch party, the restaurant delivers a barrage of appetizers—sweet beef rolls, fiery pot stickers in chili sauce, the signature soup dumplings—and we descend on them eagerly, slurping and scooping, licking a light coat of oil off our fingers before hoisting glasses of the Cabernet, a fresh wine that’s not overly complex. Soon there are Shanghai noodles mixed tableside that are “all about texture,” according to a fellow guest, and more glasses of wine—the slightly tannic Merlot, the un-oaked Chardonnay. When there’s finally a moment to pause, the restaurant is humming and wine glasses have cluttered the table. I’m feeling full and slightly buzzed as a server clears away the plates.
“Just 10 more courses,” chirps one of our hosts.