We sat through more than 10 presentations, and learned much about the local table grape industry. If you include table grapes in the statistics, then China is currently the world’s 3rd largest producer of grapes. However, the Chinese government does not want to expand table grapes, but instead to focus on wine grapes. The Turpan area – even though it is the birthplace of wine in China – is almost all table grapes and raisins. The closest winery – Loulan – is a 90 minute ride from the city (see posting on Loulan Winery). They mentioned again the two important native Chinese grapes – Longyan (Dragon’s Eye) and Shelongzhu (Chinese Cabernet) – but none are grown in this region.
That evening, we had another huge banquet with the largest round table (seating 30 people) and matching lazy susan I have ever seen. I was told later that it took 10 men to set-up the glass lazy susan on the table, and I believe it. The center of the table was filled with a large red rose bouquet, and all of the important dignitaries and their translators sat at our table. The food was amazing of course – with at least 25 different dishes ranging from all types of vegetables, shrimp, fish, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and many other delicacies. One of my favorites was a type of minced lamb empanada with spices – very tasty. I saw it being cooked in the local market a few days later over coals.
Of course, the meal included countless gambay toasts. I smiled when I saw that they had set each place setting with a one ounce pour of red wine, the nasty rice grappa, and a large glass of green tea – what a combo! (See photo above). The wine was actually quite nice, but rather young – a 2007 Loulan Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It had a bright red berry nose; firm tannins; medium-bodied; but a slightly tart finish. We found out later it had been aged 12 months in 100% new French oak. I think that if it had another year of bottle age, it would be a little more elegant and rounded. As we continued to eat dinner, I found myself rather frustrated, however, at only having a one ounce pour. I kept having to wait for the server to refill my glass and wished I could grab the bottle out of his hands and pour a normal size glass of wine to enjoy with the food. Instead it was a stop and start affair.
The other interruption to the meal was the standard gambeys. Each time someone wanted to toast, we all had to stop eating and stand up. We proceeded through about only 8 gambeys (not very many compared to most banquets), and I noticed that many people only took sips, rather than downing their glass. We wondered later if they did this for us Westerners. The meal actually ended rather abruptly with people getting up to leave and saying good-bye. Therefore, since the night was still young, the 7 of us decided to walk down to the lake for a beer. I never did touch my stinky smelling rice grappa. We ended the night relaxing by the beautiful lake with lotus blossoms, fountains, and singing rocks – and drinking beer, because – regretfully for me -- there was no cold white wine.