Avant-garde drinking in the new year

John H. Isacs
The term "avant-garde" is frequently applied to the film and dance industries. With a dose of artistic license, I'll endeavor to suggest avant-garde drinking options for 2022.
John H. Isacs
Avant-garde drinking in the new year
Ti Gong

Yellow River tributaries provide ample water to irrigate Ningxia vineyards. ­­

The term "avant-garde" is most frequently applied to the film and dance industries. However, with a dose of artistic license, I'll endeavor to relate the term to the wine and spirits industries and suggest some adventurous avant-garde drinking options for 2022.

Drinking the same old wine or liquor all the time, even if you adore it, gets old. I love Chards, Sauvignons, Cabs, Merlots, Syrahs and Pinots, but like many of you my palate yearns for new horizons. Luckily, there's a simple solution – try something new!

That may sound easy but many tipplers lack the access or confidence to experiment. Therefore, to start 2022 in a more exciting and daring way, I'm recommending a wine you almost certainly haven't tried. It comes from a German grape and is made by a bright new star of a winery in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.A few weeks back, I wrote about purple-colored wines.

Purple is a mysterious color that in the West has traditionally been associated with royalty, wisdom, bravery and spirituality. In the wine world, the color refers to young, bold wines. In my previous column, I pragmatically featured the easy-to-find Malbec as my purple beauty. However, I almost chose another more obscure variety that makes perfectly purple wines.

Welcome to the little-known world of Dunkerfelder, a dark-skinned German variety that was crossbred by viticulturist Gustav Adolf Froehlich in the late 19th century. Once believed to be the progeny of Portugieser and the obscure Farbertraube variety, more recent DNA profiling revealed that Madeleine Angevine and the near-extinct Teinturier grape are the true parents.

Dunkel means dark in German. In Germany, where Dunkelfelder is mainly grown in the Pfalz and Baden regions, attaining deeper color in red wines can be problematic. Therefore, Dunkerfelder is often used in blends to add color and depth to wines much like how Petit Verdot is used in Bordeaux.

It's rarely used to make single varietal wines.Dunkerfelder, like Marselan, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache hybrid that was first made in the south of France in 1961, is a variety that has adapted very well to the arid lands of Ningxia. Only a few wineries have experimented with this variety but the results are very encouraging. The Ningxia Dunkerfelder wines I've tasted are deep purple, dry and full bodied with dark fruits, good acidity and an abundance of soft tannins.

The best I've tasted is made by Steven Wang, an agronomist by training and a talented winemaker to boot. His Yadai Winery is located in Ningxia's Qingtongxia Region. In addition to Dunkerfelder, Wang makes excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir reds as well as Chardonnay whites.The 2019 Yadai Dunkerfelder offers a unique blend of stimulating spicy fruit and plush, velvety tannins. This limited production wine is so new that the bottles I've tasted didn't even have labels.

This rare Dunkerfelder and other Yadai wines are available through direct purchase from Ningxia.I also have an adventurous 2022 recommendation for those looking for something with more kick. A few years back I wrote about the prescient trend of blended malt whiskies in the spirits world, and it's high time I revisit the topic.There are four main styles of Scotch whisky: blended, single malt, blended grain and blended malt. Blended whisky is the most common, single malt the most prestigious and blended grain whiskies the most generically accommodating.

Avant-garde drinking in the new year

Blended malt whiskies are the exiting new kids on the block. Formerly referred to as vatted or pure malt whiskies, they are blends of two or more single malt whiskies. The best also have a specific geographic identity. The principal behind this approach is that in the hands of a master blender, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Blended malts like the great reds of Bordeaux gain greater complexity and harmony from the blending process.

Blended malt Scotch whisky producers are among the most innovative, creative and fun whisky makers in the world. The freedom to blend single malt whiskies from the most acclaimed distilleries – and a predilection for crazy names – makes them a welcome breath of deliciously fresh air in an otherwise staid industry.One of the leaders of this new wave of premium Scotch whiskies is Douglas Laing. Established in 1948, this small batch artisan bottler is now run by the family's third generation. The company is best known for its blended malts that accurately showcase the regional styles of Scotch whisky. The Timorous Beastie Highland Malt Scotch is a generous sweet and spicy blend of single malts from Glengoyne, Glen Garloch, Blair Athol, Dalmore and other renowned Highland distilleries.

Additional Douglas Laing blended malts include The Epicurean Lowland, an elegant whisky with citrus, barley and herbal notes; The Gauldrons Campbeltown, a pleasantly sweet and salty malt; The Rock Island, another salty malt with palate-pleasing sweet peaty and smoky notes; Scallywag, a sophisticated blend of the best of Speyside single malts, including Macallan and Glenrothes; and the company's first blended malt release Big Peat, a robust, peaty and smoky whisky that represents the Islay Island style.

Other fine blended malt Scotch whiskies locally available are Monkey Shoulder, Compass Box Flaming Heart and Chivas Regal Ultis. So don't fear a taste on the wild side. Delve into Ningxia Dunkerfelder red wines and blended malt Scotch whiskies.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Silver9 Wines Yinchuan


Yadai Ningxia Ningxia Donkerfelder

Yadai Less-is-More Ningxia Cabernet Sauvignon

Yadai Less-is-More Ningxia Cabernet Franc


Wechat ID XIXSpirit

Douglas Laing Timorous Beastie Highlands Malt Scotch

Douglas Laing Gauldrons Campbeltown Malt Scotch

Douglas Laing Scallywag Malt Scotch

Douglas Laing Big Peat Malt Scotch

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