Silver Heights – a taste of Ningxia
Thanks to Instagram for the connection, I was lucky to receive a few wines from Silver Heights a couple of months ago. They sent me six bottles, Bloom (a pet-nat made from Italian Riesling*, Sauvignon Blanc and rice wine), The Last Warrior white blend (a blend of Chardonnay and Italian Riesling), Family Reserve Chardonnay (Signature Chardonnay), Ningxia Jia Yuan Pinot Noir, Ningxia Jia Yuan Marselan (both are wild fermented, unfiltered wine made from organically grown grapes) and Emma's Reserve (from the Signature range, a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot). I shared the wine with Queenstown Sommeliers Club because it's always more fun to share and the wines are not available in NZ (Ao Yun is the only Chinese wine imported, a brand under the LVMH umbrella, priced at NZ$400-$500/ bottle). I thought the range was very modern, the pet-nat was a surprise to me, and the Ningxia Jia Yuan range is quite daring compared to the Bordeaux influenced vineyards in China.
Silver Heights is a family-owned winery from Ningxia, founded by Gao Lin and his daughter Emma Gao in 2007. Emma is the owner and winemaker; she finished her Diplome Natiotel d'Enologie in Bordeaux and several winemaking experiences in top chateaus, such as Calon Ségur, before returning to Ningxia to develop their piece of paradise.The 70 hectares of the estate acquired in 2012 comprised two vineyards, Jinshan vineyard (40 ha) to the south of Xiayingzi vineyard (30 ha) are within a short drive. By 2015, all Silver Heights wines are produced from estate-grown fruit, advanced water conservation system, using targeted drip irrigation. There are horses, donkeys, sheep living on the farm to enhance biodiversity. In 2017, Silver Heights started converting to biodynamic practices from organic (since the beginning), producing their top cuvées with minimal intervention winemaking, using only wild yeast fermentation, minimal sulphur, and without filtration; all the wines I received are from 2017 and beyond. The vineyards have been Chinese Organic certified since 2020 and currently converting to Demeter Biodynamic Certification.
Ningxia is an internationally recognised wine region and is the largest wine region in China, with 38,000 hectares under vines. Located in the central-northern area, it has a dry continental climate. The plateau is protected from the north-westerly weather by the Helan Mountains, and the Yellow River provides irrigation, situated parallel to the east. Over 1,000 meters above sea level, sunshine hours range 1,700-2,000 with an annual rainfall of around 200mm, making the region extremely arid, producing grapes with concentrated flavours, high alcohol levels and firm tannins.The wines are delightful, with seamless, soft acidity and calm energy throughout the range. The Reserve Chardonnay possesses a caramel-butterscotch feature with a balanced, lean fruit integration and the reds are integrated with the use of new oak, presenting varietal characters. I especially enjoyed the Pinot Noir, an enticing bouquet and silky palate with a lingering, unique bittersweet nuance, and the Emma's Reserve is packed with radiant fruit and graceful power. Read my full reviews below.
*Welschriesling is known as Italian Riesling in China.
FEATURED WINES IN THIS REVIEW
Silver Heights Bloom Brut 2019, Ningxia, ChinaSparkling Wine from OtherReview Date : 20-Oct-2021Bright, pale straw-yellow with depth, even colour throughout. Subtle fine bead lightly persists. The nose is gently full, filled the glass with aromas of pear, citrus, melon interweave jasmine, straw and creamy lees elements. Medium-light bodied, aromas of Nashi pear, grapefruit, melon melded with jasmine, hay barrel with creamy lees linger. Elegant and softly creamy mousse abound on the palate. The fruit is well-proportionately slender, adorned by jasmine floral expression. Hay, straw element and melon enriched and broadened the palate. A light grip of phenolics added texture, leaving a moreish, refreshing closing and a desire for food. Match with caramelised scallops and dim sum over the next 2 years. Ambient yeast fermentation with Riesling Italico (55% ), Sauvignon Blanc (35% with extended time on skins), and 10% rice wine added to invigorate the pet-nat process then rested for several months before release. 14% alc, 4g/l RS. No added sulfites. 18/20 pts (90 pts) Oct 2021 RRP ¥480
Silver Heights The Last Warrior White Blend 2020, Ningxia, ChinaBlended White from OtherReview Date : 20-Oct-2021Bright, pale yellow with a light green sheen, even colour throughout. The bouquet is soft and lean, aromas of stonefruit melded with citrus, delicate floral and a hint of vanilla. Medium-bodied, dry to taste, aromas of lemon and zest interweave greengage plums, warming spices, vanilla and citrus flower. The palate is focused, flows with good energy on a salivating acid line, along with chalky/ powdery phenolics. The fruit is clean and slender, shows purity, adorned by lifted oak spices. This is a lean and focused white blend with brilliant acidity and delicate spices. Match with steamed shellfish and battered fish over the next 2-3 years. A blend of 80% Chardonnay, 20% Riesling, handpicked, cool-fermented to 12% alc, no MLF, aged in 30% Burgundy oak barrel and 70% stainless steel for 3 months. 17.5-/20 pts (87 pts) Oct 2021 RRP ¥128
Silver Heights Family Reserve Chardonnay 2019, Ningxia, ChinaChardonnay from OtherReview Date : 20-Oct-2021Bright, pale yellow with some depth and a slight green hue, lighter on edge. The nose is gentle and calming with elegant barrel aromas of vanilla, butterscotch, candied hazelnuts, unfolding stonefruit and citrus underlay. Medium-bodied, complexing barrel details of butterscotch, vanilla and candied hazelnuts and almonds provides breadth and richness to the vibrant fruit of grapefruit, lemon and stonefruit mix. Lively acid cut through the oak elements, carries delicate spices to linearity. The mouthfeel is smooth with fine-textured phenolics. This poised Chardonnay possesses vibrant citrus fruit and precision, enriched by balanced, caramelised oak details, lends a long, lingering finish. Match with Cantonese crispy fried chicken and chestnut stuffed pork over the next 5-8 years. Handpicked, cool-fermented to 11.5% alc, 2g/l RS, aged in Burgundy barrels for 8 months, 75% new oak. 18.5/20 pts (93 pts) Oct 2021 RRP ¥428
Silver Heights Jiajuan Marselan 2017, Ningxia, ChinaMarselan from OtherReview Date : 20-Oct-2021Bright, ruby-red with some depth, lighter on edge. The nose is softly full with vibrant aromas of field blackberries, cassis, suggestions of strawberries, verbena entwined with subtle cinnamon. Medium-bodied, aromas of blackberries, strawberries melded with verbena, unfolding cinnamon, liquorice root and plums. The fruit has depth and elegance, marked by fragrance acidity along supple tannin extraction leads a smooth-flowing, velvety palate. Liquorice root lingers, lends a dry finish. This is a bramble-fruited Marselan with a depth of flavour, possesses a smooth palate and fragranced acidity. Match with lamb racks and stewed pork over the next 3-5 years. Wild yeast fermented to 13% alc, 1.25g/l RS, unfiltered, aged in new French oak barrels for 12 months. Organically grown. 18.5-/20 pts (92 pts) Oct 2021 RRP ¥430
Silver Heights Jiayuan Pinot Noir 2017, Ningxia, ChinaPinot Noir from OtherReview Date : 20-Oct-2021Bright, light ruby-red with an orange hue, lighter on edge. The bouquet is softly full, penetrating aromas of cranberries, dried cherries, preserved strawberries entwined with mushroom, forest floor, vanilla and cinnamon. Medium-light bodied, the palate is elegantly presented, nuances of cranberries, dried cherries, and preserved strawberries show calming energy, interwoven ginseng, mushroom, forest floor, savoury, gamey development, subtle notes of vanilla and cinnamon linger to a lengthy, elegant finish. Supple mouthfeel possesses silky tannin, ethereally smooth, persist with a bittersweet ginseng expression, adds positive complexity. Integrated acidity supports a lengthy finish, alongside gentle tannin extraction, providing structure. This is a harmonious Pinot Noir with a broad red fruit spectrum, savoury details and integrated, lacy acidity. Match with tea-smoked duck and roasted pigeons over the next 3-5 years. Wild-yeast fermented to 11.5% alc, 3.5g/l RS, aged in French oak barrels for 16 months, 80% new oak, unfiltered, further aged in bottle before release. Organically grown. 18.5+/20 pts (94 pts) Oct 2021 RRP ¥450
Silver Heights Emma’s Reserve 2017, Ningxia, ChinaBlended Red from OtherReview Date : 20-Oct-2021Deep, ruby-red with an orange hue and moderate transparency, lighter on the rim. The nose is full and elegantly presented, aromas of blueberries, cassis, strawberries, interweave mint, cedar and toasty oak elements. Medium-full bodied, nuances of blueberries, cassis and strawberries have a pure and bright core, enriched by peppermint, cedar, coffee beans, cardamom and cloves. The wine is youthful, shows succulent and radiant fruit; balanced oak elements contribute to a posied structure and vitality, along with lively acidity, persist for a long, sustained finish. Finely extracted fine-grained tannin integrated with the wine, leaving a velvety yet firm grip. This is an excellent marriage of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, elegantly complemented each other with vibrant fruit, firm structure and lively acidity, enriched by elegant oak details and a lengthy finish. Match with ribeye steak with truffle sauce and mushrooms over the next 6-8 years. A blend of 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, cold maceration, fermented to 15% alc, aged in 100% new French oak barrels for 24 months. Organically grown. 18.5+/20 pts (94 pts) Oct 2021 RRP ¥1,800