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WINE

Fine China : Direct From Tianjin, the Perfect Wine for Chinese Food

May 08, 1988|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

CALIFORNIAN Michael Berolzheimer holds a BA and an MBA from Harvard and, still on the sunny side of 50 (he was born in 1939), is happily sensitive to the American consumers' desires for products as diverse as Duraflame fire logs (which he took from an idea of incense-cedar sawdust and wax to a $28-million business) and authentic Chinese table wine.

This is the story of the latter, going from zero to 3,000 cases sold in the United States in the last six months (in 16 states). The wine is called Spring Moon Imperial Cuvee, and you can buy it for a modest price ($7) in better wine shops, such as Wally's West, or have it served in such Chinese restaurants as the Mandarin in Beverly Hills or at the various Panda Inns.

Vineyards for the Heavenly Palace Winery in Tianjin, China, were started with cuttings of Riesling, Chardonnay, Muscat and other choice vinifera as early as 1960. The latest in wine-making equipment was also brought from Europe and the model winery built in 1985. Spring Moon wines are made in temperature-controlled stainless-steel fermenters, finished with state-of-the-art equipment, then handsomely packaged.

Enter San Franciscan Berolzheimer, venture capitalist, on a visit to China in 1986. He saw a bottle of wine produced in China, tasted it and liked it, and a light bulb went on over his head. He met Chinese Fred Chao, born in Tianjin, with business experience, who cautioned patience; China Swan Associates Inc. was born. Enter another San Franciscan, Michelle Chao Louie, a Chinese with the energy of a hummingbird, born and raised in Hong Kong and with a degree in fine arts from San Francisco State and experience in design and merchandising. Spring Moon became a dynamic working reality.

With all due respect, Peter Sichel's Wan Fu, a white wine made in France especially for service with Chinese foods, and Fu Jin, made by Papagni Vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley for the same purpose, are but fictitious titles for the tremendous Chinese-restaurant market in the United States. Now, from the Heavenly Palace Winery of Tianjin, China, comes a graceful white wine, Imperial Cuvee, which won a gold medal at the Vin Expo in Bordeaux last year on the eve of the wine's debut in the United States.

And how does this wine from China taste? Imperial Cuvee is a proprietary title for a wine fermented almost dry from the Muscat of Hamburg, its vinifera title in Chinese being Mei-gwei-ian, meaning "fragrant rose," which the bouquet suggests. The taste is silky and soft, with a residual sugar of 0.9%, making the wine truly delightful with the Chinese foods for which it was intended. Later in the summer, look for Imperial Jade, a 1986 Tsingtao Chardonnay, the first Chardonnay ever to be produced in the People's Republic of China. It is from the province of Shandong, where the vineyards are located between the 35th and 45th parallels, the same latitudes of the great wine regions of California and Europe.

We're told that California wine merchant David Berkeley, who personally recommended wines for Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California and later in the White House, tasted Spring Moon and liked it so much that he suggested it for the next flight of Air Force One from California to Washington. Touche, and gan-bei .

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