#22: China

Year: Unknown
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon
Producer: Changyu Pioneer Wine Company
Alcohol: 12%
Source: Livvy’s friend (and bridesmaid!), Katie Weiss

When Liv and I started flat-hunting at the end of last year, we drew up what turned out to be a fairly short list of criteria:

  • Zones 1-2 – maybe 3 at an absolute push
  • Plenty of storage space for all our crap
  • Allocated or free on-street parking
  • No more than a 10-minute walk to the nearest Tube stop
  • Nice sofa (no more pleather!)
  • Pet-friendly

From a practical perspective, parking was by far the most important consideration, followed closely by storage (seriously, we have a LOT of crap). However, if you’d asked me which one I cared most about, there would only have been one winner…

We got our first cat, Tigger, when I was four years old. Tigger was a patient, placid tabby, who might have wondered what he’d done in a previous incarnation to deserve the endless persecution that only three excitable young children can inflict, and who spent most of his own life perfecting an array of coping mechanisms for our (over-)enthusiastically bestowed affections.

Tigger also loved roast chicken in a way that can only be described as pornographic. When we sat down for Sunday dinner, he would come and wait by the table, alternately drooling and purring, content in the knowledge that even if none of us disobeyed our parents’ instructions and fed him under the table, he’d be getting the scraps afterwards.

Sadly, we arrived home from Scotland after Christmas one year, when Tigger was 12 or 13, to find him gone. It was a cold winter, and he was never the most physically robust of felines, so it’s likely that he got sick at some point and just crawled under a bush to die. Either that or he’d finally had enough of being manhandled by well-meaning teenagers, and found another family to nap quietly alongside in his sunset years.

It took almost a decade for my parents to acquire another cat, though they’ll tell you that they’ve never actually done so. And it’s true that ownership of Belladonna was rather foisted on them by my sister, who acquired the tiny, dark chocolate ball of fluff as a kitten, then promptly buggered off to Cambodia five months later. Belladonna never quite forgave the abandonment – to this day Hannah remains her least favourite family member – so it’s probably just as well that she remains in residence at my parents’ house, clawing at my dad’s jumpers and flopping from lap to lap.

I was certainly never in a position to take her off their hands, as much as I’d have loved to do so. From Oxford to Swindon, Warsaw to Islington, I’ve spent the last 10 years at the mercy of letting agents and private landlords, none of whom have shown much enthusiasm for the idea. Even if they’d come on board, I haven’t had direct access to a garden since I left a shared house in the Oxfordshire countryside in 2007 (in itself, a damning indictment of our rental economy!).

Or at least I hadn’t – until January this year. Those of you who’ve been to our lovely Brixton flat will know that the bedroom door opens directly onto a small, shaded patio area, covered in astroturf. Surrounding that is our landlord’s garden, and stretching out on either side of it are back-to-back terraced houses, with no gaps between them. In other words, it’s the perfect playground for a cat: plenty of roaming, climbing, and lounging space, almost entirely protected from cars, foxes, and other dangers.

We waited all of three weeks to make our first trip to the Celia Hammond Animal Trust in Lewisham. As we both work full-time, they encouraged us to take two cats – “so they can keep each other company during the day” – and after a couple of visits, we finally said yes to a big ginger tom and his little black-and-white friend. They’d been paired six months earlier, when the tomcat – known then as Tango – was returned to the shelter for a second time, having failed to settle with another family. It turned out that all he needed was a little feline company to calm him down, and a young female – Chloe – was the cat to provide it.

Before they came home with us – before we’d even confirmed that we’d take them – Tango and Chloe became Edward and Catsy. Liv decided long ago that Edward was a very distinguished name for a male cat, and after batting around various ideas, we made the somewhat tenuous connection to Absolutely Fabulous (Edward > Eddie > Eddie & Patsy…) and came up with Catsy. Just as well really: she is a very catsy cat.

They took a while to settle in, and they’re still a bit jumpy – especially around strangers – but three-and-half months later, the two of them are basically family. They get on well together, for the most part, despite having such different (and interesting!) personalities. Edward is a very vocal cat, who only ever stops pacing around the flat to jump up and position himself awkwardly not-quite-on your lap, ready for a vigorous stroking. He’s needy and neurotic, and he absolutely refuses to be picked up for more than a few seconds…all of which sounds like a nightmare, until you see him staring up at you with a look of utter contentment on his snaggle-toothed face, at which point it’s impossible to imagine how anyone could even contemplate taking him back.

Catsy, on the other hand, never makes a sound. She spends much of her time curled up in an old cardboard box in the spare room, snoozing on a pile of papers, and shows little interest in either of us unless we come to stroke her there. She’s still enough of a kitten that you can tempt her into playing with you – a red laser pen is her current favourite/nemesis – but otherwise we see very little of her. She’s stand-offish, low-maintenance, and just very…catsy.

A lot of you will have stopped reading by this point. Cats polarise opinion, and even people who like them often find it hard to understand how anyone can actively care so much about creatures that essentially regard us as big, clumsy food dispensers. I don’t have the answer to that one; what I do know is that I’ve always felt an instinctive affection towards cats, and that they seem to like me too. Perhaps they sense a kindred spirit: I certainly do enjoy naps – and being petted very much on my own terms.

Either way, I’m so happy we found a landlord willing to allow cats, and that Celia Hammond managed to provide us with such a wonderful, interesting, hilarious pair. I hope they’re around to entertain us – and photo-bomb wine blog pictures – for many years to come.


Given who supplied us with this wine, I was very tempted to write a post about stag – and hen – parties! Maybe I’ll save that one for another time…

Wine info

Unfortunately we know almost nothing about this bottle, because the information on the label is written entirely in Chinese! We have no idea when it was made, and we can’t even use the name of the wine to look it up online – all we have is the winery, the ABV, and the grape type! If you recognise the bottle from the photo above, do get in touch with us – in the meantime, here’s a bit of background on the company that made it.

From Wikipedia:

‘The Changyu Pioneer Wine Co. Inc., located in Yantai, Shandong Province, is China’s oldest and largest winery. Started in 1892 by Zhang Bishi, the company’s name is formed from his surname Zhang (Chang) and the Chinese character which means prosperity. In 2002, the company entered into cooperation with the Castel group in France to establish the first professional chateau in China. It is now among the ten largest wine companies in the world, producing more than 90,000 tonnes of wine a year.’

And from Victoria Moore’s wine column in the Telegraph:

‘The domed caps of the creamy stone towers echo those at Valençay. The cherubbed fountains (faintly) evoke the Boboli Gardens in Florence. It’s magnificent. It’s also brand new and, considering it was finished in 2013, after just two years of construction and at a cost of €70 million, there’s only one place it could be – and that’s nowhere near the Loire or the monuments of renaissance Italy, but in China.

Wine Verdict


I believe that KT warned us about this bottle when she gave it to us, suggesting that it might not be the greatest bottle of wine ever made, particularly as she couldn’t read the label! And it did not disappoint…

Unfortunately, the main flavour was a somewhat harsh chemical bite that never quite went away. There was some warmth from the tannins and a background fruitiness, but the combination was generally quite flat and didn’t have any depth beyond the initial…interesting…taste. It did improve with breathing but never quite lost the chemical aftertaste. All in all, it was not actively unpleasant but certainly not of the same quality as we’ve had so far!

4/10, perhaps avoid outside of the challenge!


Ummm…yeah! This didn’t smell great, and I’m afraid it tasted even worse!

It’s sort of fine on the front of the tongue – if you hold it there, there’s nothing offensive about it – but as soon as it moves further back in your mouth, you get the same chemical-y, acrid flavour that’s also detectible on the nose. Neither is a quality one really looks for in a wine.

It’s weird how it went from soft to sour so quickly, though maybe after a run of really good wines I’d just forgotten what a dodgy red can taste like! This was a rather abrupt reminder!

3/10 (but thanks anyway, Katie!)


2 thoughts on “#22: China

  1. Should have gone for Great Wall red! At least 4.5/10. Maybe.

    Do your cats need a Belladonna-shaped friend? Mum and I are beginning to fret about what to do with her if we decide to spend six months in Pyongyang….


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