James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Wine

  • China wine watch cont. (Suntime department)

    (Update below.)

    As mentioned frequently before, I have found the Xinjiang-based Suntime wine a promising alternative to the dismal Great Wall etc. Two updates:

    The Suntime cabernet that I thought cost 55RMB (about $7.40) at the local Carrefour actually goes for 48RMB ($6.50). All the more appealing!

    At the same store, just saw this offer of two bottles of Suntime "Manas Red" for a total of 33RMB, less than $4.50 or $2.25 per bottle. Well see.


    The promotional label says 新天葡萄酒, Xintian Putaojiu, literally "New Day Wine," which is Suntime's name in Chinese. Again, we'll see.

    Update: Well, now I've seen.This wine is quite harsh and not nice to drink. I leave to utilitarian philosophers the question of whether, at $2.25 a bottle, it's still in some sense a good deal.

  • Suntime wine: not just for Xinjiang U.A.R. anymore

    Three months ago, when my wife and I came across Suntime wine on its home turf -- in Urumqi / Wulumuqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region that occupies a huge swath of China's northwest -- we thought it was pretty good.

    Maybe it was the power of local suggestion: We liked Xinjiang, and we liked Xinjiang's grapes. Our apartment shelves still groan with the huge sacks of Xinjiang raisins we brought back from the trip. (I'm eating some now.) Why not like the Xinjiang wine made from those grapes? Why not think fondly of the Taste of Urumqi? So we did.

    While it might have been here all along, to me it's news that huge crates of Suntime Cabernet are on sale in the Beijing Carrefour, at 55RMB (about $7.30) a bottle. (Update: It's actually 48 RMB, a little under $6.50) It still seems pretty good.


    So if you come across Suntime -- on its home territory, in greater China, or abroad -- give it a chance. And by the way: Suntime's website is only in Chinese, but even if you can't understand any of it, it's actually quite interesting as its own little taste of the Silk Road/Uighur culture of the Xinjiang U.A.R. Oddly enough, one part of the site has a tab in the upper right corner that says "English version" in Chinese (英文版 -- sort of the same idea as those airplane safety cards that say, "If you can't read these instructions, please contact the flight attendant") but I've never gotten that page to load.

  • Continuing to acclimate!

    I am in the local WuMart -- largest supermarket chain in Beijing, so I'm told, signage not that different from the nearby Wal-Mart's, motto "a dream of establishing an everlasting retail chain that Chinese people love patronizing, and that mingles with their daily lives" -- and I spot a great bargain in the wine department.


    The label says "China Red Wine" in English, and 中国红葡萄酒, or "China Red Wine" in Chinese. It costs 11.8 RMB, or $1.60. I ask myself, How bad can it be?

    Knowing that in this last year-plus I have often been startled by the answer to that question, I decide to wait for a while to find out. But I am curious.

  • You really do learn something every single day

    It turns out that there is a company that conducts wine tours of China! This is apropos of my recent announcement that I had come across two good Chinese red wines, in a context suggesting that such discoveries should be considered news.

    Comes now China Wine Tours, of California, which offers an interesting-looking trip next spring to Chinese cities and vineyards -- including the renowned (as I now think of it) Grace Vineyards of Shanxi province in northern China. Grace's site, in Chinese, is here.

    A China Wine Tours representative notes that it is wrong to generalize about wine from China or anyplace else. Fair enough. And while I feel safe in saying that Sichuan food is generally better in Chengdu (Sichuan province) than in, say, Nebraska -- much as wine is generally worse in China than in, say, most of Europe, North America, or Oceania -- I take the point that there are exceptions to any rule. More power to all involved, from Grace, to China Wine Tours, to the other people and companies in China trying to develop and satisfy a market for a much better product. And I will have to save up and try the top-level Grace wine.

  • Umm, about that "good" Chinese wine...

    This is why we have the internets:

    - 1. After my report that I had found an "actually good" red wine in Gansu province, a reader in Berkeley wrote to say that this was exactly the same wine he had practically spit out in disgust when he tried it in Gansu. Versus my "actually good," his tasting notes:

    Worst wine ever. It was pinot noir, but off-brown colored and tasted like crap. Supposedly the best wine of the gansu province. I think Chinese wine has about 50 million years before it catches up with the rest of the world. It made me end up barfing (well that plus a lot of weak chinese beer).

    The explanation for this difference? I think it's not just that my standards have been affected by too much exposure to Great Wall and Changyu. It may be our old friend "quality control in Chinese manufacturing" raising its head once again. What my wife and I had didn't taste like crap and was normal red-wine color rather than brown. Your experience may vary! Caveat potor.

    - 2. Fareed Zakaria, oenophile among other distinctions, reports that the "best wine in China" is from Grace Vineyards, in particular the "Chairman's Reserve." I have tried Grace's 60RMB/ $8 Chardonnay, which was OK. Could it be time to spring for the 388RMB / $52 Chairman's Reserve Cabernet? On the one hand, that's only a little more than twice as much as the 188RMB "Pride of Gansu" pinot noir in question. On the other hand, for the same money I could eat street food for two weeks and have change left over for REEB. Decisions....

  • Life is full of surprises: good Chinese wine

    Another discovery from the west of China: two Chinese-made red wines that can be called "good."

    One, from Xinjiang autonomous region (the far northwest frontier of China), is Suntime Red Wine. Its Chinese-language site is here. Suntime comes from what I understand to be the biggest grape-growing operation in China. (Xinjiang, like the central valley of California, is grape paradise. Islamic Uighurs, from Xinjiang, are known among other things for selling grapes and raisins in big Chinese cities.) I've seen the wine only in a store in Urumqi*, biggest city in Xinjiang, where it cost less than $10 per bottle.

    The other, more obscure, is Mogao Vineyards Pinot Noir, from Gansu province. I was told in Gansu that Mogao is considered "the home town of grape wine," because of discoveries of ancient winery operations nearby. This wine, below, is actually good. On sale in Gansu for about $24. By Chinese standards, very pricey -- but bottles of lamentable Great Wall wine cost as much.

    I leave it to the wine experts from here on out.
    * "Urumqi" is example #97,408 of Why We Hate Pinyin, the system for rendering Chinese sounds in western script. The town's name is actually pronounced in Chinese more like "Wu-lu-mu-qi," and that is what the four characters in its Chinese name, 乌鲁木齐, amount to. And "Urumqi" is the best pinyin can do? [Update: see next post; there is actually a difference between the Mongolian and Chinese versions of the name. Sorry!] Sure, we understand that the English name "Worcestershire" is not actually pronounced that way, but no one ever advertised English spelling as a way to simplify pronunciation.


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