The dash and swagger of Hong Kong has long been the driver behind Asia’s wine economy. Since duties were slashed to zero in 2008, the island city has become one of the world’s most important wine hubs alongside London and New York, with over 350 importers and numerous air-conditioned warehouses.
Mainland China has been a more difficult market for investors to understand. Only %11 of the new middle class drink wine and yet consumption continues to surge from almost nothing 15 years to 20,000,000 cases. Forecasts suggest this number will continue to grow.
In China Bordeaux is still king with the vast majority of the super rich opting for well known first growths as their wines of choice. This is especially prevalent with regards to China’s traditional gift giving culture: to give a bottle of wine that lacks brand recognition (as opposed to a Lafite, for example) is to risk insulting the receiver.
Burgundy is fast becoming a major force in the higher echelons of the market with wine merchants Acker Merrall and Condit staging a hugely successful £9 million auction in November with Burgundy very much at its heart.
New world wines are also beginning to make headway in China. The Chinese place huge importance on education leading to many wine merchants holding seminars for their customers in wine appreciation. These are not simply limited to the industrial powerhouses of Beijing and Shanghai but are becoming regular occurrences in small, inland cities.
As the Chinese palate becomes more educated and attuned to the subtleties of the different varietals, markets begin to open up for the more brand and quality-driven, grape varietal-dominated marketing machines from the new world. South Africa, for example has seen its sales increase from 20,000 cases in 2005 to 250,000 last year.
As Cabernet and Merlot start to relinquish their singularly dominant position, the diversity of Chinese cuisine should, in the future, start to embrace the more supple and forgiving flavours of Pinot Noir and, at long last, white wine.