With more re­fined palates, China’s thirst for wine grows

Viet Nam News - - LIFE&STYLE -

BEI­JING — China’s grow­ing thirst for wine has spawned a new crop of con­nois­seurs, in­spired prize-win­ning do­mes­tic pro­duc­ers and even at­tracted a top in­ter­na­tional tast­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

More than 300 ex­perts from around the world gath­ered at a lux­ury ho­tel in Bei­jing last week­end to taste 9,000 wines from some 50 coun­tries.

Af­ter sniff­ing, tast­ing and spit­ting the var­i­ous vin­tages, they recorded their notes on touch­screen tablets for the 25th Con­cours Mon­dial de Brux­elles, which awards cov­eted gold and silver medals that pro­duc­ers can then tag on their bot­tles.

To avoid any risk of bias the bot­tles were all wrapped in opaque plas­tic and the re­sults will be an­nounced later this month.

“Why have we come to China? Be­cause it is the most dy­namic mar­ket in the world,” said Bau­douin Havaux, the com­pe­ti­tion’s pres­i­dent.

“In terms of con­sump­tion it is in­cred­i­ble, this coun­try is grow­ing at a crazy speed.”

The Chinese drink 1.46 bil­lion litres of wine per year – on av­er­age al­most one litre, or more than one bot­tle, per per­son – ac­cord­ing to a study by Vin­expo, an or­gan­iser of in­ter­na­tional wine fairs.

China ranks fifth in the world for wine con­sump­tion af­ter the US, France, Italy and Ger­many.

But this fig­ure is ex­pected to in­crease by 18.5 per cent be­tween now and 2021. Over the next five years, China is ex­pected to be­come the world’s sec­ond-largest con­sumer of wine, be­hind only the US.

“I think gift-giv­ing and sta­tus are still the big­gest fac­tors” driv­ing wine pur­chases, said Cana­dian wine taster Jim Boyce.

Health ben­e­fits

“A lot of peo­ple also drink red wine be­cause of the per­ceived health ben­e­fits. But there is also a grow­ing niche of con­sumers who drink wine for taste, for plea­sure and for ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“Peo­ple sim­ply have more money now to en­joy some­thing like wine,” said the ex­pert who is based in China, where the dis­pos­able in­come of ur­ban Chinese dou­bled be­tween 2009 and 2016.

Wine was more a sym­bol of “pres­tige” five years ago, in Ja­pan, and death by over­work is a recog­nised phe­nom­e­non that even has its own word in Ja­panese – “karoshi”.

A gov­ern­ment re­port re­leased last year found there had been 191 agreed Havaux.

“It was im­por­tant to leave the price tag on the bot­tle to show that it is very ex­pen­sive,” Havaux said.

“But young peo­ple are be­gin­ning to grow in­ter­ested in the prod­uct it­self.”

Among them is Kang Yi, a 30year-old in­ter­preter.

“I dis­cov­ered wine when I was study­ing in Paris. Es­pe­cially rose, cham­pagne and ries­ling. When I came back to China, I joined a wine-tast­ing club.”

Bei­jing-based Zhou Hewei, who works in in­sur­ance, ad­mit­ted she used to buy wine for din­ner par­ties “with­out re­ally knowing cases of “karoshi” in the 12 months to March 2017, and that more than seven per cent of Ja­panese em­ploy­ees logged over 20 hours of over­time a week.

Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s much about it”.

“Until the day when a friend who had stud­ied wine at univer­sity opened a web­site. She wrote ar­ti­cles about grape va­ri­eties, ter­roirs... I learnt a lot and be­gan to buy more and more bot­tles.”


As a re­sult of this grow­ing pas­sion, China in 2017 im­ported 750 mil­lion litres of foreign wine, ac­cord­ing to cus­toms data – 20 per cent up on the pre­vi­ous year. Foreign wines make up 50 per cent of all sales in China, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

“The qual­ity of Chinese wine has been steadily rising for a decade gov­ern­ment has in­tro­duced re­forms in­tended to tackle the prob­lem of over­work, but fam­ily mem­bers who have lost loved ones to the prob­lem ar­gue the mea­sures fall short. — AFP now,” said Boyce, who has tasted more than 1,000 Chinese wines since 2005.

“We see the best Chinese wines are win­ning hun­dreds of medals over­seas. And just over­all, I think most peo­ple would say they taste a lot bet­ter than they did a decade ago.”

The ar­rival of e-com­merce has changed the land­scape for Chinese wine lovers, Boyce added.

“Ten years ago, Chinese peo­ple would prob­a­bly get their wine at a re­tail shop, and it would be mostly big Chinese brands and red Bordeaux.

“And then the in­ter­net came along, and the smart­phone came along, and sud­denly con­sumers had thou­sands of choices, from lots of coun­tries,” he said.

“This put a tremen­dous amount of pres­sure on the lo­cal com­pa­nies to get bet­ter, be­cause those com­pa­nies were fo­cused more on mar­ket­ing than on qual­ity.”

Chinese wine pro­duc­ers have re­sponded by gain­ing more ex­pe­ri­ence, train­ing over­seas, and buy­ing in bet­ter equip­ment.

But their pro­duc­tion costs re­main high, as many are forced to bury their vines in win­ter to pre­vent them freez­ing.

“Lots of wine es­tates are im­prov­ing their qual­ity and win­ning medals in ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions,” said Eva Xie, a Chinese taster and wine critic.

They are mak­ing their pres­ence felt at the com­pe­ti­tion.

“In 2017, 30 per cent of Chinese wines tasted at the Con­cours de Brux­elles were medal­ists, which is above the av­er­age rate of 25 per cent,” said Havaux.

“That is im­pres­sive.” — AFP

Hard work: A group of monks seen at a tem­ple in Koy­asan. A Ja­panese monk is su­ing his tem­ple, claim­ing he was forced to work non-stop cater­ing to vis­it­ing tourists and that the heavy work­load gave him de­pres­sion. — Photo pas­sion­monde.com

Good grapes: More than 300 ex­perts from around the world gath­ered at a lux­ury ho­tel in Bei­jing last week­end to taste 9,000 wines from some 50 coun­tries. — AFP Photo

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