French by the Glass

China’s middle class has discovered French , reports China Daily, and developed quite the taste — and pocketbook — for it:

Chinese tipplers spent almost 247 million euros ($364 million) on French wines and spirits last year, making the country the 11th-largest market by value.

“People who don’t know much about wine tend to buy cheap Chinese varieties,” Jenny Zhang, a 36-year-old resident, said. “But those who buy wine for its taste prefer foreign ones.”

In too, reports Chantal Chi with Grape Wall of China, French fever is high, though Australian, Italian and Spanish sales are also heating up:

A few weeks ago, just before the snow came, I went to a wine shop opening in Shanghai called French Touch. Despite the unusually cold weather, the shop was full of guests, including wine professionals, which just goes to show that with wine, China is hot.

It’s easy to understand why, since Chinese still love giving French wine as gifts that brings face and prestige.

Then again, perhaps the Europeans shouldn’t count their bottles too soon. Those “cheap Chinese varieties” may well catch up with imports, noted Jonathan Ray with Telegraph after a recent tour of Chateau Changyu just outside Beijing:

China is the sixth largest wine-producing country in the world. Wine is promoted as good for the health and improving the memory, and domestic is rocketing.

“We make red and white wine, and Champagne-method sparkling wine, Icewine and brandy,” [export manager Mrs. Tan Shao Yun] tells us. “Our cultural implication is to compete with foreign wine companies and to excel in quality, to win honour for the motherland and the people.”

There is no reason why the Chinese shouldn’t make fine wine. They have varied terroirs, high-quality fruit, European advisers and investment, brand-new equipment and, above all, the desire.

February 22, 2008, 11:34 PM
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