China’s Maturing Wine Palate

Chinese consumers’ remarkable blossoming love of wine has largely been attributed to red wines, and especially the reds of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Today reds constitute an impressive 80% of the total Chinese wine market, probably largely due to the facts that red is traditionally considered a lucky colour in Chinese culture and red wine tends to be associated with sophisticated tastes.

According to Wine-Searcher’s Jim Boyce, though, there are signs that Chinese consumers’ loyalties are shifting to embrace other wine styles. Boyce recently reported that China’s CHEERS group – whose founders are CWSA Judges –  of wine shops have 8 white or sparkling white wines in their top 15 best sellers.

This apparent growing interest in white wines is reinforced by the findings of professor Ma Huiqin who is a wine educator at the China Agricultural University in Beijing. Of her more than 8000 students two-thirds have preferred white over red wines. Huiqin added that her students “like sweet wines most. For dry wines, they like whites, especially aromatic ones like Sauvignon Blanc.”

According to Charles Carrard of the wine importer Paradox, this growing taste for white wine is currently most prevalent in China’s larger cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Here consumers are more likely to be more knowledgeable about wine and to actively pursue and taste new wine styles as part of their wine education.

Despite the growing interest in white wines, it is crucial for brands and producers to remember that the Chinese wine market is still strongly dominated by red wines. According to a study by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in 2018 of 2400 middle income and above consumers red wine was responsible for 85% of purchases over the preceding six months. Interestingly, though, white wine purchases made up 40% and sparkling wines 37% of the remaining purchases.

This clearly demonstrates that there is significant and growing demand for white and sparkling wines with many Chinese consumers choosing to drink it out of taste preference rather than health concerns as is the case with red wine.

A key factor in the success of these alternative styles will be the ability of distributors and retail outlets to entice and convince Chinese consumers of the value of white wines. According to Helene Ponty, who sells her Bordelais family’s wines through some 50 distributors in China, one issue is that “distributors rarely know how white wine is made let alone how to serve or deliver it.”

Brands and producers looking to succeed on the Chinese market with white wines will thus need to adopt a holistic approach, taking the time to offer training and support to the distributors and retail outlets that take on their wines to ensure a satisfactory outcome for all parties.