As the Chinese wine market continues to mature, consumers are becoming increasingly adventurous with their wine choices. Red wine has long dominated store shelves and restaurant cellars in China due to the colour’s association with luck and a strong consumer preference for bold, full-flavoured wines. Today red wines constitute some 80% of sales, yet the remainder consists of white, rose and sparkling wines which are rapidly gaining popularity amongst the nation’s wine drinkers.
One key barometer of the growing trend for non-red wines is China’s top wine shops. CHEERS currently has 60 wine shops in 12 different Chinese cities – and the founders are regular CWSA Judges. Of the 15 wines on their best sellers list 8 are still white or sparkling wines.
“We sell so much white wine because we give free tastings, people can try it first. We also give advice, like how to chill it,” explained founder Claudia Masueger. In her seven years of interacting with Chinese consumers Masueger has noted that they often progress from easy-going wines to more complex wines like Chardonnays and Rieslings; “New drinkers try Moscato for the first time and look at me like they are in love.”
Interestingly, this finding is also reinforced by Professor Ma Huiqin who initiated a wine appreciation course at the China Agricultural University in Beijing in 1998. Over the years Huiqin has found that two-thirds of her students have chosen white wines over red wines; “They like sweet wines most. For dry wines, they like whites, especially aromatic ones like Sauvignon Blanc.”
Wine professionals working China largely agree that education and providing access to different types of wines via events and tastings is crucial. Gabriel Jelea of Advertigo which imports Moldovan and Romanian wine understands this well, and has started a TRWR (Try Rosé & White Wines) campaign which sends out complimentary bottles to be tasted alongside typical Chinese dishes.
Helene Ponty who relocated to China in 2012 to promote her family’s Le Ponty Bordeaux wines echoes this growing interest in white wines. “When we do events, our white wine is the one we sell the most, the one we get the best feedback on,” she commented. The company now has distributors in more than 50 Chinese cities.
The shift is reflected in official studies such as the one carried out Hong Kong Trade Development Council in 2017 of 2400 Chinese wine buyers in 10 cities. Although red wine was ranked first (85%) for wine purchases in the past six months, some 40% of the remainder reported buying white, 37% sparkling, and 23% opted for rosé.
Although Chinese sales of white, rosé and sparkling wines are unlikely to eclipse those of red wines any time soon, there is significant potential for wine brands to move into this expanding category. The key according to Alberto Pascual who imports Spanish wines with the company Pasion is to engage with consumers and get them to try new things; “Wine talks by itself. Just open the bottles and people judge for themselves.”