Newly rich thirsty for top vino

Updated: 2011-01-04 09:48

By Farah Master (China Daily/Agencies)

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Newly rich thirsty for top vino

For wealthy consumers in Beijing and Shanghai, drinking and collecting wine is becoming the next big thing to display their rising social status. Wine producers are taking measures to cater to the growing market, which is predicted to outpace Western demand. [Photo / China Daily]

SHANGHAI - Following the explosion in demand for designer bags, Italian suits and fast cars, expensive French and Italian wines are set to be the next must-have accessory for the wealthy Chinese consumer.

Wine bars are proliferating rapidly in Shanghai, the country's glitzy financial capital, where young Chinese professionals congregate after work and regularly splurge around 1,000 yuan ($152) on a bottle of wine.

"Chinese people are very aspirational and materialistic so once they have bought the best local brand then they start looking for something even better and more expensive," said Ch'ng Poh Tiong, wine columnist and publisher of The Wine Review.

While China has a growing domestic wine market, industry experts say it is more fashionable to drink wine made abroad and predict consumption will double within the next five years.

Favorites include wines from French estate Chateau Lafite Rothschild, which start at around $1,000 a bottle, and Chateau Latour.

"There are at least two layers of wine appreciation in China. If the person is buying and serving the wine to thank someone who has done them a favor, then there is a social going rate which means they will pull out the expensive wine," said Ch'ng.

"Then you have the same person drinking with friends and family and there is no more status attached to the bottle of wine."

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Wine aficionados say that wine consumption in the mainland has grown by double-digit figures over the last 10 years, triggering strong incentives for winemakers and companies to target the lucrative Chinese market, which is set to strongly outpace Western demand in the coming years.

Chateau Lafite Rothschild has incorporated the Chinese character of the number eight on its vintage 2008 bottles, set to ship in 2011.

The winemaker has not only used the auspicious number "eight" but also the color red, considered lucky in Chinese tradition, to help boost sales.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild has used a design by Chinese artist Xu Lei for its 2008 vintage bottle.

In cosmopolitan cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, there is also a robust appetite for purchasing wine as an investment.

Tim Tse, president of Roosevelt China Investments Corp, a private wine cellar and vault in Shanghai, said a select proportion of wealthy Chinese were increasingly starting to collect expensive wine.

"People in Shanghai not only drink wine but they are making an investment in wine. People appreciate wine far more than before. It seems like they have been studying and doing tours in the Burgundy area," Tse said.

Despite this, experts note that many people are drinking expensive wine simply because it is expensive, rather than appreciating the taste.

For the majority of young Chinese professionals, decked out with their iPads and designer suits, wine is just the latest way to display upward mobility in the increasingly consumer-driven society.

"The key in Shanghai is - it is fashionable to drink wine. Every year the growth rate should be double-digit. There is no question about that," Tse said.


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