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The developing tastes of wine in China

Wine consumption in China is now no longer solely about luxury Bordeaux, with tastes expanding to emerging markets.
Wine has become incredibly popular in China in recent years, but it was mainly reserved for luxury brands produced in Bordeaux in France. Now, evidence suggests that wine tastes are accelerating faster than ever and consumers are expanding their interests beyond France to Australia and even emerging wine regions.
Naturally, consumers in popular wine-drinking countries such as the US and UK followed a similar pattern, finding favour with traditional Old World French regions before developing their tastes for New World producers from Chile and Australia. Now, well-versed consumers are dipping their toes in emerging regions from Greece to Romania.
But interestingly, it is clear to see that Chinese consumers are following the same path, although at rapid speed. After just two or three years of huge growth in imports from Bordeaux, demand for Burgundy wine suddenly took some of the limelight from the region.
White wine has also become a popular drink in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. But most surprising of all is the developing taste for New World wine and emerging markets as well.
Demand has started with Burgundy. Just last week two six-bottle verticals of Burgundian wine Domaine de la Romanee Conti, sold at auction for HK$726,000, indicating just how strong interest in the region is.
According to figures compiled by Grape Wall of China, Australia is the second-biggest wine import region after France. In 2011, 32.6 million litres was imported, representing an annual rise of 37.2 per cent. This still compares to a 73.9 per cent rise in French wine.
However, Australia saw a 59.3 per cent increase in the value of wine being imported, suggesting that consumers are becoming interested in more expensive Australian wine.
Indeed, last month, Professor Zhangyue Zhou, director for the Centre for AusAsia Business Studies at James Cook University was cited by AAP as saying at an industry conference that the country must overcome its image problem of producing cheap wine if the commodity is to succeed in China.
"As a country we are not doing a good job of promoting our wine to the Chinese market. I think that's damaging to our wine reputation," he told delegates.
Italy has also welcomed growing interest in China, particularly as it gets ready to take part in the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits fair later this year. Veronafiere, organisers of the Vinitaly wine fair, have signed an agreement with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council to boost its trading platform at the event.
China now imports 18.9 million litres of Italian wine every year, a 68.2 per cent rise on 2010 and a number that is expected to soar in 2012.
Fabio Carlesi, general manager of an Italian wine store in Shanghai, described how he is encouraging drinkers to opt for Italian wine.
"Chinese diners should not only drink Italian wine when they have Italian food," he told CRI. "We want Italian wine to accompany authentic Chinese dishes."
He has seen sales rise to US$93 million this year and hopes to open 100 franchised wine stores by 2013.
Two dedicated Italian wine schools are also set to open in Beijing and Shanghai by the Italian Sommelier Association and University of Siena, improving the nation's knowledge of Italian wine.
Indeed, observers have noted that it is China's thirst for knowledge of wine that is helping to accelerate interests in different regions. Wine schools and tasting sessions are helping consumers realise that there is more to wine than luxury bottles.
This education is even helping regions such as Greece to benefit from Chinese imports. Last month saw 220 local winegrowers in Naoussa sign the biggest-ever wine export deal with China.
Their success could urge other lesser-known wine regions to market their products in China and take advantage of the country's new fascination with wine.
The developing tastes of wine in China