Wine is emerging as a fashion statement: Vinexpo

It used to be something 'old' people drank.

In France, "eau de vie" is - by all tourist accounts and Parisian mythologies - supposed to be a glass of wine or two with your steak frites, but up until just 10 years ago the beverage was considered old-fashioned and outmoded.

"Young people didn't drink wine because it was a product for their parents and grandparents," says Robert Beynat, chief executive of Vinexpo, one of the largest wine trade shows of the year held bi-annually in Bordeaux, set to start June 19.

"Now, young French people want to discuss wine because it's fashionable."

According to Beynat, wine is experiencing a global revival especially among the younger demographic who have embraced it as a chic, status symbol.

This is perhaps nowhere truer than in Asia, where holding a glass of red wine aloft at a glitzy wine bar or restaurant is considered the height of sophistication.

Though a relatively new wine consumer, Asian markets like China and Hong Kong have become eager to engage in a drinking habit that is considered an old world, Western tradition. 

In a region where one's status is best identified through the luxury brand name emblazoned on an expensive handbag or piece of jewelry and where the consumption of high-end goods is occurring at a dizzying pace, there is, perhaps no easier way for people there to demonstrate sophistication.

Together, China and Hong Kong make up the world's largest importer of Bordeaux wines by volume.

Beynat points out that, 20 years ago, the industry predicted Asians would whet their palates with white wines to start, given a culinary repertoire heavy on fish and seafood.

They were wrong.

Instead, Asian consumers leapt full-force into the more complex world of reds, eager to sip on something that presented a challenge to their palates and, perhaps, put them on par with their European and Western counterparts.

Their preference for red could also be attributed to the emphasis Asians place on health benefits, as red wine is touted to be good for the heart.

But wine as a fashion statement has also spread to Britain, where the drinking scene has changed considerably, Beynat said.

"Two years ago, if you were in London at 6 pm, a lot of the young people standing outside the pubs would be holding a pint of beer," he said. "Today, if you visit a pub they're now drinking a glass of white wine like Pinot Grigio."

In fact, given that Britain has few wineries in their climactically hostile environment, the UK is the No. 1 importer of wines in the world, followed by the US.

And young, female consumers are leading the charge.

But despite attempts to create wines specifically for women - sweet wines that are fruit-infused and bubbly - Beynat says the industry underestimates their female market.

"Women say, ‘Don't make special wines for us, we don't want feminine wines,'" he said. "They want the same thing as men."

Female wine consumers also seem to have fewer hang-ups about choosing wine than men, Beynat added, especially in Asia where losing face as a man is considered a cultural indignity.

"In Asia, women have less of a complex choosing wine than men," he said.

Vinexpo kicks off June 19 in Bordeaux and is expected to draw 50,000 attendees from up to 140 countries.


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