Wine woos China's chic

China is mad for wine. At the Haagen Dazs cafe in the trendy Xintiandi district, well-heeled Shanghai urbanites decide between Rum Raisin and Cookies 'n Cream to go with their Chilean Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

While a wine glass might not grace every dining table in China, wine has become a symbol of a desirable urban lifestyle, equal parts sophistication and quirky enthusiasm.

Most wine drinkers live in major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou, but its popularity is spreading to other second-tier and even third-tier cities, and has entwined itself in popular culture.

"Just switch on the TV. Wine is everywhere," said Thomas Julien, a Hong Kong-based wine trade consultant.

Imported wines, with hefty import duties, are out of the reach of the average consumer, so more than 90 percent of the 1.2 billion bottles of wine consumed last year was domestic, according to distributor Torres China.

"Domestic" is best defined as having been bottled in China, but containing a creative blend of wine from various Chinese regions, foreign countries, as well as grape varieties and vintages not expressly listed on the label.

Newly affluent Chinese consumers, brand-conscious and eager to learn about wine, flock to tastings and classes held at wine bars and shops, which are typically owned by wine producers or distributors.

While Western winemakers fret over marrying their wine with the Asian palate, Chinese consumers may be heading in their own direction.

"There is no concrete definition for the Asian Palate. It's a dialogue, a journey, it is a term that is not yet defined," said Jeannie Cho Lee, a Hong Kong based wine critic and author

"Popular wines are light, not too alcoholic, not acidic, without heavy tannins," said Chinese winemaker Emma Gao Yuan, who studied at Bordeaux University's prestigious oenology department.

"But more educated Chinese people appreciate good wine and even have the same palate as the French or Americans. It's a question of education. It's like my husband (who is French) - if I gave him a really top quality tea to drink, he wouldn't appreciate it."

"What is the definition of a grand vin?" asked Michel Rolland, an international wine consultant. "It's our own definition - we (in the West) created it.

"What does a grand vin mean for the Chinese? There will perhaps be a fine Chinese wine in 20 years, 30 years. Why should our taste be the universal taste? That's a little arrogant."

Gao said the main image of wine comes from the cinema.

"A bottle of wine with a beautiful girl, romance, comedy, love story, luxury. Wine is really a good way to start an evening."

In addition to style and romance, red wine is associated with good health, a view bolstered by a government campaign to replace China's long-standing attachment to rice-based alcohol with wine.

"The government has announced a policy of reducing the production of rice-based alcohol," Gao told AFP.

"Four kilos of rice is needed to produce one kilo of rice alcohol, and we have a lot of people who don't have enough to eat. The government has even banned rice alcohol from official dinners. Wine is served instead."

At the same time, the growing Chinese middle class is not only drinking wine but they are travelling. Savvy entrepreneurs, including the government, are cashing in on wine tourism.

Not far from the Terracotta Warrior museum in Xian, which draws millions every year, renowned architect and dean of the University of California's School of Architecture, Ma Qingyun, built a modernist spa and winery in Jade Valley.

His wines are getting rave reviews. As a sign of things to come, Grace Vineyards is also building a winery in the area.

In eastern China's Shandong province, there is Penglai, which draws three million Chinese tourists to its stunning 1,000-year-old royal pavillion. The local government has launched a full-blown wine tourism industry.

The Penglai Association of Vine and Wine proudly promotes its region as one of the Seven Grape Coasts in the World, in good company with the Medoc, Tuscany, Cape Town, Barossa Valley, Napa and Chile's Casablanca.

Sixty mega-wineries dot the landscape, with 10 more to open in the next year, all with hotel rooms.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform