10 years ago, red wine would be drunk as a highball with coke, and white wine with 7Up. In the old days, when it comes to the western wine, I only know two types: Red and White. Now, most of my Chinese friends would turn to me when they decide to order some western wine during parties, they often assume that I would have a better taste in wine simply because of the international travels that I did. During such occasions, I always say to my friends that “the more you drink, the less you understand.”

Is China becoming a wine superpower?

China uncorks more than 1.2 billion bottles of wine every year. Most Chinese people, saw fine wine primarily as a way to impress their business clients and guests and reach for French wine when they want to sip something special. Wine from Bordeaux is, by far, the most fashionable beverage among China’s elite. France supplies nearly 40 percent of the total wine imported by China in 2012 and China has also invested heavily in vineyards in France. By August 2012, an estimated 30 chateaux in the Bordeaux region had been bought by Chinese businesses and investors and an estimated 20 deals were in the pipeline.

The interview with Vincent Hess, general manager of Vins Descombe, has really opened my eyes and answered to this question. Just like the Chinese tea is sipping into western healthy lifestyle, many young people in China are trying to copy the western lifestyle, drinking has become a new social language in China. It promotes friendly relations between people during business dinners and parties. Vincent says: “Chinese mainly drink and order wine at restaurants but as the western wine is becoming more available from specialist wine retailers, stores or even supermarkets, they are also starting to drink more wine at home as well. They opt to drink wine because it is seen as fashionable, rather than the traditional alcoholic drinks often preferred by their parents. There is also a lot of talks about red wine is good for health and skin.”

Wine to show off

While there is a small growing group of wine connoisseurs in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, Vincent notes the bulk of wine consumers in China are still in the “beginning” phase, buying bottles to show off to their business partners or as an expensive present.

China has also become obsessed with one source and one source only – France. “Bordeaux was the very first French wine entering the market, and so much money were spent on marketing, so it has become a super brand for Chinese people,” Vincent points out. “When they buy wine, it is always the 1st option if they can afford it. Very often, rich Chinese people would come to Vins Descombe and just want to buy the most expensive wine which we have in the store.”

French really believe “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”. The common misperceptions about wine that Chinese believe is that wine is only for the rich people, and drinking wine means you are western educated. At Vins Descombe, some Chinese wine consumers even judge a wine by the label, they do not particularly like plain white labels, but tend to prefer red backgrounds and golden writing, as the two colors are regarded as lucky, and suitable for the gift season.

Wine to socialize

East has more of a private, service-oriented mindset, while the West has more of a public, business-oriented mindset. The tea ceremony is an act of service by one person toward another as a fairly private occasion, usually taking place in someone’s home or even in a special room constructed specifically for tea ceremonies. The wine tasting is usually a public occasion with any number of people participating.

“I have been surprised by the increase in the number of people who want to sign up for our wine-tasting club. And more and more Chinese people were able to tell the difference between two wines confidently in a blind tasting.” Vincent says, “Through wine and wine-related events, you can know people with similar interests and similar income. So it is an easy way to make friends and create business connections.” Some of his Chinese client tells him that “If we don’t drink, you don’t get the same atmosphere and things are not as lively.”

“It is quite hard for Chinese to understand when they read ‘hints of blackcurrant leaf’ in the tasting notes, because they don’t have blackcurrant China and there is just so much chaotic wine information online.” Vincent says, “To teach people about wine, you have to speak their language.”

Perhaps very soon, the stereotype of foreigners knowing more about wine than Chinese is about to lose ground.

Pairing Chinese food with French wine

In Vincent’s opinion, wine is like women: really attractive in the outside and so complex in the inside. Sometimes so complex that not able to understand them fully. Food and wine pairing is a complex art that only few are able to master. The best achievement for a good food wine pairing is not only that wine and food goes along but more that wine brings another taste to the dish and brings it to another level, following are the insider’s info from his own experience with Chinese food:

Sichuan: beaujolais chilled or Rhone Valley wine

Shanganese food: white chardonnay or Burgundy

Peckin duck: Beaujolais

“The Chinese are very interested in our wines and buys a lot. They’re looking for companies specialized in producing high quality wines,” said Vincent, “Not only we are selling French wine, we also share with our clients about the French culture and arranged wine trips to France.”

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