China’s wine consumption will continue to drive the global market over the next half decade, according to forecasts from the London-based International Wine and Spirit Research company (IWSR). Find a link to the published story here. And the video here.
IWSR conducted research for Vinexpo, and details were released in Hong Kong on March 8 prior to Vinexpo in Bordeaux in June.
In the five years to the end of 2011, Chinese wine consumption soared 142.1 per cent to reach 159.25 million cases.
That was the equivalent of 1.911 billion bottles, making China the world’s fifth largest wine-consuming nation.
But consumption per head is still low by world standards. On average, each Chinese adult only drank about two bottles last year, suggesting huge potential for growth.
IWSR says that between 2012 and 2016 the Chinese market will grow by another 39.62 per cent, equivalent to an extra 858 million bottles.
This will easily be the fastest growth in wine consumption in the world. In countries like France and Italy consumption will fall slightly over the same period.
By 2011 China became the world’s sixth largest wine-producing nation, reaching 135 million 9-litre cases.
Production will continue to rise, to 166.6 million cases a year by 2016. Individual per capita consumption will rise to three bottles a year by 2016, IWSR said.
Most of the wine consumed in China is made there. Four in five bottles drunk are domestic wines, with imported wines representing the other 20 per cent. Red is still the preferred colour, representing nine out of ten bottles consumed.
Published March 2013 at DecanterChina.com. Find a link here.
Vinexpo chief executive Robert Beynat spoke with reporter Stephen Quinn about the Chinese market.
The Rhone Valley in southern France is the second largest region of production after Bordeaux and makes some spectacular wines. The 2011 vintage was especially good.
Exports have soared in recent years, with a 9.3 per cent rise in volume last year globally. About three in 10 bottles made are exported.
The export growth in the Asian region was extra strong, with a 40 per cent surge last year. The Rhone exports to 145 countries around the world.
Red wine is the main product, with 86 per cent of the total, plus another 9 per cent for rose.
Mild temperatures in September prior to harvest meant the 2011 vintage was exceptional. Emilie Desmeure-Mandon of Domaine des Remizieres said that year’s wines have good maturity and perfect balance with “great finesse”.
Nicolas Constantin, wine maker for Inter Rhone and author of Cotes du Rhone Meridionales, said the finesse of the tannins in 2011 were displayed via the remarkable character of the syrah (the main grape of the region). “The 2011 vintage already offers beautiful quality with freshness and excellent acidity.”
And Philippe Guigal, winemaker for Maison Guigal, said the vintage was marked by “beautiful balance” and excellent fruit flavours and dense colours for the reds.
Wine-making started in the valley of the Rhone river about 2,000 years ago and was further developed during the Roman occupation of France.
In 1737 the king of France ordered that the base of barrels of wine from the Cotes du Rhone had to be branded with the letters “CDR”, along with the vintage and the place of harvest. That tradition continues.
The Rhone can roughly be divided into the north and the south. The north has granite soils and features iconic names like Cotes Rotie (literally the “roasted slopes” because of the high heat in the area), Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage.
Syrah is the main red grape. Marsanne, roussanne and viognier are the principal white grapes. Incidentally, hermitage was another name for syrah in Australia for many year.
The grape’s name allegedly comes from a knight who became a hermit after his return from the Crusades in 1225. Legend says he planted grapes on the hill that became known as the town of Hermitage.
The south has mostly chalky soils and grows grenache, mouvedre and cinsault as well as syrah. Iconic names there include Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The latter, whose name echoes the Papal connection in the region, can contain up to 13 grape varieties and produces extraordinary wines.
The two cases of 1998 Chateau de Beaucastel I purchased last year, while still young, are drinking superbly. It is like smelling and tasting ripe plums laced with liquorice and herbs like rosemary and lavender. One can almost taste the sunshine that kisses the grapes as they ripen.
Many Cotes du Rhone reds from the AOC denomination are a blend of the main red grapes. A typical Rhone-style red in Australia or the United States will be called a GSM, short for the blend of grenache-syrah-mouvedre. AOC is from the French system of classifying wines, and AOC are at the higher end in terms of quality.
Ironically, the lesser quality or Villages wines must follow stricter rules of production. Whereas an AOC wine can have a wide variety of combinations of grapes (provided they are all Rhone varieties), a Villages wine must be made from 97 per cent syrah with a touch of grenache, mouvedre and cinsault.
The noted American wine critic Robert Parker has described Villages CDR as “straightforward but generous and pleasant”.
Of the 2011 wines I tasted I was taken by the La Regence by Marlene and Nicolas Chevalier, an AOC from Crozes-Hermitage. It is 100 per cent syrah that smells of ripe blackberries and violets, and tastes of spices like nutmeg. It is a bit like having a liquid breakfast of toast and coffee.
Some Rhone wines can be cellared for half a century. Older Rhones make ideal drinking over Chinese New Year.
Wine and tea have much in common. A tasting last week showed just how similar they are.
ASC Fine Wines, headquartered in Beijing, organised an event headlined as “Burgundy Wave” to compare burgundy wines and tea. It was the first such event held in China.
Pierre-Henry Gagey, CEO of Maison Louis Jadot in Burgundy, and Pang Yin, a tea master from China, were invited to talk about burgundy and tea, respectively — initially in Hong Kong, and later in Shanghai and Beijing.
Pang Yin founded the “He” brand of tea houses in China 13 years ago.
Matt Kramer, wine critic of Wine Spectator magazine, acted as master of ceremonies.
Gagey admitted it was his first experience of a tasting that linked the two beverages despite his having visited China and Hong Kong scores of times in the past decade.
He said wine producers from Burgundy had a lot in common with tea producers in China. Both used the same language to describe what they make.
“When a tea expert talks about tea in China we in Burgundy have the impression they are talking about wine, because they are using the same words — terms like complexity, harmony and precision of flavours.
“We are talking about finesse, elegance and delicacy.”
Tea and wine also contain tannin. Gagey said tannin carried with it the flavours of the location where wine is produced — that elusive concept known as “terroir” that Kramer described as “a sense of somewhereness” in his book Making Sense of Burgundy, published more than two decades ago.
Kramer gave a very lucid explanation of the mysteries of Burgundy wines, noting that Jadot wines were not so much about the flavours as the emotions they evoked.
Gagey described the tasting as a “bridge between two cultures that have much in common”. Tea makers from Yunnan province in southern China have visited Burgundy to learn about wine, and Burgundy winemakers plan to travel to Yunnan.
Some of the teas tasted were from bushes more than 100 years old, older in some cases than the vines from which Burgundy wines are made. Burgundy is one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions in the world. Vines from Italy were first planted there about 2,000 years ago.
Many of the teas were rare and expensive, as were the burgundies tasted. One of the teas, known as Dahongpao from Zhukeyan in the Wuyi mountains, was from the 2005 vintage and sells for about 6,000 RMB for 500gm — about $US 963.
Despite the complexity of Burgundy for most Chinese consumers, China has embraced these wines. Exports from Burgundy to China increased almost 65% last year compared with 2011.
In 1972 during his first visit to China, President Richard Nixon received a gift of 200gm of Dahong Pao tea from Chairman Mao. Nixon thought this a trivial gesture, until prime minister Zhou Enlai explained that the total annual production of Dahong Pao tea was only 400gm.
Some burgundies have similarly minuscule production. The 33 grand cru burgundies represent a mere 1 per cent of all the wine made in the region.
At the tasting the 2010 and 1992 Louis Jadot Batard-Montrachet grand crus were presented, to help people appreciate how this white burgundy matures. Jadot makes fewer than 250 cases of this wine each year.
The younger wine had a lean and firm texture and spoke elegantly of its place of creation, with flavours of cashews and aromas of freshly baked bread. The older wine was golden in colour, and offered flavours and aromas of caramel, honey and toast.
Jadot is one of the finest and most reliable Burgundy wine houses. Gagey has been CEO since 1992 after his father Andre retired. Gagey has overseen significant growth, and also created the Cadus cooperage to ensure a consistent supply of high quality barrels.
Germany is one of the most northerly wine-growing nations in the world. It has a long growing season, which means grapes ripen slowly and wines retain good natural acidity and flavours.
Warm days and cool nights produce aromas that are unique around the world, especially for white grapes like riesling.
The world loves and respects German riesling, and previous columns have focused on that classic grape variety. But in recent years pinot noir has performed well in Germany, producing some remarkable wines.
Global warming over the past 40 years has increased the average temperature in Germany by 1.4°C , meaning the country can now ripen red grapes like pinot noir.
In 2010 spatburgunder, the German name for pinot noir, accounted for 11.1 per cent of grape production in Germany. That percentage is increasing.
Indeed, Germany is the world’s third largest producer of pinot noir, after France and the United States. It has appropriate terroir, old vines which produce more concentrated grapes than young vines, and traditional wine making skills.
In November 2011 the German Wine Institute, or Deutsches Weininstitut, hosted the first “Pinot Noir Challenge” in London. Forty pinots from around the world were tasted blind. Seven German pinots featured in the top 10 wines at this contest.
This unexpected result caused many wine lovers to re-assess pinots from Germany.
The Deutsches Weininstitut chose Hong Kong as the venue for the second “Pinot Noir Challenge”. All but three of the 22 judges were from this city and the Hong Kong Wine Judges Association.
Jeannie Cho-Lee MW was the best known of the judges in Hong Kong. The overseas guest judges were Tan Ying Hsien, a wine journalist from Singapore, Ms Huang Shan, a wine journalist from China, and Katsuyuki Tanaka, a wine educator from Bunkyo Gakuin University in Japan.
The Deutsches Weininstitut selected 20 German pinots out of the 40 tasted, with the rest coming from France (eight), the United States (five), New Zealand (five), Australia (one) and Argentina (one). No explanation was given for the small number of pinots from Australia and Argentina.
The high number of German pinots would naturally influence the number of Germans in the top 10. By the law of averages they should get five of the top 10 positions.
Each panel member announced their mark out of 20 the way dives are scored at the Olympics, the judge holding aloft a piece of paper with the number. Scores from the panel were put into a spreadsheet and an average score allocated to each wine.
Peter Kwong, founder and director of the judging panel of the Hong Kong Wine Judges Association, was em-cee for the event.
After each wine was scored he asked the people who had allocated the highest and lowest marks to explain their choice. After these speeches, Mr Kwong asked judges if they would like to modify their mark, presumably based on the eloquence of the speeches. Some judges refined their scores.
Wine media were invited to take part as observers. We got to taste the wines after the panel.
The bulk of wines were from the 2009 and 2010 vintages. Three were from 2008, with two from 2006 and one from 2004. Including three older wines seemed odd, given they would naturally stand out because of their maturity. Interestingly, one of the 2006 pinots received one of the lowest marks because it had been badly stored.
The tasting took place in Felix, a restaurant on the 28the floor of the beautiful The Peninsula Hotel with spectacular views of the harbour. The organisers should be commended for such a beautiful venue.
And the results? Eight German pinots appeared in the top 10 results of the blind tasting, with one each from New Zealand the United States.
The top wine was the 2006 Weingut Furst Centgrefenburg from the Franken region, with an average score of 17.25 out of 20.
The second top pinot was the 2009 Weingut Villa Heinburg grande reserve from the Baden region, with an average of 17.04 out of 20.
The names are a bit of a challenge to say, but these are lovely wines.
The “first growth” wines of Bordeaux have sustained an aura about them for more than 150 years. That aura seems to justify very high prices, especially in vintages when Robert Parker and other noted critics score the wines highly.
Given this column aims to be as much about wine education as wine appreciation, it’s worth reflecting on these prestigious wines. A chance to taste a range of “first growth” reds occurred in Hong Kong, courtesy of the Bordeaux Wine Investment company.
Where did the term “first growth” come from? France was scheduled to host a major world’s fair, or “exposition universelle,” in Paris in 1855. Visitors were expected from around the world and Emperor Napoleon III wanted to showcase the best French wine.
He requested a classification system for France’s best Bordeaux wines, so in 1855 a list of the top-ranked wines, named the grand crus classés or great classified growths appeared.
Several thousand different wine houses (chateaux) were producing wine in Bordeaux, so to be classified in this group would be highly prestigious.
Wines were ranked in importance from first to fifth growths (crus). The best of the best were given the highest rank of premier cru, or first growth.
Only four wines — Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux and Château Haut-Brion — were named as first growths.
This 1855 list of the best of the best remained unchanged for more than a 100 years until Mouton Rothschild was included in 1973, after decades of relentless lobbying by its powerful owner, Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
My tasting began with a 2001 Mouton Rothschild. It smelled of raspberries and cherries and had soft tannins, with good length. This is a wine that creates joy in one’s mouth.
Next was a 1992 Latour, a wine one should rejoice about in having the chance to taste. It smelled of high quality soy sauce and had soft, slightly chalky tannins, and soft fruit.
A 1982 Haut-Brion was the highlight of the evening. That year was an exceptional vintage. This wine had aromas of thyme and rosemary, and tasted of tobacco, ripe plums and leather. In the mouth it had an ethereal quality that created a sense of bliss. Easily one of the finest wines I have ever tasted.
The 1982 Margaux that followed was disappointing, probably because of a slight taint caused by a faulty cork. The wine, though ripe, tasted slightly sour. While still attractive, it had a blowsy quality one sees in an over-dressed person of mature years trying to look young.
It was a sad experience after the bliss of the previous wine.
A 1988 Lafite completed the group. It has intense aromas of ripe black fruit like blackberries and looked like dark cherry in the glass. The tannins were still apparent, suggesting this wine needs more time before it peaks.
We had a 1996 Chateau d’Yquem with dessert. In the world of dessert wines d’Yquem is considered the equivalent of a “first growth”.
Indeed, in the 1855 classification of dessert wines, d’Yquem was considered so great it was granted a special premier cru supérieur classification all of its own.
This d’Yquem was gold in colour, and tasted rich and luxurious, yet it also had a mineral and lean feeling in the mouth, like watching an Olympic distance runner perform.
With these wines it is difficult to describe their glory in words. These are wines that need to be tasted to be truly appreciated.
Disclaimer: The author paid for all the wines he tasted via a system where each person brought a “first growth” wine to the restaurant to share with the other guests. The author took the 1996 d’Yquem. The restaurant, Amuse Bouche, matched foods with each wine.
* Published 10 January 2013. Find a link here. Also published in Sommelier India Wine Magazine, April-May 2013, page 34, under the headline “PREMIER CRUS: The best of the best”
Italy is the world’s second largest producer of wine, behind France. Grapes are grown in almost every region of the country and Italy has more than one million vineyards under cultivation.
Italy has four classes of wine: Vino da Tavola or table wines for everyday consumption, Indicazione geografica tipica (IGT) that refers to wine from a more specific region, Denominazione di origine controllata (”Controlled designation of origin”, or DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).
The last two regions refer to zones that are more specific than an IGT, and the permitted grapes are also more specifically defined.
The overall goal of the system is to encourage producers to focus on quality wine making. Italy has about 120 IGT zones, and more than 300 indigenous grape varieties.
This column focuses on some of the more interesting lesser known wines.
The Collina Dei Ciliegi brut is a non-vintage sparkling that is a blend of chardonnay and garganega grapes. The former gives acidity and finesse and the latter aroma and lemon-lime flavours.
It is a delightful aperitif wine from the Veneto region with sparkling acidity, the result of secondary fermentation in tanks, known as the charmat process or “metodo italiano”.
The 2011 Poggiotondo vermentino is from the Tuscany region. It has a pale lemon colour and zingy acidity that causes the mouth to tingle in anticipation. Vermentino is a late-ripening white that is grown widely in Italy. It is typical of Italian white wines designed to be drunk with food and have a refreshing acidity.
The wine is made in stainless steel tanks though about 15 per cent spends time in oak barrels. This give the wine a floral and crisp personality with flavours of toasted almond.
The 2010 Villa Lucia Rosso di Montalcino is a DOC red made from sangiovese grapes. Sangiovese is the most planted red grape in Italy. It has high tannins that cause the mouth to pucker.
The wine spends two years in oak and another two years in the bottle before it is made available. It is pale red that tastes of almonds. In the mouth the wine feels firm and has aromas of cherries and balsamic vinegar. It is best served with food because of the “grip” of the tannins.
One of the most unusual wines I tasted was the non-vintage Giavelli Toro Italiano lambrusco. It is a semi-sweet sparkling red wine that receives its secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks.
The wine has aromas of cherries and black currants. The tannins are soft and the wine easy to drink, partly because of the low alcohol. It is an ideal lunch wine.
Lambrusco had a poor reputation some years back because of the tendency to make sickly sweet reds. But this lambrusco is a delight. It comes from around Bologna, considered Italy’s food capital. The wine pairs beautifully with meats like salami and ham, the sweetness balancing the salt of the meat.
The 2010 La Collina Dei Ciliegi Recioto Della valpolicella is a DOCG wine made from corvine, corvinone and rondinella grapes. It has an intense dark cherry colour and a sweet yet velvety body that tastes of chocolate, cinnamon and cherry.
It also has a slightly bitter taste like a mouthful of almonds. This is a wine that would match perfectly with nutty dishes, or even a plate of almonds.
The wine is made with the “appassimento” method where grapes are dried in the sun to concentrate flavours. This method produces five types of wine, with “Recioto” the second sweetest.
Another wine made in the” appassimento” style was the 2004 Giacomo Mori Vin Santo Del Chianti, from malvasia and trebbiano grapes. Wines are sealed with wax in small barrels – only 50 litres – for six years. Over that time some liquid evaporates, concentrating flavours.
The name “vin santo” means holy wine or wine of the saints. It is a blessing to taste. Aromas of toasted caramel fill one’s nose and it tastes of roasted almonds and fruitcake. The acidity in the wine keeps it feeling fresh.
Italian wines are designed for enjoyment. This group of wines demonstrates that principle.
* Published in China Post, 15 November 2012, page 10. Find a link here.
Cloudy Bay in New Zealand’s Marlborough region gained an international reputation for exceptional sauvignon blanc soon after it released the first vintage in 1985.
The company effectively introduced the world to a new style of wine, and made New Zealand synonymous with this grape variety. Cloudy Bay has become the benchmark for sauvignon blanc.
But Cloudy Bay makes a range of other wines that are equally stylish and memorable. Winemaker Nick Lane has been focusing of late on wines made from chardonnay and pinot noir. He conducted a master class for media and wine trade to demonstrate the company’s success with these grape varieties.
English explorer James Cook gave the name Cloudy Bay to the area at the eastern end of the Wairau Valley at the northern tip of the South Island. It is a region of rare natural beauty.
The vineyard’s simple label is easily recognized and evokes images of the beautiful landscape in the Marlborough region.
The non-vintage Pelorus Brut sparkling wine is considered one of a handful of exceptional champagne-method wines made in New Zealand. It is pale straw in colour with aromas of ripe citrus and passionfruit.
Lane said chardonnay and pinot noir grapes were sourced from several estate vineyards in the Wairau Valley. The chardonnay gives the wine apple and lemon notes in the mouth, and delightful acidity, and two years of bottle ageing on lees provides aromas of bread, toast and a lingering nutty finish.
The 2010 chardonnay has a mineral zing cloaked in a savoury structure. It was aged in a range of new and old oak, and then spent a year on the lees. The wine is a delight and pairs superbly with most seafoods.
The 2009 Te Koko is made from sauvignon blanc, but unusually for this wine in New Zealand it is aged in some new oak. Nick Lane said after pressing the juice was put in French oak barrels, about 8 or 10 per cent of which were new. There the wine underwent a “natural” fermentation.
The wine was left in barrels on yeast lees for about 18 months. The oak gives the wine a smokey flavour, which complements the aromas of honeysuckle and mango with herbs like thyme and rosemary. A most unusual wine that I found memorable because sauvignon blanc is not my favourite grape variety.
Cloudy Bay produced its first pinot noir in 1989. Fruit comes from a range of sites. Each block is handled separately, and the final wine is a blend of anywhere up to 40 different parcels of fruit.
Nick Lane said the 2010 pinot noir consisted of 25 different components. It was a good vintage in terms of weather with low yields of fruit that had unusually thick skins (pinot noir typically has thin skins). This provided more tannin than in other pinot vintages. Those tannins mean this pinot will be a delight in two to three years, though it is drinking well now.
The wine offers aromas of dark berries and cherries, with touches of spice like cinnamon and white pepper. Nick Lane said a feature of this wine was its “delicate and lacy tannin structure”. I liked its acidity, and the flavours of black and red fruits seemed to cascade into a lingering finish.
All Cloudy Bay wines are high quality and worth pursuing. If they cannot be found in your area they can be purchased online from the company’s web site.
* Published in China Post, 11 October 2012, page 10. Find a link here.
Cape Mentelle was one of the first vineyards established in the Margaret River region of Western Australia, in the south-west corner of the country. As well as being one of the most beautiful regions in the world, it is one of the most remote.
The drive from Perth, the state capital, south to Margaret River takes several hours even with a new highway, so visitors should allow at least a week to see the region properly.
Spectacular coastlines are a feature of Margaret River. The maritime climate provides consistent temperatures which influences grape development. Vintage conditions are good to great every year, though drought is always a problem in Australia.
Cape Mentelle was established in 1970, which makes it one of the pioneers of the Margaret River. It grows nine grape varieties, but its greatness lies with its chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Both are formidable wines. The latter won the Jimmy Watson trophy for best one-year-old red in both 1983 and 1984. It is rare for any vineyard to win the trophy, and consecutive years is almost unheard of.
A chance to taste the 1983 occurred in Hong Kong along with the 2007 and 2001 vintages for comparison. The 1983 still retained some fruit acid and tannin, which suggests it could be still be consumed another decade from now. It offered complex aromas of tobacco and leather and some still had juicy black currant fruit flavours.
This was an elegant and concentrated wine, which showed that the judges sensed something special when they gave it the trophy.
As senior winemaker Rob Mann told me: “Everything in winemaking is about balance. If a wine is not balanced as a youngster, it will not evolve into a balanced older wine.” With great wine, balance of fruit, tannin and acidity are the keys to greatness.
The 2007 cabernet sauvignon comes from mature vines that are 40 years old and these contribute balance and finesse. About 3 per cent of merlot was added. This wine tasted of ripe blackberries. The 13.8 per cent alcohol tells us the fruit was ripe when picked.
This cabernet spent 18 months in French oak, half of it new. The tannin and fruit have integrated well. This is another excellent wine that could be enjoyed in two decades, though it is drinking well now.
Cape Mentelle has more than 200 hectares of vines across four regions of Margaret River. The region is only about 100 km long. The best reds tend to come from the northern half, and the best whites from the south.
Mann said the winemaking team take their responsibilities for the environment seriously and aim for a sustainable approach in the vineyard, which is “as close to organic as possible”.
Only three or four tonnes of fruit per hectare come from the red vineyards. By way of comparison, this is less fruit per hectare than the first growth vineyards of Bordeaux. The less fruit, the more concentrated the flavours in the grapes.
The 2001 cabernet was more vibrant in colour than the 2007. Both came from hot vintages. The key in hot vintages is keeping the vines healthy, Mann said. He took over as senior winemaker after John Durham retired in 2005, after 23 years making wine at Cape Mentelle.
Mann’s cousin Kate Lamont, a former winemaker, prepared a meal to complement the wines. She said the aim of a good chef was to keep the food simple and let the ingredients speak. “It’s the same with winemaking. Like quality design in a building; sometimes you just know instinctively it’s great.”
One pays for quality. The 2007 retails for about $A90, and the 2001 about $A100. If the 1983 is still available it sells for about $A 150.
The 2010 and 2005 chardonnays were also available for tasting and both were lovely wines, but insufficient space to talk about them.
* Story appeared in China Post on 21 June 2012, page 10, under the headline “Getting the balance right in Western Australia”. Find a link here.
A life-sized sculpture of a naked old woman greeted visitors to this year’s Hong Kong international art show that ran from May 17-20.
It was one of the more controversial exhibits, attracting scores of admirers and detractors. Part of the attraction was the fact the sculpture seemed so real: An electric motor made the woman’s stomach rise and fall gently as if the wizened creature were alive.
The sculpture, by Shen Shaomin, was called “I want to know what infinity is”. It had an eternal beauty, despite the woman’s shriveled dugs and almost bald head. She reclined in a deck chair on a bed of salt, her legs spread to reveal a withered pudenda.
The Hong Kong art show, in its fifth year, is now a fixture on the international circuit. From next year it will be known as Art Basel, to become one of the major art shows on the world circuit in terms of size and glitz. Almost 270 galleries from 38 countries exhibited this year.
Fair director Magnus Renfrew said one thing could not be denied: “Asia is now clearly centre stage on the international art market.”
Despite the Shen sculpture, nudity was relatively lacking at this year’s event. So were bow ties. Mercifully, I saw only one man wearing such an aberration.
Highlight of the show, in terms of political impact, was the installation by Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist. He has done most to publicise the Chinese government’s dreadful track record in explaining the tragedy of the earthquake at Wenchuan in Sichuan province in May 2008.
Ai’s exhibit was called “Cong”. A “cong” is a jade tube with a circular inner section and a squarish outer structure. It is believed to be a ritual object though the original purpose has been lost in time.
For the Hong Kong show Ai Weiwei built a huge cong, five metres long and three metres high. The circular inner structure contains the names of the 5,196 students killed when the earthquake toppled scores of schools.
Between October 2009 and May 2010 volunteers at Ai Weiwei’s studio sent 183 letters to Chinese government departments seeking information about the earthquake, aiming to discover why the buildings collapsed so easily.
Replies to the 183 letters are displayed on the outside walls of the “cong”. Those replies are almost identical, suggesting a bureaucracy uniform in its refusal to disclose what it knows about the earthquake. The notes that accompany the “cong” said, simply: “So far, not one government department has given a direct reply to any of the questions asked.”
This exhibition explains why the Chinese government seems to hate Ai Weiwei so much.
Another memorable exhibition included the photographs of Chen Jiagong. Chen displayed huge images of China’s ugliness – polluted cities and industrial sites, and derelict towns. Yet each photograph showed in the foreground the face and figure of at least one beautiful Chinese woman. These images were haunting, sad, and exquisite.
Thousands of people flocked through the turnstiles. Organisers said the total would be the highest to date. Most were much younger than the kinds of people who attend art events like this in the UK.
Tickets to Hong Kong’s international art show cost 255 HKD. The catalogue cost 250 HKD, setting attendees back 41 pounds for the combined items. The tote bag given away with the catalogue had these words on the outside: “Money creates taste.” Let’s hope it was meant ironically.
Hong Kong is Asia’s wine capital, a survey released in conjunction with VINEXPO Asia-Pacific has confirmed. But China remains the dominant player because of its huge population and growing wealth.
In its tenth annual survey for VINEXPO, the International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) company found Hong Kong residents drink an average of five litres of wine a year. It is the highest per capita figure in Asia and more than twice the average in Japan and Singapore, and four times the number for mainland China.
To provide a European perspective: Italians drink 10 times as much. So Asia has a long way to go, suggesting potential markets for the world’s winemakers.
Hong Kong’s wine consumption is predicted to rise 34 per cent over the next five years. But the forecast rise is even higher for mainland China: 46 per cent.
If China’s current consumption were combined with Hong Kong’s we would see the world’s fifth biggest wine market, just ahead of the UK.
Wine consumption in China
Data from China Customs show China imported 260 million litres of wine in 2010, or about 346 million standard-size bottles. This represented a rise of 58 per cent compared with the previous year. Data for 2011 were not yet available.
The IWSR survey predicted consumption in China would rise 54 per cent between 2011 and 2015 to more than 1,000 million bottles. “By 2015 Chinese drinkers will be consuming an average of 1.9 litres a head.” This should have some wine merchants drooling in anticipation.
China also makes a lot of wine and is in the global top 10 of producers. Last year China produced about 10.9 million hectolitres. Almost all of that wine is consumed domestically. Almost all of what I tried while living in China last year was poor quality.
Despite the country’s vast size, it is difficult to find regions suited to grape growing. Summers tend to be too hot and humid. Winters can be bitterly cold and temperatures below minus 5C can kill vine roots. Some international grape varieties struggle in this climate.
Australian viticulturalists working in China report horror stories of local farmers cutting fences to let their goats graze on young vines.
Several French companies have joint ventures. Dynasty partnered with Remy Martin in 1980 to make wine in Tianjin province. Helan Mountain works with Pernod Ricard in Ningxia, south of Inner Mongolia. Domaines Baron de Rothchild has a joint agreement with the Citic Group in Shandon province.
Debra Meiburg MW has been living and reporting on the Asian wine market for a quarter century. She said emphasis was being placed on wine education and the spread of wine culture, which was the core focus of Meiburg Wine Media, and this was beginning to bear fruit. “The recent excitement surrounding domestic wine production in China, with foreign companies entering joint ventures and starting production across the country with increasing regularity, can only support this trend.”
Between 2006 and 2010 French wine exports to China rose seven fold. Interestingly, cognac consumption rose 68 per cent in those same years, and IWSR predicts a further 47 per cent growth in the half decade to 2015.
The Italian Central Statistics Institute reports that imports of Italian wine to China doubled in value in 2010. Debra Meiburg MW confirmed the Italian government had been investing a huge amount of time and energy into developing the Chinese market, where they have not so far had nearly the impact of France.
Wine Australia reported that country’s wine exports to China increased an astonishing 565 per cent between 2001 and 2010.
China is already the world’s biggest market for Bordeaux. CWW vice president Jancis Robinson MW told a press conference for the Wine Futures event in Hong Kong in November 2011 that the demand from Hong Kong and China has fuelled massive price rises in Bordeaux.
Robinson wondered if any of the stock of the world’s finest wines would be available once the people of Hong Kong and China had taken their share. “I take an old-fashioned approach that wine is for drinking, not investing.”
Meanwhile, Chinese companies have been quietly buying Bordeaux estates, and vineyards in Australia and South Africa. Daniel Carmagnat, of Bordeaux property agency A2Z, said Chinese companies wanted “a foothold in one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world”.
For example, last year Chinese luxury goods company Hong Kong A&A International bought a controlling interest in one of Bordeaux’s oldest estates, Château Richelieu.
A billionaire Chinese investor purchased the Château Chenu Lafitte estate in Côtes de Bourg as a gift for his son. And Philippe Raoux, owner of Château d’Arsac in Margaux, sold his 20-hectare Lalande-de-Pomerol estate Château Viaud to Cofco, a company owned by the Chinese government that controls the Great Wall wine brand.
In September 2010, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW reviewed Chinese wines for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate for the first time. A Bordeaux blend, Grace Vineyard Chairman’s Reserve 2008, received the highest score – 85 points. Grace Vineyard’s Deep Blue 2008, another Bordeaux blend, got 83 points.
The chairman’s reserve retails for about 488 RMB in China (£49) and Deep Blue sells for about 288 RMB (£29). An Indonesian-Chinese businessman, CK Chan, founded Grace Vineyard in 1997 with the help of a Bordeaux oenologist, Denis Boubals. It is located on the Taigu plateau, 40km south of Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province. Mr Chan’s daughter, Judy Leissner, manages the vineyard.
Are all Chinese drinkers the same? They generally prefer full-bodied red wines, Hong Kong wholesaler Defranco Leung said. About 92 per cent of all wine consumed is red. But each city had its own preferences.
People in Xiamen in Fujian province liked sweet wines, while folks further south preferred drier ones, wine wholesaler Nikolas Prehn said.
Jancis Robinson MW, asked her opinion of Chinese wine at the Wine Futures press conference, said China had produced some “quite nice” bottles. It was only in past few years that any “decent wine” has been made in China. Robinson said only wine from four producers had impressed her. “For many it’s too early to say.” It was not likely Chinese wine would be exported, except as “a novelty”.
Robinson also highlighted the need for wine education. “Increasingly I see a need for independent sources of education, rather than people in the [wine] business.”
Education about wine would improve the situation markedly in China. While in Foshan near Guangzhou I was taken to a high-end restaurant where my hosts asked me to choose the wine. I selected a second growth 2004 Bordeaux, which cost about £65. The wine waiter supplied excellent glasses, decanted the wine at a nearby table, and then filled every glass except mine. By the time I got to taste the wine, which was corked, the 11 other guests had drained their glasses, and were complimenting me on my choice. The second bottle was fine, but the third was also corked, though again I did not get a chance to taste it until all other glasses had been filled.
Debra Meiburg MW said many Chinese consumers’ tastes in wine had less to do with flavour preferences and more to do with what was deemed socially acceptable to consume. Her company is based in Hong Kong.
“We see this tendency in nearly all young wine-consuming markets: consumers’ lack of confidence in their ability to judge wine quality for themselves will lead them to make consumption decisions that may have very little to do with their palates or with their food styles,” she said. “Hence the overwhelming preference for dark, tannic red wines in China even though many food styles are either too delicate or too spicy to be a good match for these wines, at least according to conventional western pairing principles.”
For this reason Meiburg launched the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition. Wines are only judged by Asian-born and Asian-based judges. A segment of the competition focuses on finding the best wine match for regional specialties.
Hong Kong’s wine market
This city is a wine-drinkers’ paradise. The government abolished all duties on wine in June 2008. Removal of taxes was the major factor for the development of a flourishing market, combined with cheap taxis and excellent public transport. Residents of some cities limit consumption because they need to drive. Hong Kong people take taxis.
I can buy quality wine in Hong Kong shops for half the price I have paid for the same wine at the cellar or vineyard door. The range and variety is superb. Wine events are offered almost every night of the week.
Since 2008 Hong Kong has also become established as the regional hub for the Chinese and Asian wine markets. Two in five bottles that arrive are re-exported to the region.
Last year Hong Kong wine sales increased by almost 7 per cent, to a total of 39 million bottles. Consumption doubled in the half decade to 2010. French wine remains the most popular, accounting for 28 per cent of sales ahead of Australia (20 per cent) and the United States (11 per cent). American wine consumption is expected to increase by 10 per cent over the next five years, analysts suggest.
Nine bottles in 10 consumed in Hong Kong are red. The amount of sparkling wine and champagne drunk is tiny: perhaps 0.5 per cent of the total. But Hong Kong people drink twice as much “bubbly” as the rest of Asia combined, which suggests some cause for potential celebration. And perhaps the need for a marketing campaign for this kind of drink.
Late in 2011 Debra Meiburg MW launched a book about the market. “When we compiled Debra Meiburg’s Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade we ultimately gained insights from over 250 active import businesses, and listed an additional 100 that seem to be operational (if unresponsive). This is a significant increase on the number in operation in 2005.”
Because of the lack of legal or financial barriers to entry, many businesses entered without necessarily having sufficient understanding of the risks and challenges involved. “Of the new entrants, some are wine enthusiast who made the transition to wine from other industries – especially finance, which was collapsing just as the wine industry was starting to take off in Hong Kong,” Meiburg said. “Others were trading companies engaged in other import businesses who found that they could easily bring in a few bottles of wine along with the shipments of, for example, leather footwear they were already shipping in from Europe. Many of these businesses have since either closed or been acquired, and it’s quite probable that we are only at the beginning.”
This was not because the market as a whole was becoming less lucrative, Meiburg said, but because competition was now much too fierce for anyone who was not willing to invest effort and capital into their business to survive. “On the other hand,” she said, “I think we will start to see a lot more diversity in the actual wine offerings in our market. We used to have a very split market, in which the top end was dominated by very expensive bottles from France and the low end by very inexpensive bottles from Chile. But it is actually our mid-market that has picked up the most steam these past few years and this is a field in which many other countries, including Argentina, Italy and Spain, and lesser-known regions of France, have some wonderful offerings that will hopefully be much more prevalent on our market from now on.”
Hong Kong consumers appear to be becoming more discerning. VINEXPO data show sales of wine for under £3 (about 36 HKD) grew less than 1 per cent between 2006-2010. Purchases of wines between £3 and £6.5 (HKD 37-80) grew by almost 11 per cent. But the highest growth was for wine priced at more than £7 – up by almost 15 per cent.
Jancis Robinson MW told the Wine Futures conference in Hong Kong in November 2011 that she was surprised at how rapidly Hong Kong had emerged as a centre for quality wine. She was also concerned about how quickly prices for high-end wines were rising.
My attendance at auctions confirms the trend. In January 2012 in Hong Kong, Zachys, a US company, auctioned the cellar of Dr Joseph Weinstock, a close friend of wine writer Robert Parker. About $US 5 million went under the hammer that morning. Another $US 7.3 million was spent at the previous Zachys auction in Hong Kong last November. Buyers from the mainland bid via the phone and online.
Auctioneers have been known to speak at 350 words a minute and sell two or three lots a minute. These figures provide a snapshot of January’s prices: A magnum of 1976 Romanee Conti Domaine de la Romanee Conti went for 75,000 HKD in perhaps 10 seconds. Its expected selling price was 60,000 HKD. Three 750ml bottles of Corton Charlemagne Cloche-Dury 1989 sold for 70,000 HKD in a few seconds (expected price 46,000 HKD). A dozen half bottles of d’Yquem 1990 went for 24,000 HKD (expected sale 16,000 HKD) in the blink of an eye.
Chateau Lafite has always been popular in China. For the great 1982 vintage, two groups of 24 half-bottles sold for 170,000 HKD per item. Two bottles of the 1953 vintage sold for 26,000 HKD. Several cases of the 1996 vintage sold for an average of 75,000 HKD a case. The current exchange rate is about 12 HKD to the pound.
VINEXPO chief executive Robert Beynat described Hong Kong as the “nerve centre” of the international wine and spirits industry. Asia was now the “most important new market” and Hong Kong was “especially vigorous”. VINEXPO Asia-Pacific will be held in Hong Kong from May 29-31.
The annual VINEXPO / International Wine and Spirit Research survey is regarded as the largest and most detailed analysis of the world wine market. It covers 28 producing countries and 114 markets.
VINEXPO exhibitors will come from 35 countries. For this year’s event South Africa and the United States more than doubled their total stand areas from the previous event two years ago. The exhibition alternates each year between Bordeaux and Hong Kong. Chinese exhibitors this year include Grace Vineyard, Yantai Changyu Pioneer Wine and Dynasty Fine Wines. The full list of exhibitors can be found at www.vinexpo.com.
* Published in the May 2012 edition of Circle Update for the Circle of Wine Writers, pages 46-49, under the headline “More and more bottles, and they’re almost all red”.