China's nouveau riche thirsty for premium vino

Mon Jan 3, 2011 9:34am EST
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By Farah Master

SHANGHAI (Reuters Life!) - Following the explosion in demand for designer bags, Italian suits and fast cars, expensive French and Italian wines are set to be the next must-have accessory for the wealthy Chinese consumer.

Wine bars are proliferating rapidly in Shanghai, the country's glitzy financial capital, where young Chinese professionals congregate after work and regularly splurge around 1,000 yuan ($152) on a bottle of wine.

"Chinese people are very aspirational and materialistic so once they have bought the best local brand then they start looking for something even better and more expensive," said Ch'ng Poh Tiong, wine columnist and publisher of The Wine Review publication, based in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and China.

While China has a growing domestic wine market, industry experts say it is more fashionable to drink wine made abroad and predict consumption will double within the next five years.

Favorites include wines from French estates Chateau Lafite Rothschild, which starts around $1,000 a bottle, and Chateau Latour.

"There are at least two layers of wine appreciation in China. If the person is buying and serving the wine to say thank you very much for someone who has done them a favor, then there is a social going rate which means they will pull out the expensive wine," said Ch'ng.

"Then you have the same person drinking with friends and family and there is no more status attached to the bottle of wine."

Wine aficionados say that wine consumption in the mainland has grown in double digit figures over the last 10 years, triggering strong incentives for winemakers and companies to target the lucrative Chinese market, set to strongly outpace Western demand in the coming years.   Continued...

<p>A waiter serves a glass of red wine from Spain during a tasting session at Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, the International Wine and Spirits Exhibition for the Asia-Pacific region, in Hong Kong May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Victor Fraile</p>