LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Speculators, not drinkers, are likely to be the biggest Chinese buyers of Bordeaux 2009.
In a survey, Decanter.com asked five Bordeaux buyers, merchants and restaurateurs in Hong Kong and mainland China for their opinions on where the Bordeaux 2009 market was headed.
According to some of these veterans, 2009 will be bought to be sold on and buyers will be more sensitive to price than Europeans.
As Simon Zhou of Ruby Red Fine Wines in Shanghai said: “Speculators will be the biggest buyers of ‘09 Bordeaux. Wine drinkers will not buy as enthusiastically as most overseas trade and media seem to think”
Marcus Ford of the Wine Way in Shanghai said the same.
Although wine lovers are “warming up to the idea of en primeur” they wouldn’t make their presence felt nearly as much as speculators from outside China hoping to capitalize on the Chinese thirst for fine Bordeaux in general and the 2009 vintage in particular.
But not all are convinced.
Another respondent, the connoisseur and en primeur buyer Michael Ma, said: “Vintners betting on an explosion of demand from China in ‘09 are likely to be disappointed” - especially if there are unreasonable price hikes.
Ma suggested there would be a danger of insulting “savvy” buyers by increasing prices on the basis that the Chinese market will stand anything.
“There seems to be a widespread opinion that the Chinese will pay any prices to fetch top wines. However, if there’s one defining characteristic of the Chinese, it is that they hate to be taken for fools.”
The Chinese will get to grips with the futures system quickly and will react as negatively as Europeans or Americans to unreasonable prices, Ma said.
His views are echoed by most correspondents - although Helen Qu of Les Millesimes Wine Club in Beijing was more cautious.
Of course the Chinese are price-sensitive, she said, but “if they perceive 2009 to be as great a vintage as 2005, 2000, or 1982, then they will be willing to pay high release prices.”
The survey also asked respondents about influence: does Robert Parker hold the same sway in China as in the United States?
Perhaps, said Grace Cai of Aussino Fine Wines in Guangzhou.
“Chinese people tend to trust experts and Robert Parker is so famous internationally that his prediction might make an impact.”
“Mr. Parker is simply not as influential in China,” he said, adding that China “also lacks reputable, long-term wine traders with a proven track-record of handling en primeur.”
So buyers will turn instead to well-established UK traders with a presence in Hong Kong.
As to another much-anticipated question - are the Chinese going to look wider than the handful of blue-chip wines they are used to buying? - it seems certain they will.
“Without doubt the First Growths and especially Lafite will be most popular,” Zhou said. “Outside those top wines there are about 15 wines which will be heavily traded. The rest will attract very little interest.”
What those 15 wines are going to be, nobody can say.
Lafite and Carruades de Lafite have a proven track record, and some commentators see interest extending throughout the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (DBR) portfolio - to Mouton certainly, and its second wine Le Petit Mouton.
Others - like Michael Ma - are casting their net wide.
He reckons the second wines of all the First Growths will be popular, followed by the super seconds, and other stars of the left and right banks.
“I’ll be personally looking at Leoville-Las-Cases, as well as Leoville-Barton and Leoville-Poyferre, Cos d’Estournel, Palmer, Pontet-Canet, Montrose, Lynch-Bages, Calon-Segur and La Mission Haut Brion, among others,” he said.
What is clear is that with some extremely rich individuals and private companies in the market for the first time, the situation is volatile.
As Marcus Ford said: “It’s very difficult to guess what these new buyers will buy and in what quantities. The scale of things here means that some of them could be in the market for hundreds of cases of certain wines. That is very tough to predict.”
Read the full survey at http://www. decanter.com/chinasurvey.
(Adam Lechmere is editor of decanter.com, www.decanter.com, the web arm of Decanter, the leading British wine magazine. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith