Britain Could Be Poised For An Asian Wine Boom

Changyu Cabernet Gernischt Recently Hit Waitrose Store Shelves In UK

Changyu wines at Waitrose supermarket in the UK (Image: Flickr user stephenrwalli)

China may be better known for baijiu than Blaufränkisch, Thailand more for pad thai than Petit Rouge, and Japan for sake over Syrah, but with wine production in these and other Asian countries increasing along with product quality, British wine industry watchers expect an import boom in the years ahead. Led by interest in the country’s supermarket sector — particularly among leading players like Marks & Spencer and Waitrose — winemakers in the vast Asia-Pacific region are gearing up to send more stock to the UK, the world’s sixth-largest wine market after being surpassed by China earlier this year. As Neil McIlwee, sales manager of Thailand’s Siam Winery told the Drinks Business this week, “I know there is going to an explosion in Asian wines very soon with the amount coming over from India, China and Japan.”

Though it may sound like a stretch that wine lovers in Britain would turn to wines from a producing region so new that some prefer to refer to it as “New Latitude” rather than “New World,” there are signs that interest is growing among retailers and consumers alike. Last month, as part of its “World of Wine” showcase, the British supermarket chain Waitrose, which is known for sourcing wines from emerging wine-producing countries (including the UK), started selling a Cabernet Gernischt from the Chinese winery Changyu along with Miolo Cuvée Tradition rosé from Brazil. Last year, the chain saw surprising interest in two wines from India as part of the same series, indicating to Waitrose that demand — albeit niche — is there in Britain for wines beyond those from France or Italy. As one Waitrose buyer put it, “We’re bringing in a new era of lesser known wines being sold in the UK as the interest in China, and more specifically the Chinese wine industry, continues to grow.”

Along with wineries from the upper end of China’s domestic market, producers from countries like Thailand expect to convert a few new fans overseas as well. As the Siam Winery’s McIlwee said this week, the gradual internationalization of Asian wines is simply addressing a major gap in the market. Said McIlwee, “[Retailers] claim they have wines from around the world but when you ask them if they have anything from Asia they say ‘no’.” Inevitably, however, this is likely to change sooner rather than later. As Guy Woodward, editor of Decanter magazine, recently told the Guardian, “China is already the fifth largest wine producer in the world and while much of the quality is pretty mediocre, it’s inevitable that at the top end, as knowhow improves (often via the employment of overseas consultants) and the best regions are identified, it will start turning out some decent wines, worthy of export.”


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