Country Displaces Long-Time Leader Britain
Adding yet another world-ranking badge to its sash, China is now the world’s largest importer of Armagnac, displacing former reigning consumer Britain after a huge surge in sales in 2011. According to the Bureau National Interprofessionel de l’Armagnac (BNIA), sales of the French brandy to mainland China jumped from 125 hectoliters in 2010 to a whopping 935 hectoliters last year. Similarly, sales to Hong Kong nearly doubled, from 292 hectoliters in 2010 to 505 in 2011. Coming in after China with 600 hectoliters imported last year was Great Britain, which itself is expected to be overtaken as the world’s second-largest Armagnac market by Russia this year.
BNIA president Rierre Tabarin attributed China’s growing demand for Armagnac to the continued decline in consumption of traditional Chinese spirits among the country’s burgeoning upper middle class, a perception of status towards high-end French products, and stronger demand for vintage and rare bottles for investment purposes.
Broader trends in China’s imported wine and spirits market hold out Tabarin’s observations. As Jing Daily reported in August, China’s alcohol imports increased 58.1 percent over the course of 2011 to US$2.4 billion, with the country bringing in 500,000 kiloliters of alcohol. Though Chinese drinkers remain baijiu and beer drinkers, on the whole, the country’s more affluent consumers are turning to Old and New World wines, top-of-the-line Scotch, cognac, vodka and craft beer in ever-increasing numbers.
Produced on a smaller scale than the more well-known cognac, in smaller batches, by independent and boutique distillers in Gascony in southwest France, Armagnac — which, like the often similarly hued Chinese huangjiu (“yellow wine”), is reputed to have health benefits — by nature appeals to a more sophisticated, gourmet drinker. What the recent surge in imports may reflect is that a larger number of Chinese wine and spirits consumers are becoming connoisseurs, choosing their preferred drink more deliberately while fueling niche industries along the way.