Shift From Bordeaux To Burgundy Among Chinese Elite Could See Prices Rise
Since the beginning of this year, Jing Daily has kept a close eye on one wine trend that could have earth-shaking effects on the global wine market: a shift among wealthy Chinese wine collectors (and drinkers) from Bordeaux to Burgundy. For years, the high-end wine market in China has been the domain of French wineries, with the country accounting for around 55 percent of China’s wine imports. And arguably no French wine-growing region has achieved the level of success in China seen by Bordeaux, with top-tier regional winemakers like Château Lafite achieving such ubiquity on the tables and in the cellars of the wealthy that China is joked to have more bottles of 1982 Lafite circulating around than have ever been produced.
Over the course of recent auctions, though, a clear sea change has become apparent, perhaps due to a sort of “Lafite bubble,” perhaps due to rampant counterfeiting of top Bordeaux, or possibly just due to changing tastes. Following the Bordeaux-heavy October 2 auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong that became the auction house’s first since 2009 to fail to sell out, and (as a counterpoint) last month’s massively successful, Burgundy-weighted Acker Merrall & Condit sale, which took in a grand total of US$14.5 million and became the city’s biggest wine auction of the year, speculation that Burgundy is China’s “next big thing” has hit fever pitch.
Having seen how wealthy mainland Chinese home in on the most expensive products in luxury segments they’re new to, whether it’s cars, fashion or jewelry, the possibility that the world’s top Burgundy vintages could be next in their crosshairs has naturally caused tremors in the wine press.
Last month, Jing Daily projected that the celebrated Burgundy, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), long considered one of the world’s best red wines, could become “China’s Next Lafite.” Unlike Lafite, which at 15,000 to 20,000 cases produced annually is far from rare, the much smaller production of Romanée-Conti (450 cases annually, on average) means any word that Chinese drinkers could be developing a thirst for DRC sends shivers through the spines of wine lovers around the world. Some of this is warranted, though, since DRC is far more vulnerable to China-induced price spikes than other wineries in Burgundy with larger annual production. As Fred Shaw, proprietor of New York’s Tribeca Wine Merchants, put it to Jing Daily earlier this month, “If Chinese buyers are turning to DRC, how much higher can they go from there?”
Today, the British wine expert and critic, Jancis Robinson, writes in the FT about the possible effect that greater Chinese interest in Burgundy could have on the broader global market, noting that it could prove “dangerous” for Burgundy lovers. Robinson also touches on another gradual trend we’re currently watching, the simmering rise of white wine in China:
There are dangerous signs that China’s (still small) nucleus of seriously well-heeled wine buyers may now be turning their attention to Burgundy. Dangerous because the quantities of top burgundy produced are so tiny that Chinese interest could upset the market. “DRC” (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Burgundy’s most famous domaine) could become the new Lafite – which is remarkable when one considers that as recently as two years ago, Aubert de Villaine of DRC went to Beijing and Shanghai to present, at free tastings, his wonderful 2005 vintage. According to Marcus Ford of Pudao, a subsidiary of Summergate, these events were, incredibly, very poorly attended. The Chinese wine market is indeed a volatile one – and one in which fakes (particularly of Lafite and DRC, and often of pathetic quality) are rife.
For the moment, Yang Lu reports, champagne is difficult to sell by the bottle, yet that situation could change overnight. The Chinese are even beginning to drink white wine – although it probably needs to be called “pale” or “golden” to distance it from the association in Chinese culture of the colour white with death.
While it’s far too early to pronounce the death of Bordeaux in the China market and declare Burgundy the new champion in the premium wine segment, the rapidly shifting tastes of China’s elite can’t be ignored. Mainland China and Hong Kong still account for nearly 60 percent of Bordeaux’s total exports, and nothing suggests that Bordeaux will rapidly fall out of favor, leaving a massive window open for other French wine-growing regions or producers from the US, Spain, Italy or Australia. Bordeaux will likely remain many Chinese drinkers’ first foray into wine, and a reliable region for less educated Chinese gift-givers. But at the highest of the high-end wine segments, if Burgundy superstars like DRC, Domaine Leroy and Henri Jayer do indeed supplant Lafite as the most desirable labels among Chinese collectors and drinkers, the wallets of wine lovers in Europe, North America and elsewhere could take serious hits in the years ahead.