Our 10 Favorite Wine & Spirits Posts Of The Year
Will China’s “Bordeaux Bubble” Buoy Burgundy?
China may still be in the grips of Bordeaux fever, but the stratospheric prices for the oft-mentioned Chateau Lafite and seeming overexposure of this region may be a godsend for Burgundy wines. As the country’s upwardly mobile increasingly purchase the occasional bottle of wine (owing to the vast population, mainland Chinese consume an average of less than 1.5 bottles a year), the mystery and occasional relative affordability of Burgundy could work in its favor this year.
If Burgundy does find more fans this year in China, however, it will likely be the result of economic imperative rather than a shift in tastes. Over the past year, prices for already-popular Bordeaux heavyweights like Lafite and Petrus have shot up, with a case of the as-yet-to-be-released 2009 Lafite selling in Hong Kong late last year for $70,000 — over three times its typical price tag.
China Now World’s Largest Importer Of Bordeaux Wines
Since 2008, the market for Bordeaux wine in China has exploded, with imports rising 191 percent by product volume and 216 percent by transaction volume in the last three years. This has seen China jump from sixth place to first. Despite lagging consumer education and relatively little wine purchased for at-home drinking (gift-giving and banquets are the final destination for most high-end bottles), this new market has quickly raced beyond established and mature wine markets.
National statistics showed that China imported some 286 million liters (76 million gallons) of wine last year, a rise of 67 percent over 2009. This means handsome profits for exporters, with China’s wine imports totaling US$798 million, a nearly 81 percent rise year-over-year.
Chinese-Owned Bordeaux Chateau Looks East
Perhaps nowhere is the Chinese presence more pronounced at the moment than Bordeaux, France. With China surpassing Germany and the UK to become the Bordeaux’s largest export market, and Bordeaux mainstays like Château Lafite, Château Latour and (increasingly) Château d’Yquem becoming the bottles of choice for Chinese collectors, gift givers and show-offs alike, it’s no surprise Chinese buyers have swept into the region.
And sweep in they have: As Bordeaux Undiscovered pointed out this spring, six established Bordeaux chateaux have been bought out by Chinese investors in recent years, including Chateaux de Viaud, Latour Laguens, Laffitte Chenu and Richelieu.
Known as China’s first boutique “micro-winery”, Silver Heights currently produces around 800 cases of wine per year at its roughly five-acre vineyard on the eastern slopes of Mount Helan in China’s northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. There, at the family-run winery, the Bordeaux-educated Gao has spent the last four years producing a selection of reds that she hopes can confidently stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those from California or Australia.
Already, Gao has found favor with the wine distributor Torres China, which carries Silver Heights in its portfolio, and among wine critics like Lisa Perrotti-Brown, who scored Gao’s 2007 Summit a respectable 82 earlier this year.
A Visit To France’s Loire Valley (Part One
Known as the “Garden of France” due to its many farms, wineries and orchards, this 800 square kilometer (310 sq mile) region in the center of the country may not have the name recognition of Bordeaux, Champagne or Burgundy, but if its winemakers have anything to say about it, bottles of Loire Valley Muscadet, Sancerre and Crémant may find their way to more tables and collections in China in coming years.
On the invitation of “Les 8 de Loire,” a group of eight independent wineries located throughout the Loire Valley, and guided by Guillaume Roussy, head of Chateau-Midouin, Jing Daily visited vineyards in the region, winding down from Paris to Sancerre and back. Over the course of this three-part series, we look at these diverse wineries and winemakers, and more specifically, investigate how smaller labels are trying to compete with much larger “brands” in emerging markets like China.
Interview: Johnnie Walker House Immerses Shanghai In Whisky Culture
Launched this past May at Shanghai’s Sinan Mansions, the first Johnnie Walker House built outside of Scotland is nothing if not a shrine to the history, culture and appreciation of whisky. Built to educate local drinkers, many of whom have long been accustomed to watering down whisky with sweetened green tea, or seeing cognac as the only premium imported spirit on the market, the three-story Johnnie Walker House takes visitors on a step-by-step tour through the production and enjoyment of whisky.
Beginning with an introduction to the raw materials of whisky — barley, water and peat — upon entering, guests to the Johnnie Walker House are taken through an “experience” that includes a detailed copper scale model of a Scottish distillery and high-tech, interactive sensory table that teaches visitors the fundamental aromatic and tasting notes of Scotch whisky. Finally, after having been filled in on the basics of whisky appreciation, guests are led to the third-floor lounge for a tasting session led by one of the House’s resident experts.
Romanée-Conti: China’s Next Lafite?
One of the more interesting shifts in the China high-end wine market this year has been the growing popularity of reds from Burgundy and relative decline of Bordeaux in first-tier cities. With prices for well-known Bordeaux, such as Château Lafite and Château Latour, exploding at auction over the past two years, many of China’s more seasoned wine aficionados have turned to vintages from other regions of France or to “New World” wineries from Australia, the US or Chile.
Though demand for popular Bordeaux remains high in second- and third-tier cities, this week Hexun (Chinese) posits that the celebrated Burgundy Romanée-Conti, long considered one of the world’s best red wines, could become “China’s Next Lafite.”
After Gold, Art & Wine, China’s Wealthy Collectors Stocking Up On Vintage Baijiu
The emergence of Chinese collectors as a major force in the wine auction market may be pushing prices for top Bordeaux and Burgundy vintages higher and higher, but in China, their appetite for new investments has caused prices for high-end baijiu — traditional Chinese distilled spirits — to skyrocket. As Jing Daily wrote this February, the baijiu auction market is booming in mainland China, with rare vintages regularly selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars amid frenzied bidding. As Liu Yuan, general secretary of the National Association for Liquor and Spirits Circulation, recently said, this partly boils down to the pedigree, price and long history of the top baijiu brands, particularly Maotai.
Said Liu, “Moutai has become China’s Louis Vuitton…Given the limited output and steep price, it’s a good way for officials to curry favor and for the rich to show off their wealth.”
Scotland Cashing In On Chinese Demand For Premium Scotch
Commemorating the one-year anniversary of Beijing’s move to give Geographical Indication of Origin (GI) status to Scotch whisky, this week Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond toasted the booming Chinese whisky trade on a trip to the Chinese capital. In town to promote one of Scotland’s most famous products, Salmond took part in an event organized by the Beijing-based retailer Xiamen Spirit Empire, which plans to create China’s largest Scotch whisky sales network — 300 stores in three years. This year alone, Spirit Empire plans to beef up its inventory with over £20 million (US$31 million) worth of whisky from Scotland.
Accompanied by David Kilshaw of the trade group Scotland Food & Drink, at the event Salmond met Spirit Empire Chairman Ding Wei and Stephen Notman, whom Spirit Empire recently pulled on as a “whisky ambassador” to represent Chinese sellers in Scotland.
Though demand for popular Bordeaux remains high among the newly wealthy in second- and third-tier cities, an auction this week in Hong Kong underlined the fact that major Chinese auction buyers are now homing in on the rarest and best Burgundy, a shift that wine critic Jancis Robinson recently said could be “dangerous,” particularly for lovers of top wines like DRC and Domaine Leroy.
Look for this trend to continue for at least the first half of next year, but soon Chinese collectors may be the most avid buyers of DRC in the world. As this buyer group showed when it turned to Lafite in recent years, when a particular wine gains notoriety in China, there’s never enough of it to go around — with the exception of counterfeits, of course.