Though they’ve long since stopped mixing it with Coca-cola, red wine remains the default wine choice for many in China. Sparkling wine makes up just one percent of wine sales in China, but in 2017, bottles of bubbles made up a lot of ground, reaching $75 million, a 33 percent increase from the previous year.
And there is plenty more room for growth. Chuan Zhou, the research director of Wine Intelligence, told Jing Daily, “The majority of Chinese consumers have yet to discover the diversity of sparkling wines such as Champagne, Cava and Prosecco, mainly because of a lack of awareness.”
The top three exporters of sparkling wine to China are France, Italy, and Spain, but domestic production is also ramping up.
Responding to the rise of bubbles consumption in China, Möet & Chandon established a winery in Ningxia, northwestern China, in 2013. With long daylight hours, well-irrigated soil, and a protected environment, Ningxia is now home to over 100 wineries and is known as China’s Napa Valley.
According to interviews that Wine Intelligence conducted with importers, retailers, and consumers, the sparkling wine with greatest potential in China would be lower in alcohol, have ripe fruit flavours, and be somewhat sweet to balance the higher acidity.
Last year, Möet & Chandon introduced blanc and rosé versions of a wine called Chandon Me specifically for the Chinese market. As well as punning on the English pronoun, the name plays with the Mandarin words for sweet, secret and close female friendship.
Unlike the Chandon produced elsewhere, Chandon Me from Ningxia is sweeter, described as having “floral and honey characters in smell, pastel citrus and red berries fruit notes, with the lovely flavour of lollipops.”
Away With the Fairies
With lower alcohol and a refreshing taste, sparkling wine is particularly popular among urban young women. When they meet up with female friends for “afternoon tea occasions”, sharing a glass of sparkling wine gives a sense of “celebrating together”, the reassurance that they are doing well in life. In an ambitious, socially anxious society — China is, after all, the largest luxury market in the world — there are countless cosmopolitan ladies who are keen to get ahead. It is not surprising that Shanghai consumes the most sparkling wine in China.
Women now flaunt their sparkling wine on social media, the same way they show off their luxury handbags, on apps like Little Red Book (Xiao Hong Shu). There, commenters enthusiastically recommend “pretty and tasty sparkling wine for the fairies,” a nickname for the young, good looking, and well-off. The gimmicky Spanish drink Wine of Fire, which resembles a lava lamp or a magic potion after shaking, is currently trending on Chinese social media.
“There should be a bright future for sparkling wine in China overall,” Zhou believes. “However, education remains key to increasing awareness and appreciation of the beverage. Conveying the message that sparkling wine can be drunk at informal occasions such as gatherings with friends is crucial.”
That message is more effectively delivered to China’s curious younger drinkers in their preferred communication style. In contrast to more pretentious experts, Miss Tipsy Goose has turned her wine knowledge acquired at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris into easy-to-grasp and entertaining videos, which have attracted over 200 million views online. By creating different characters for discussing different wines, this girl with mischievous dimples has spread wine knowledge in a way that the young generation appreciates.
“If you like to share spicy hotpot with friends this winter, don’t forget to try Cava. The fresh bubbles will make the hotpot taste better,” she grinned.