Wine Engagement in China
A recent trip to China, proves Chinese people of all ages and wine connoisseurship are making the effort to understand and appreciate Australian wines, writes Jeremy Oliver.
China’s love affair with wine is showing no signs of slowing, if what I experienced last December is anything to go by. My flying visit to Shanghai, Ningbo and Beijing has confirmed what I have always felt – that upwardly mobile Chinese people today address wine with the same level of energy, regardless of age or experience.
My trip began with a crowded house at Pudao Wines in Shanghai, the excellent wine business operated by Marcus Ford, one of Australian wine’s best allies in China. Marcus assembled an energetic audience of hip young Chinese plus the occasional expat which would have done a Melbourne store proud.
Next to the Bund, where following the lead of Australian wine legend Len Evans (whose wine biography I happened to write some years ago), the new and innovative Indigo Hotel has developed a One Bottle Club through its Char restaurant. The idea is that instead of selecting wine from the excellent list developed by Australian-trained sommelier Ethan Tian, members of this club are able to bring their own bottles to then share around a table with other like-minded souls.
I was fortunate to host the club’s inaugural dinner at which I was given the opportunity to enjoy well-cellared bottles of mature Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1, Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon, Grosset Polish Hill Riesling and Dalwhinnie Chardonnay. It’s no longer a surprise to me when I see Australian wines of this level being understood and appreciated by smart Chinese wine drinkers.
Having taken the train the next morning to the port city of Ningbo, I was introduced to the city’s extraordinary static wine exhibition, which occupied several floors of a substantial modern building purpose-built to further trade and commerce. First up was a tasting of inexpensive Australian wines led by such strong brands as Peter Lehmann, Westend and Jacob’s Creek’s Reserve label.
*Pictured right: Jeremy networking at a wine tasting event.
This event was part of a four-week international wine festival supported by the Ningbo Government, which is determined to develop a strong wine culture within the city. The tasting was standing room only and almost exclusively attended by young wine enthusiasts and media. It underlined again the huge latent demand within the second and third tier Chinese cities, their immediate demand for knowledge and their willingness to commit time and effort to learn.
Prior to the tasting I was interviewed by a number of local radio and print media presenters and journalists, all fascinated by wine and all well below 35 years of age. This is the age group that will drive China’s wine market forward, make it more diverse and, will eventually break the current dominance of Bordeaux. It’s the only market in China for Australians to spend promotional dollars on.
A very significant dinner pairing Australian wine with classical Chinese cuisine followed, hosted by the Ningbo Government. It showcased wines from makers such as Grosset, Henschke, John Duval, Westend, Yering Station and Mount Langi Ghiran to an audience comprising many of the city’s commercial and political elite. I received a spontaneous and unexpected ovation after making the connection between the Langi Shiraz and the Victorian city of Ararat, the only city in Australia founded by Chinese people, during the goldrush era. Exporters would do well not to ignore Ningbo.
My first event in Beijing the following day was another in-store tasting for Pudao Wines at its chic new outlet near The Place. Again, another well informed and enthusiastic mix of ages and cultures. Then to The Opposite House Hotel for a much-anticipated dinner in Bei restaurant at the hands of brilliant young American chef Max Levy who not only applies a modern spin to Japanese cuisine but completely gets the pairing of food and wine. While the dinner contrasted Australian wines with Old World styles, the showstopper was the best Chinese wine I have ever tasted, the 2009 Jia Bei Lan cabernet blend from Helan Qing Xue. The sharp end of Chinese wine production is indeed developing at a similar rate as the wine intelligence of its market.
The next day featured a completely packed educational tasting and seminar at the
impressive ‘lounge’ of my Chinese publisher, the Beijing Publishing Group, for which more than four hundred young Chinese people were left on a waiting list. I was able to explain the tasting technique, walk the crowd through four wines and introduce the Chinese language edition of my Australian wine book. This was the most rewarding event of the trip, simply because the audience hardly wanted to leave, had more questions than there was time in the day and were largely under 30 years of age. Wine in China will certainly be no fad.
*Pictured above: ROOM Beijing.
My final event was the ‘pre-launch’ of my book in Beijing, a remarkable dinner plotted by the extraordinarily creative Brian McKenna at his ROOM restaurant adjacent to the Park Hyatt. Again a crack selection of Australian wines, this time with names like Tyrrell, Vasse Felix, De Bortoli and Xanadu. Again, however, an entirely different audience, this time of ROOM regulars that mirrored the international melting pot that is modern Beijing. This crowd was used to drinking the world’s finest, but thoroughly enjoyed discovering that Australia’s best is also right on cue.
Wine in China is still wild, it’s still out of control, and nobody knows what shape it will ultimately assume. But it’s growing at a faster and more powerful rate than any wine market in history has ever grown, anywhere. If we Australians want a deeper relationship than an affair, there’s no time to act like the present. ■
*Jeremy Oliver began writing about wine in 1984 with his first book, Thirst for Knowledge and has since published 23 books. As an ambassador for Australian wine, Jeremy speaks regularly at leading wine events in Australia and overseas, including China.
Jeremy recently released the Chinese translation of his best-selling wine guide, The Australian Wine Annual. This special edition is the first comprehensive guide to Australian wines in Chinese and showcases Jeremy’s Wines of the Year and Top 100 Australian wines, as well as additional commentary on grape variety, where they are and the challenges facing the Australian wine industry.
For more information, visit Jeremy’s website: www.jeremyoliver.com
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**Pictured top of page: Char, Hotel Indigo, Shanghai, at the inaugural dinner for the One Bottle Club.