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Delhi Wine Club
The Asian Wine Market

Posted: Monday, 07 May 2012 15:28

The Asian Wine Market

The Asian wine market is undergoing a dynamic change with Hong Kong booming due to zero duties and likely to consolidate with the mid-market picking up steam, writes Hong Kong- based Debra Meiburg MW who feels that Chinese wine market is evolving and will continue to grow in prominence.

Since deregulating its wine market in 2008, Hong Kong has made itself a pillar of envy for wine traders across Asia Pacific.  Where many countries levy taxes of several hundred percent on both imported and domestic wine, Hong Kong currently has zero tax and no licensing requirements for would-be importers. Four years later, the market has boomed, consumption has soared, and we are almost certainly about to enter a phase of consolidation.  

Who’s going to get shut out?  Of the new entrants, some were idealists who switched to wine from other industries - especially finance, which was collapsing just as wine was booming - perhaps returning home from holiday with suitcases-full of wines they imagined might become popular if only they were available.  Others were existing companies who now stock wine along with dried squid. When we compiled Debra Meiburg's Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade 2012, we had just over 250 listings of wine import businesses.  We don’t expect to have the same lineup in the 2014 edition. 

Mid-market picking up steam

Meanwhile, Hong Kong will hopefully start to see much more diversity on its shelves.  We always had a split market, with expensive French bottles at the top and inexpensive Chilean ones at the bottom, but lately the mid-market has picked up serious steam.  This is a field in which many other countries, including Argentina, Italy and Spain can shine, although the luxury bracket will most likely stay French-dominated.

China- the big gorilla

The big gorilla, however, is mainland China, which is still in a much earlier phase of development.  This could easily be seen as an advantage.  Hong Kong’s top collectors are extremely sophisticated, but also quite set in their ways, rarely straying from Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Mainland China does not have this strong history, nor necessarily this predilection for French wines above anything else. The US, which has a very difficult time getting traction in Hong Kong past a certain price point, has had more success in China, where the Napa Valley, for example, is already prized.  

The recent excitement surrounding domestic wine production in China, with foreign and local investment pouring in, can only support the spread of wine culture, the fervent hope of winemakers worldwide.  If we take the example of Australia, where the growth of a domestic wine industry truly transformed the country into a nation of wine drinkers, and then look at China, with nearly 60 times as many people, it's hard not to get jittery.  

It's very difficult to say what the palate of mainland Chinese wine drinkers is as a whole because we're talking about an enormous population with a vast range of cuisines and cultural preferences.  For example, you would never find a chili spice within miles of a Cantonese kitchen, a cuisine consumed by about 300 millions people in southern China, but 850 km north of us, in Hunan, tastes are entirely different, with intense, hot and spicy flavors.

Food and wine match

At this stage many Chinese consumers' tastes have less to do with flavor preferences and more to do with what is deemed socially acceptable – or aspirational – to consume.  Hence the overwhelming preference for dark, tannic red wines in China even though many food styles are often either too delicate or too spicy to be a good match for these wines, at least according to conventional pairing principles.  This is why in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition, where wines are judged by Asian-born and –based judges only, a segment of the competition is specifically focused on finding the best wine match for regional specialties. 

Not a week goes by without our part of the world grabbing headline attention for its record-breaking wine auction prices.  We’re the home of fine wine, deep pockets and big cellars.  Our markets – which have always been robust – are now on hyper-speed and all of us in the industry can’t wait to see how the future will unfold.

Debra Meiburg MW

A resident of Hong Kong for nearly 25 years, Debra Meiburg MW is a celebrated wine journalist, TV personality, wine educator and in-demand speaker who holds the top honour in the wine world – Master of Wine. 

Along with producing the Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade, Debra is presenter in the wine television series Taste the Wine, delivers one-minute video wine tips called Grape Moments via China’s metro-city taxis and has developed a chic suite of “edutainment tools" for wine students and aficionados.  In 2011, she was one of “seven people to watch” in Decanter’s Power List and recently was recipient of the highly-regarded 2012 Vinitaly International Award.


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