Though white wine has yet to catch on in a big way in red-obsessed China, recent auction trends and steadily rising sales are giving wine producers and exporters hope that a new generation of younger and often female Chinese oenophiles could be a game-changer. Though sales of high-end reds like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Château Lafite and Château Latour get the headlines, recent auctions in Hong Kong have indicated that the tastes of Chinese collectors and wine lovers may be diversifying faster than many would imagine.
As Charles Curtis MW, Head of Wine for Christie’s Asia, said after one auction this past summer, “Confirming recent trends, there was competitive bidding for Burgundy, for white wine and for Bordeaux’s ‘Super Second’ growths, and ever stronger results for Italian and Napa Valley wine. Buyers eagerly snapped up both older vintages and large format bottles, again showing that collections here are broadening.”
With the preferences of China’s wealthy wine enthusiast shifting (in very general terms) from Bordeaux to Burgundy over the past two years, producers of white Burgundy also smell opportunity. Though Chinese buyers have yet to follow their Western or Japanese counterparts in developing a deeper interest in high-priced Sauternes like Château d’Yquem, producers think we’ll soon see steadily rising interest and demand for white Burgundy as drinkers become more interested in food pairings.
Their optimism aside, makers of white wine likely need to take a very long view of the market. At the moment — and likely for quite some time to come — the broader China market is more apt to choose big, bold reds in the Bordeaux or Burgundy vein over light, fruity whites. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a great deal of opportunity to be had, albeit niche. According to the two-year “China Portraits” survey by market analyst Wine Intelligence, China’s “adventurous connoisseur” segment of wine drinkers — which drinks for personal enjoyment rather than status-seeking or gift-giving purposes — is far more open to white wine, as well as Australian and American wines. What’s more, they’re willing to spend. Though this group accounts for only nine percent of drinkers surveyed by Wine Intelligence, they make up 21 percent of total wine spending.