Whines/Gripes: Wine’s Holy Grail?

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There is a deep and unflinching perception that sloshing around here in China, is the Holy Grail of Wine markets. Cash everywhere, a burgeoning middle class and local product that stinks.

Consequently, there is whole host of locals and foreigners jumping into the wine market, setting themselves up as importers (or hawkers) with little or no knowledge, aiming to make easy money. It’s possible…                australian wine sample

 Add to that the plethora of agents and producers from outside China desperately trying to get their wines into China, fearing that they too are missing the gravy train.

I am bombarded by dozens of emails from agents each month from Washington state to Slovenia and all points between.

It’s certainly a hard slog from outside looking in, given the bureaucracy and fly by night, unsavoury attitudes of some here.

The French Wine Producers have an advantage. French supermarkets got here and sewed up that (then, emerging) market long ago selling predominantly French wines at high prices, in generally poor storage conditions…and the rest are still vying for the scraps. Rumours abound…

“Factory ships moored in Hong Kong are reportedly being used to fake bottles from prestige vintages such as the Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

It has also been reported that ‘used’ bottles of Lafite are being sold to recyclers for around US$450 per bottle and are then re-filled and re-sold to restaurants.”

never a fun thing to have to do

The stories just keep coming too. I expect an increase in the numbers of bulk ships bringing poor quality wines that can’t be sold elsewhere, to be ‘dumped’ here or even worse blended into poor quality bulk Chinese wine and sold on as Chilean or French or anything at all. These developments don’t foster an honourable industry.

I am sure the stories about non payment, poor quality & handling, fake wines, China being the place to offload crap or old wines, etc, will continue and get worse before it improves. More on fake wines here.

I come across common examples of poor handling, terrible knowledge and non existence of service among most operators and their staff. It’s the Wild East!

learning fast

The Shanghai market focus is split mainly on the polar opposites of the quality spectrum: the very bottom or the very top. Aside: I am in a minority here.

I rarely meet folks wanting only to sell estate bottled wines at fair prices, ethically. It’s just not a part of the business mantra. The themes are more to do with impressing the impressionable with prestige: scarcity and kudos in a bottle. Or the masses of bars seeking anything that will prop up Happy Hour, regardless of the human cost.

My preferred market location is above the dross fighting it out in the sub ¥75 territory and up to ¥1000, well below the status shoppers and the fakes. This is where there is less attention being paid and consequently, fewer dodgy operators muddying the waters. It is also the area where bargains can be found on a par with European prices. That is not to say we can’t locate nice wines around ¥60. We can, but it’s hard to appear genuine amid the general furore, background noise and falsehoods that are prevalent at that price level.

In fact, we have searched hard and long for decent ~¥60 to 70 wine, and now have 5: Click on the link to find their details.

Bodegas Alina Emblema Cabernet Sauvignon

Their Sauvignon Blanc is unmissable too, a class act.

Castillo De Manza La Mancha Tempranillo

Heritage De Baroncourt Vin De Pays D’Oc Rouge

Armand Dartois Cotes du Ventoux

and all these at ¥75 from Argentina:

  • Callia Signos Shiraz
  • Callia Signos Chardonnay
  • Callia Osaado Chardonnay
  • Callia Osaado Shiraz
  • Callia Signos Cabernet Sauvignon

Also, there’s the entry level Chateau Lamargue Grand Bois (available on our longlist for RMB75 for a short while longer as it recently BIN Ended (January 2012).

Good luck to anyone wanting to break into this market (and there are hundreds nay thousands of you that do). here is my advice: Travel here. Live here. See if you can make a go of it. Then, adapt, adapt, adapt and keep smiling through all the ‘China Moments‘. There will be a few.

The Wine Man

January 2012

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