With consumption almost tripling over the last six years, China has leapfrogged France and Italy to become the world’s biggest red wine market, with surging demand for the variety in stark contrast to that for its inauspicious white counterpart.
France and Italy are among the many developed countries seeing declines in their wine consumption, with quantities dropping by 18% and 5.8% respectively between 2007 and 2013, according to new figures.
But, according to the study produced for Vinexpo, the wine conference that will hold its annual Hong Kong exhibition in May: “Chinese consumers have become increasingly attracted to red wine since 2005.”
Consumption of red has been shooting up in China, growing by 136% over the period to 1,865bn bottles last year—higher than France’s 1.8bn bottles and Italy’s 1.7bn.
However, overall consumption of wine in China actually fell last year by 2.2% after 10 years of annual growth of between 20% and 25%. A result of the government’s luxury crackdown, his dip been part of a wider trend that also includes spirit sales.
Also surprising is how China is now the world’s fifth largest wine producer, supplying more than 80% of the wine the country consumes is produced domestically.
Some analysts believe the success of red in the country is the result of culture, more than taste. In superstitious China, red is considered lucky and is the colour of prosperity, whereas white is the colour of mourning.
"White is the colour of death. So you don't want to drink that, and why would you?” explained Guillaume Deglise, Vinexpo's chief executive, although he added that he expected still and sparkling white wines to gain traction with Chinese consumers as the market matured.
Growth in Hong Kong and Japan
Meanwhile, neighbouring Hong Kong’s consumption has been unstable in recent years, but figures released by the city’s Trade Development Council, revealed that wine imports were strong between January 1 and November 30, 2013.
Imports from France were slightly higher by 1.7%, enabling French winegrowers to re-assert their position as leading supplier of wines to Hong Kong with a 57.6% market share.
The city re-exported wines worth US$6m to Japan, a 255.2% increase, which reflects how wine has never enjoyed such popularity there. One of the big draws to wine in Japan is the image that it is good for the health.
China is the biggest exporter of wine to the country, with Japanese consumption of French wine up almost 13% over the last five years. Italy and Chile follow, with growth of over 40% and 120% respectively, during that period.