China: the world’s most dynamic wine market

According to the Organisation of Vine and Wine China is the main growth area of vineyards worldwide. (Photo: Xuanyan winery)

“All our children will drink top quality Chinese wines. China is the most dynamic wine market and its wines are gradually gaining in prestige.”

Said Baudouin Havaux, Chairman of the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (CMB), on announcing that China would host the next CMB.

“A country once famous for tea-drinking, China may soon become one of the world’s largest global wine consumers. And what consumers in the world’s second-largest economy want, is premium quality wine“, he added.

I was invited to judge at the CMB in May this year but had to decline as I had other commitments. That’s a pity. I’d very much like to have tasted more Chinese wines which, so far, have failed to impress.

The CMB released a useful summary of the Chinese wine market. The full report can be read at their website. Here is a summary of the summary.

Where does China rank in terms of wine production?

According to the Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) China is the main growth area of vineyards worldwide. There are currently 847,000 ha of vineyards in China (NZ had 37,129 ha in 2017) making it the world’s second-largest after Spain. Much of the vineyard area is devoted to table grapes. In terms of wine production, China is fifth or sixth, on par with Australia and South Africa.

Main Wine Regions

Some experts claim there are 11 wine regions in China whilst others point to just 6. Noteworthy areas are Shandong Province, Hebei Province, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi Province, Shaanxi Province, Ningxia, and Jilin Province. Ningxia has the largest wine production.

Grape Varieties

Chinese winemakers in the 19th century primarily used cabernet sauvignon grapes. This variety is still key today and is widely used. Chardonnay and shiraz are also popular.

Chinese native grape varieties are also likely to play a role in the future of the Chinese wine industry, mainly because they offer greater resistance to disease and are, logically, better suited to the local climate and soils. These include several hybrid grapes that are crosses between Chinese and European or American grapes first brought to China by Western missionaries. Approximately 39 wild grape strains also grow in China, some of which have been bred in other countries. Names such as longyan or dragon’s eye, shuanghong, beihong, beimei, beibinghong and gongzhubai, may not yet be familiar to wine drinkers around the world, but they may rise to prominence in the future (or not).

How does the quality compare?

For two consecutive years, in 2016 and 2017, China entered the highest number of samples in the EUR €35 – €50 price range in the Concours Mondial, outnumbering entries by Spain (22), France (14) and Italy (12). In 2017, Chinese entries topped the list in the EUR €50 to €70 price category, together with Spain, and were the undisputed leaders with 11 entries in the EUR €70 plus category. Nearly one-quarter of all samples in the higher price categories entered in the Concours Mondial in 2017 were from China. And nearly one-third of them were awarded a medal by the judging panel.

China ranked 6th for the number of medals, following traditional wine producing countries like Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Chile, and ahead of South Africa and Greece. The number of Grand Gold Medals awarded to Chinese wines increased 3 times from 2016 to 2017.

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