Drinking habits are changing in China. Once the preserve of men, particularly in the cooler north of the country, alcohol consumption for women is now relatively accepted as they enter the workforce and gain a degree of independence. While it is now mainstream culture, no longer reserved for family functions and formal dinners, it is also relatively uncommon to drink during the day although post work drinks are gaining popularity amongst Chinese urban professionals.
Drinking wine has become a sign of being cultured and of wealth. Wine-tasting clubs have become popular in first and second tier cities and specialist wine shops have mushroomed although the Wine Intelligence 2013 report indicated that only 32% of consumers drink wine it because they enjoy the taste.
Red and white wine is often served chilled in small quantities. Anyone who has been invited to a Chinese banquet will know that it’s not unusual for someone to propose a toast in the traditional form of gan bei where a whole glass could be finished at once. There remains a gap in wine knowledge and drinking ‘shots’ of wine or mixing a fine Bordeaux with coke (or a white wine with 7up) is not unheard of.
Wine can be a confusing experience even to the most educated Chinese – obscure tasting notes referring to exotic vines and unfamiliar tastes (you’re unlikely to find blackberries in local shops). To help the Chinese consumer “Wine Connoisseur” have established the first online wine education program.
The young, social networking ‘internet generation’ are increasingly emulating Western drinking habits and engaging with wine much more enthusiastically than in many more mature markets. It used to be said that the Chinese bought the label, and while premium brands still command a hefty price tag, there is a growing sophistication amongst consumers who appreciate details such as the various types of grapes associated with different wine varieties.
According to Wine Intelligence nearly three-quarters of Chinese wine drinkers enjoy sampling new wines, have a strong interest in the subject and say that wine is an important part of their lifestyle. 54% of consumers in their survey would consider themselves wine ‘experts’.
The internet has a big role to play in the Chinese wine market. More than a quarter of consumers buy wine online and two of the top five retailers, Yesmywine and Tmall, are entirely online. Compare this to the South African market where online wine sales account for a fraction of overall sales.
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