Spanish reds have a “wonderful opportunity” in China, although wine knowledge levels are still very low in the country, according to Alun Griffiths MW, new international director for Beijing’s VATS Liquor.
Former Berry Bros buying director Alun Griffiths MW was appointed international director at VATS at the start of the year
In an interview with the drinks business last month, the former Berry Bros & Rudd buying director shared his views on which wine styles best suit the Chinese palate, and picked out Spain, as well as reds from the Languedoc, as having the particular potential.
“They like soft red wines, they don’t like high acid wines, with a bit of richness on the palate,” he began, when asked about the Chinese consumers he has encountered.
Continuing, he said, “Someone mentioned to me recently that the ideal red wine to attack the Chinese market with would be a sweet red wine with a bit of residual sugar – so the warmth of Spain or the Languedoc.
“I think Spain has a wonderful opportunity here,” he then stated.
As for the dominance of France on China’s fine wine scene, Griffiths explained: “The Chinese consumer likes a story, and its not surprising that France has almost half the market… there is a history behind Burgundy and Bordeaux; there’s a story behind the châteaux.”
However, Griffiths noted that the level of knowledge, even in China’s capital city, is sorely lacking, and that it is only the moneyed (and political) classes, who are familiar with wine, and respect its cachet.
“Beijing is very much baijiu country,” he said.
“There’s very little knowledge [about wine], quite honestly. There’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and interest but not a real knowledge of – or appreciation of quality – about wine,” he adds.
Supporting his view, he recalled a tasting conducted by him in China where an oxidised white Burgundy was declared the best wine of the line-up because it had the softest taste.
“I did a tasting in the office and one of the samples, a white Burgundy, was slightly oxidized – it was over the top, it was going nowhere but it got the best marks out of any of the wines we were tasting, because it was round, because of its age, compared to some of the younger ones which were quite mineral, quite sharp for their taste. So there’s a long way to go.”
Nevertheless, he forecasted a healthy future for imported wines in China, above all driven by the nation’s younger generation.
“The young will acquire an understanding and appreciation of wine much more easily [than the older generation],” he said.
The VATS Group is a Chinese producer and distributor of Baiju, which is also fast-developing a position as a major wine merchant in China.
It appointed Griffiths to the position of international director to develop its wine offering at the beginning of the year.
A full interview with Alun Griffiths MW, including news on his plans for VATS in China, will appear in the upcoming August edition of the drinks business.