Thailand: Asia’s ‘forgotten’ wine market

Wine critic James Suckling has spoken of his belief in the potential of Thailand, a market he says currently has a bigger fine wine drinking population than China.

suckling seminar panel 2

James Suckling (far left) at the Great Wines of the World event at the Four Seasons

Speaking to the drinks business, Suckling said that his business was focused on Hong Kong, Mainland China and Thailand for the moment bu that the latter market was particularly intriguing.

His son, Jack, is currently in the country and is organising a tasting for 50 Italian producers at the Grand Hyatt in Bangkok this December.

“I’m excited about it despite its punitive tax rates,” Suckling said, adding that – by his reckoning – the number of fine wine drinkers in Thailand, which is to say people drinking wine at US$20 a bottle and above, “is three times that of Mainland China”.

If true that would put the number of drinkers at around 900,000 people. He added that tourists no doubt account for a large part of that and the sheer scale of the country’s tourism industry alone makes it a market worth investigating, with thousands of (thirsty) European, American and Russian visitors passing through every year.

But not all those drinkers will or indeed can be tourists and the better part, he thinks, are affluent Thais themselves and yet as a market “a lot of people completely forget about it,” he concluded.

South Korea is another country he said he was keen to crack, seeing it as “sophisticated” and with a love of food and drink.

However, he admitted it would be tricky as Koreans tend to be “a bit timid about wine. They like to be educated about a subject. On my visits I try and tell them they should enjoy it as they do other drinks like soju and beer.”

On the subject of China, Suckling remained up-beat. Despite the well-documented slowdown in China because of the anti-corruption and graft drive he said that consumer sales are in fact on the up.

“There’s still a solid and positive core of wine drinkers [in China]. I’m excited for the next five to six years there, things happen so quickly.”

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