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Glitz and Glamour

Champagne consumption in China is loud and proud, but will it evolve to attract the fine wine connoisseur? Gabriel Suk reports

LIGHTS FLASHING and music blaring, young Chinese revellers throng on a dance floor as waitresses slide through the crowd, holding Champagne bottles in the air with sparklers taped to their necks, showering a path across the club. This is the heart and soul of the Champagne market in China.

Judging by the sheer volume of Champagne sold through nightclubs and the omnipresent karaoke bars, one could easily deduce that the market for bubbles in China is ripe to take off. Go to any late-night entertainment venue in a city like Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou and the parade of Champagne bottles strapped with sparklers is nearly unending. Names populating these establishments’ wine lists offer a veritable Who’s Who of the main players from Reims and Epernay: Moët, Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier- Jouët and Louis Roederer.

While green tea and whisky might still be the go-to drink for the average clubber, anyone looking to make a serious splash is going to order a bottle or two of Champagne as well. And in that respect Champagne has found a solid hook into the Chinese wine market. With entry-level prices of around $150 for a bottle of non-vintage Champagne at a nightclub or karaoke bar, Chinese consumers show no price aversion when it comes to enjoying a bottle of bubbly while out with clients or friends.

And yet, despite this glaring bastion of success, China has long been known as a land that is largely inhospitable for white wines of any kind. Thus the question begs to be asked: what does the prominent role that Champagne is playing in China’s immense late-night entertainment market say about the evolution and growth potential of Champagne in China?


While perhaps not the most traditional marker for success, the fact alone that Champagne has a regular and steady group of consumers and a traditional venue for consumption is somewhat unprecedented.

The “First Growth phenomenon” has been well documented and is far and away the most widely recognised example of the power of China’s new generation of thirsty oenophiles. But you’d be hard pressed to come up with a solid example for a regular venue where First Growths are either purchased or consumed. Sure, there are outstanding wine lists to be found in China these days, but talk to a sommelier who puts together that wine list and the amount of First Growths sold in a month won’t always crack a full case.

Likewise, distributors carrying “the big five” and similarly positioned wines have an impressive catalogue with gaudy price-tags attached, but their bread and butter will always be massmarket wines such as Wolf Blass, Kendall-Jackson and Mouton Cadet.

For all the hype the Chinese wine market carries, the actual markers of success are often rather opaque – but not with Champagne. And as absolutely non-traditional as it might be to find these carefully crafted, meticulously riddled bottles of wine consumed most often in venues where decibel levels are maintained high enough to damage the ears, the sales speak for themselves and the advantage being gained in both market foothold and brand awareness is one that will continue to reward for years to come.

And yet just as phenomenal and unprecedented as this success is, it is really only a start, and whether or not China ever grows to be a market for Champagne along the likes of the US, Japan or the UK is very far from being decided.

In many respects the Chinese wine market as it exists today is not even a decade old. So any forecasting for the future must be made with the open acknowledgement that nearly everything pertaining to wine market trends in China is truly uncharted territory.

Some insight can be gleaned by looking at Champagne’s place in the Hong Kong market, where it at the same time thrives as a late-night drink of well-heeled party-goers, but also enjoys its rightful place as an absolutely imperative part of any fine meal.

China is decidedly not there yet. Local traders of fine wine on the secondary market still deal almost exclusively in Bordeaux and the occasional bottle of Burgundy. And thus, while Champagne does own a unique and certainly important part of the fine wine market in China, it is but one slice of a giant and ever-expanding pie.

The market for Champagne has only begun to develop. It has had a fast and unique start, but until Champagne earns a prominent place at the banqueting table or becomes a sought-after bottle to be gifted to business associates, it won’t be able to completely break free from its late-night association and become a beverage for the masses. db

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