Why do the Chinese like wine?

Cellar.asia recently published Why the Chinese like wine.

Following along with the rising standards of living and lifestyle changes, China’s demand for grape wine has been steadily increasing to the point that it is now the world’s fifth-largest consumer. And China’s regular wine drinkers are no longer limited to the middle and upper classes, either.

Recently an increasing number of younger Chinese have started to drink wine, as well as more of the middle-aged and elderly population who have adopted the habit for its health benefits. Even at formal occasions that require alcoholic beverages, such as banquets and business events, the Chinese are now more inclined to choose grape wine than ever before.

According to a 2019 study by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, which surveyed 2,400 wine consumers aged 20-60 across 10 major cities in mainland China, most people bought wine for use in non-social situations, for health considerations, and for its beautifying properties.

Red wine possesses the color and luster of rubies, which makes it especially suitable for major ceremonies and entertaining guests in China due to the deep cultural significance of the color; red has been considered a representation of good fortune, power, and wealth throughout China’s history. The demand for rosé wines in China is also influenced by their pink color, seeing as it has become favored by many women. 

Over the past few years, the structure behind Chinese wine consumption has experienced great change. Previously in China, and especially in the relatively cold northern regions, regular wine consumption was limited to males. But today, women may also be found drinking a glass or two at celebrations and parties. With the westernization of many aspects of the metropolitan Chinese lifestyle, the traditional baijiu (white spirits) is no longer embraced to the extent it once was.

The significance of the color red

The Chinese people’s love of wine does not come solely from its flavor, nor is it due only to its health benefits (grape wine is considered to have greater health benefits than cereal wines); more important are reasons of society and culture, as the Chinese see their ideals of wealth and good fortune reflected in the rich and vibrant red coloring of grape wine.

A brief history of the rise of wine in China

In the 1990’s, as China pursued a positive GDP growth rate and increases in household wealth, wine consumption habits developed rapidly. In 1996, Premier Li Peng toasted Congress with a glass of red wine, speaking to its health benefits as compared to the spicier and hotter baijiu. After this, wine began to flourish in China, with increased consumption especially noticeable in groups of greater wealth and higher education. To meet these larger market demands, stores carrying varieties of wine began appearing in every major city.

Since entering the 21st century, wine consumption from the traditional major global markets has maintained its former levels, while consumption in the Chinese market alone has skyrocketed. This has left wine producers across the world scrambling to keep up; one French newspaper even described China’s increased demand in recent years as “stupefying.” 

The current state of the wine market in China

Although only 3% of its population currently drinks wine, China has already become the world’s fifth-largest market. Worldwide production in 2018 was 29.2 billion liters, with sales of 24.3 billion liters. Among the countries with the highest sales, China took the fifth spot with 1.79 billion liters to become one of the fastest-growing markets. 

“If China reaches an average of just 3 liters per capita, it will have become the world’s largest market.”

According to statistics from the International Organization of Vine and Wine, China’s average yearly wine consumption in 2016 was 1.24 liters per capita, which was less than half of the worldwide average of 3.35 liters. If China reaches an average of just 3 liters per capita, it will have become the world’s largest market.