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Why China can't get enough of Australian wine

www.telegraph.co.uk by Victoria Moore26/01/2018  

In Margaret River, tasting wine just before Christmas, I had the good fortune to meet the great Australian wine critic James Halliday.

There was one topic he was particularly keen to talk about. This was not the nuances of the changing fashions in Australian chardonnay, and, no, not even the byways and backwaters of Australia’s cooler-climate areas whose wines are on the lips of every Melbourne sommelier.

No, what Halliday wanted to tell me about was China, and how much Australian wine the Chinese are currently buying.

Figures released yesterday by Wine Australia proved his point. Australian wine exports to mainland China rocketed by 63% by value to A$848m (£482m) last year and by 54% in volume to 153 million litres.

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“Chinese consumers are attracted to foreign brands as they aspire to Western life and strongly associate quality with imported products,” said Willa Yang, Wine Australia’s Head of Market in China.

“This is especially true for Australian products that Chinese consumers perceive are high quality, healthy and authentic," Yang adds. " The growth in this trend can also be seen across other categories such as Australian beef, seafood and horticulture."

For some years now the Asian wine market has been the golden goose hunted by ambitious winemakers across the globe. But for now it is the Australians who are ahead in the race to quench the thirst of China’s 1.38 billion inhabitants and its growing middle-class.

In October 2017, the value of Australian wine imports to China overtook those from France for the first time, though Australia is still second to France in terms of market share. And what are the Chinese drinking?

It comes as no surprise to hear that red wine dominates Australian exports to China, accounting for 95% by value. Amongst white wines, chardonnay is the favourite but the Chinese are also buying 77% more Australian riesling and 29% more semillon.

It’s important to note that these figures do not take into account wine that reaches China through Hong Kong, an international trading hub for fine wine, including classed growth Bordeaux and fine Burgundy.

As you might expect, Australia’s market share here is not as strong. Shares in Treasury Wine Estates – whose brands include Penfolds and Wolf Blass – hit an all-time high yesterday after the figures were released.

Meanwhile, back in England, where sales of Australian dipped by 2% last year, can I suggest we spend a bit more time appreciating the phenomenal value and quality that Australian wine currently gives at the £15-35 level, before the Chinese price us out of the market?