Thursday, September 24, 2009

The New Wine Connoisseur

The term “emerging markets” has a specifically nouveau riche intonation when people are talking about wine consumption in China and India. The story of the Beijing business man who opens up a first growth Bordeaux worth upwards of US$700.00 and adds coke to it before drinking has become a new urban legend in the wine world. At a panel discussion last night at Christie’s Rockefeller Center, Charles Curtis MW, wine consultant Judy Beardsall and Bloomberg News’ Wine and Spirits Columnist Elin McCoy could not help but bring this topic up when discussing Fine & Rare Wines in a Changing Market.

Charles, who is Vice President and Head of North American Wine Sales for Christie’s, referred to an auction in Hong Kong earlier this year where top wines were selling for well above their high estimates, in some cases 3 or 4 times as much at gavel - especially those of Chateau Lafite, one of the five first growth Bordeaux wines (newly released bottles of this wine fetch upwards of $800.00 a pop, even more in fantastic vintage years). Indeed, as consumers in Asia are finding that they now have more disposable income than ever before, they are exploring these luxury goods, and wine is finally finding new fans where it never did before.

There is even wine production taking place - in India, Sula leads the charge, with a decent, value-priced Syrah and a few other wines. When you think India, don’t make the mistake of thinking hot. Such a large country has parts that do indeed experience winter, and cooler mountain areas where vitis vinifera grape vines can flourish. The same is happening in China.

Also in China, sadly typically, is counterfeiting of higher end wines. Elin repeated a statement she said she’d heard a Canadian Liquor Control Board official make - “50% of the Canadian ice wine in China is not ice wine, and its not Canadian”. So it’s not just dvd’s and Louis Vuiton handbags in the fake market anymore! Caveat emptor! Verify the authenticity of a coveted wine you are thinking of buying and purchase from reputable sources - these are key elements of what we call provenance.

On the bright side, these new wine buyers seem to be ignoring the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate scores that have long been polarizing driving forces behind the perception of quality in individual wines, and therefore, there pricing and their sale-ability. Instead, they are listening to what their friends and colleagues are saying, in what Charles referred to as the “rise of the consumer review”. I would be interested to follow that supply chain and see where the friends and colleagues are getting their information from - I sincerely hope it is from drinking the wines themselves, and not from one of the aforementioned magazines.

That’s the thing about wine, though. The fun is in discovering. It makes me very happy to know that there is a whole new, very large group of consumers who are discovering and developing a palate for wine. Its a wine world after all!!

Photo Credit: Jupiter Images

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