Dan's Blog

More News From China

Friday, August 23, 2019

Amorin, the massive Portuguese cork producer and masters of “spin” – which spent a fortune over a decade or so trying to tell us there was no “cork taint” problem, then more recently that they have solved the problem, (Why didn’t they do that a decade earlier?) – has recently announced that their fastest growing market for corks is Australia.

When I read that comment in their report I said to myself, “What the flock!” But on careful examination it is another example of their clever spin. Yes, we are the fastest growing market for corks. However, in the report they reluctantly admitted that it was off a very (very) small base, i.e. we use bugger all corks in Australia! They also begrudgingly mentioned that the growth “seemed” to be China driven.

What a surprise, we have just overtaken the French as the No.1 imported wine country into China! BUT, to put it into context – in the first four months of this year China’s wine imports fell by 20.5% or around 35,000,000 litres of wine, which is the equivalent to the total annual wine production of Israel. SO, is this a case of us getting a better deck chair on the Titanic? OR, are we really outperforming our rivals? As mentioned the volume of Australian wine imported fell during this period, but the value stayed about the same, i.e. we are selling more expensive wine to China.

So Australia is No.1, France is No.2 and our nemesis in Asia – Chile, is No.3. Currently Chile outperforms us in most Asian markets, especially Japan where they are No.1 and we are No.5 (only just a few years ago Chile used to be No.5 and we were No.6).

The two biggest import country losers in China are: the USA, who thanks to being “Trumped” have lost almost 60% of their wine sales to China, and South Africa with sales to China having fallen by around one-third in the last 12-18 months.

One of the interesting features of the Chinese wine market is the dominant and rapidly increasing online alcohol sales. Currently the online alcohol sales are estimated to be USD6.1 billion a year, and that around 45-50% of alcohol buyers buy at least some of their alcohol online. Almost 70% of the USD6.1 billion was calculated to be wine sales – that is, about USD4.2 BILLION worth of wine is bought on the internet in China each year!!! This is more than the total Australian annual online alcohol sales.

“Why is this so?” I hear you ask. Well, the main driving force for this amazing statistic is the growing number of young executives (well educated – often abroad), predominantly female, who do almost all their shopping online. Like shopping for wine, especially imported wines which are perceived by them to be better than Chinese wines, more sophisticated and healthier than the traditional Baiju rice spirits that the older generation drink. To put these young Chinese professionals into context, last year China produced 8.3 million university graduates (the people most likely to consume wine) – that is almost the same as the total population of Sydney and Melbourne combined and that was only the output IN ONE YEAR!!

One message to take from these amazing statistics is that if you export wine to China, YOU MUST have at least one information packed page on your website in Mandarin. If you focus it on being female friendly – bonus!!

However, do not lightly dismiss Chinese wine in the global context as each year it is getting better and better. To the extent that next month Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Chateau Lafite Rothschild) will be launching its first Chinese wine. In 2007, it invested in developing vineyards in Shandong Province, near the seaside city of Penglai. This estate is called, Domaine de Penglai, and while the name of the wine has not yet been revealed, they have advised that the total production is 2,500 cases and that the wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Marselan. Marselan is a variety which is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. This variety is proving to be very popular in China, which will soon have more plantings of the variety than what France does, where it is considered simply as a minor variety to be used in blends.


This week I am talking about an iconic Australian wine, the 2011 DE BORTOLI NOBLE ONE BOTRYTIS SEMILLON.

Until 1982 there was really no such thing as Botrytis wines here in Australia. Yes, a few people “fiddled” with them but the sweet wine repertoire was constrained to Spatlese, Auslese and the very occasional Trockenbeerenauslese wine – all made from late harvested white grapes, with each nomenclature having a higher degree of residual sugar than the one before.

Then in 1982 the lads at DE BORTOLI produced the first real commercial quantity of BOTRYTIS SEMILLON, which later became known as the NOBLE ONE. This was and is a world-class sweet wine, and the rest as they say, “is history”.

I first came across this, nectar of the Gods, in August 1988 when I was down from Sydney doing my “residential” at Roseworthy College. In the “sensory evaluation” class a number of us were tasked with pouring the wines to be assessed out of one gallon flagons. As it happened I was given a deep golden yellow wine, which could only have been a dessert wine. And as it turned out it was the 1982 De Bortoli Sauterne. At the end of the pouring, there was a small amount left in the flagon, which I proceeded to enjoy after the evaluation. I thought I had gone to heaven! It was so unbelievably good! It was the best wine I had tasted up to that point in my wine life and was absolute the highlight of my first visit to Roseworthy. Incidentally, it was there that I first tasted the Georgian white variety Rkatsiteli (a student made wine at $1 or $2 a bottle).

In the 30 years since then I have had the opportunity to enjoy a few different vintages (but nowhere near enough!!) of NOBLE ONE and other than one in the 1990s that was a quite a bit lighter (I can’t remember which one), they have all been sensational, bloody brilliant, breath-taking wines! I still have a bottle from each of my children’s vintage sitting in my cellar awaiting a special occasion to open them up and enjoy them. There is no hurry, as this amazing wine is capable of living for absolute eons. I just have to make sure that they get opened before I reach my “use-by-date”!

By the way, to date NOBLE ONE has won 133 trophies and 410 gold medals – not bad stats in a mere 39 vintages!!!

I can’t urge you strongly enough to find an opportunity to try this, nectar of the Gods, as it is truly a world-class sweet wine – different in style, but right up there with the best out of Europe. Simply put, it is wine to die for! Cheers!