There are an estimated 48 million regular wine drinkers in China and these individuals appear to belong to the upper-middle class sector of the population. Credit: Handout.

There was a time, that buyers of international wines in China were mostly well-travelled consumers who had been exposed to great wines abroad.

That is no longer the case, says Fabrizio Bindocci, president of Brunello di Montalcino wines in Tuscany, one of Italy’s most prestigious wineries.

Today’s wine consumer in China is young, hip, curious and self-taught. Not only that, but they are going for quality over quantity, a trend occurring in Western markets. Low end wines are losing traction.

Brunello di Montalcino was among the first Italian wines to market itself in China — starting back in the early 2000s.

That sector continues to change, says Bindocci, but it would be unwise for winemakers to stop adapting to the fast-growing and dynamic Chinese market.

“We are constantly participating in trade fairs and conferring with our Chinese partners, but that’s not enough,” Bindocci told Xinhua.

“It’s not a mature wine market like the domestic market in Italy or in other parts of Europe or in the United States or Canada. That means the ground is always changing.”

According to Silvana Ballotta, chief executive of Business Strategies, a consultancy that focuses on wine and the Chinese market, Brunello and other top wines from Tuscany like Chianti Classico, the Super Tuscan wines, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano have a natural advantage over those from other parts of the country.

Wines from Italy’s Tuscany wine region are among the post popular in China, and the world. Credit: Tuscany Tourism

“For many Chinese consumers, their awareness of Italian wine starts out in Tuscany, which they already know of through the history, culture, tourism, and food,” Ballotta told Xinhua.

Quoting a study, Ballotta said Tuscany is the 12th best-known wine-growing area for wine buyers in China, behind various regions in France, Australia, Chile, and Spain. But Tuscany is the top Italian region on the list.

Bindocci said sales figures for Brunello reflect that trend. He said the Chinese market now consumes around 5% of Brunello’s exports, around three times more than five years ago, Xinhua reported.

“Things are moving fast in China,” Bindocci said.

“In five or ten years I can see China challenging to become one of the top markets for Brunello. We just have to make sure we adapt effectively as the market evolves.”

According to Daxue Consulting, the Chinese drink 1.46 billion liters of wine every year or a little more than one liter per capita, according to a study by Vinexpo, an organizer of international trade fairs.

China ranks 5th in the world, behind the Americans, French, Italians and Germans, but going by current forecasts and accounting for the global pandemic, it could become the world’s second largest consumer over the next few years, and the world’s most dynamic market with an estimated 18.5% increase in consumption.

Red wine is at the top of the best-selling list due to cultural traditions and the health benefits associated with it.

But according to experts, the Chinese thirst for white wines could increase in the coming years as the western lifestyle becomes more widespread.

Drinking alcohol in China has moved into the mainstream culture, beyond just an activity at family gatherings and dinners.