Wine opinion: entry-level offerings win favour at Shanghai tasting
We taste 50,000 wines a year, selecting 7,500 for our shows - events we've been hosting since our first "Le Grand Tasting" in Paris in 2006. We also take selected winemakers to London, Hong Kong and Shanghai, giving us a great opportunity to learn about different markets.
It's six years since our first event in Hong Kong, and we have been frequent repeat visitors. Saying the market is rapidly evolving in this part of the world is an understatement.
What we found at our most recent event - on the Bund in Shanghai last month - was that while anti-corruption laws have had a negative impact on the previously brisk sales of big-name wines, there is now a greater interest in entry level and good value wines.
These might be from large Chinese vineyards - and we tried and found some of these wine remarkable - or imports with a good pedigree.
Imports have been helped by the resolution of a trade dispute between the mainland and the European Union, each threatening the other with anti-dumping measures.
The bones of contention were photovoltaic solar panels exported from China and wines imported from Europe.
The French exhibitors found themselves sharing opinions, and were also on the end of pointed questions from an audience of Chinese wine lovers.
Michel Marengo of Château Hourtin Ducasse said: "This event enables us to position ourselves.
"The trade visitors knew our wines were authentic and worth their interest… all the importers, distributors and hospitality people were knowledgeable, looking for the terroir specificities in our wine and also the characteristics of the wine itself," Marengo added.
Jean Francois Préau of Champagne Mailly said champagne is still a young category on the mainland. "Champagne has to go out to an audience of wine lovers. To develop sales in China, we met tomorrow's ambassadors and thought leaders," he said.
Angélique de Lencquesaing of Idealwine, a company that recently opened a branch office in Hong Kong, found that while mainland drinkers were sticking to well-known regions, they were also prepared to move out of their traditional comfort zones.
Friday was mainly reserved for trade visitors, while the public came during the late afternoon and on Saturday. Professionals and wine lovers mixed without disturbing each other - it was sometimes difficult to differentiate them. Everyone had a sincere and sensitive interest in our tasting.
A classic bordeaux was an absolute must, so we picked a fully mature 1990 Medoc from Chateau Greysac. Then our visitors had the chance to taste a Chateau Figeac 2007.
A beaune from Hospices-de-Beaune followed, a first growth cuvee Rousseau Deslandes 2001 served in magnum; no one could fail to be moved by the elegance of the pinot noir. Then we headed to the Rhône Valley with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 from domaine Saint-Préfert. This was a pleasure to drink with its exuberant fruit flavours and velvety texture and without any sign of heaviness.
This was also a wine that really appealed to the visitors in a country where the Rhône Valley is less attractive to some consumers. Last but not least, we offered a 1949 Rivesaltes, a wine that came as a big shock to drinkers who didn't know that much about these wines.
Attendees also had the chance to experience what being a wine judge entails, with the IJudge competition.
A jury of consumers tasted 40 wines in an hour, just as the experts do, and the jury was coached by Michel Bettane.
The experience was intended to demystify the practice of wine tasting without dumbing it down.