Ten years ago, Martin Lee, an engineer in Guangzhou, would never have imagined spending 680 yuan (HK$828) on a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. Today, he drinks at a members-only wine club in the blossoming Zhujiang New Town. The price tag? A lifetime fee of 300,000 yuan. Lee is not alone: he is part of a growing middle class on the mainland that is roughly the population of the entire US.
Guangzhou is reaping the benefits of the wine boom. In the past two years, wine cellars, tasting events and bars have sprouted up by the score. Guangzhou has two specialised centres to cater to drinkers and dealers.
Pacific Wharf in Haizhu district, is home to flagship and concept stores for both retail and wholesale activities, promotions, seminars and red wine auctions. Housed in a massive warehouse, Pacific Wharf is decked out to ensure that the city's connoisseurs can swirl, sip and savour the finest imports.
Complementing it is Guangzhou's International Wine Trading Centre, located just 45 minutes outside the city centre. The mainland's largest specialised market for imported wine, it has attracted new brands and dealers eager to penetrate the market and cater to the burgeoning population of wine drinkers.
Asked if he would continue to enjoy wine, Lee, 38, speaks of a future when the drink will be as much a part of Chinese daily life as tea is today.
Here are five of the city's hottest wine bars.
ArtoVino Guangzhou Cellar
Located in the heart of flashy Zhujiang New Town, ArtoVino is owned by Kejie Xu Gaudet, a licensed civil engineer with a passion for wine and art. The design brainchild of three architectural firms from Italy, France and China, it marries wine with a sophisticated setting, making for a stylish spot to wet the whistle. Its monthly 100-yuan tastings are the talk of the city's cognoscenti. Stocking mainly French vintages from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley, bottles range from 100 yuan to 1,300 yuan. Worth a visit.
Unit 105, 70 Jin Sui Road, Zhujiang New City, Tianhe. Tel: +86 (020) 3802 9543.
Open daily from 10am to 10pm.
No corkage. Minimum 500 yuan in the VIP room
Everwines is, in a word, sleek. The look is simple yet refined - dove-white walls, blond wood racks that hold more than 200 varieties from 14 countries, low-lying loungers, high ceilings, pale green floors, a training table and ample outdoor seating. The snack menu complements a wine catalogue that changes each month. A division of veteran wine importer Torres China, Everwines had its grand opening on May 11 and is the first of the chain to open in southern China. Bottles range from 70 yuan to 8,000 yuan, with 13 varieties available by the glass.
Shop 108, Canton Place, 1-48 Qing Feng Lu, Zhujiang New Town. Tel: +86 (020) 3821 2195
Open daily from noon to 1am.
Corkage is 50 yuan
Cafe e Bucatini
Albeit a tad difficult to find, this little gem features a wide variety of wines from around the world, each explained in detail and paired with simple food selections. Wicker chairs, plush colourful sofas and indoor plants create a warm and homey ambience. Weather permitting, Bucatini triples in size, as guests spill out onto the wood-decked patio to wine and dine under the stars. Bucatini hits the mark - if you can find it.
No 1 Shuqian Lu, Dongshan Kou, Yuexiu District. Tel: +86 (020) 8760 3637.
Open daily from 4pm to 2am.
Corkage: 50 yuan/bottle
Yabby Lake Vineyard
With 10 outlets already opened in China and two more under construction, Yabby Lake is proving that the French are not the only nation making serious inroads in the market. The 35 varieties on offer are reasonably priced, starting at 138 yuan for a Captain Cook Sauvignon Blanc or Shiraz, to 6,300 yuan for a 2004 Roc Shiraz.
The heavily wooded decor tips its Akubra to the Australian Outback, and there's a VIP room for eight and ample outdoor seating. Yabby Lake is definite a crowd-pleaser despite its slightly soulless location in a shopping mall.
Shop 108B, Times Square, 28 Tianhe Bei Lu. Tel: +86 (020) 3881 1840
Open daily from 9.30am to 11pm.
No corkage. yabbylake.com
Oh! Marco Wine Bar and Cellar
Managed by Frenchman Damien Cressot - who is quick to point out that Chinese associate fine wine with France and they prefer to order by the bottle - Oh! Marco is a popular after-work spot. Varieties are mostly from Burgundy and Bordeaux, and bottles range in price from 88 yuan to more than 30,000 yuan for Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. It has a striking floor-to-ceiling wine rack that overlooks a comfortable island bar.
No 9, 4-5 Yi Yuan Rd, Haizhu
Tel. +86 (020) 3448 2809
Open daily from 10.30am to 10.30pm.
No corkage. ohmarco.com