Propelled by a love of "lucky" red wine, China's drinkers are now the second-biggest consumers of high-priced wine in the world, new figures show.
Tipplers on the mainland and in Hong Kong, who are lumped together in a report prepared for international wine show Vinexpo, trail only the US in their willingness to spend US$10 or more on a bottle of wine.
The new development comes on the back of a triple-digit percentage growth in the overall mainland wine market - now fifth in the world - and its rise to become the top consumer of red wine last year.
But the industry expects that growth to be trimmed severely in coming years as the market matures amid Beijing's crackdown on extravagant spending.
"We cannot expect the market to have more three-digit growth, but we can still expect the growth to continue," Vinexpo chief executive Guillaume Deglise said.
He also noted the impact of the government crackdown, saying it caused a pause in spending last year "People are afraid of the new laws and regulations," he said.
While China, including Hong Kong, is the fifth largest wine consuming country in the world, the pace of growth has been slowing lately. In 2008-2012 consumption grew by 134.3 per cent but is forecast to grow by 33.8 per cent from 2013-2017.
But China's spending on more expensive wines surged almost 430 per cent from 2008 to 2012 and is still expected to grow almost 60 per cent to 46 million cases by 2017 in a global trade tipped to be worth US$183 billion a year.
Britain's drinkers are third among the big wine spenders followed by France and Canada.
In a development that turned traditional views of the wine market on their heads, China topped France last year to become the world's largest consumer of red wine, knocking back 155 million nine-litre cases. Drinkers in France put away 150 million and Italians 141 million.
China is predicted to keep the number one spot at least until 2017, with consumption predicted at 207 million cases for that year. Some 90 per cent of wine drunk in China is red.
Deglise says red wine's reputation for being healthier than other wines and red's status as a colour representing good fortune "are really helping the red wine category". But he says that could change as China's collective palate matures: countries that have only recently discovered wine tend to focus on red and explore white and rosé later.
"China is like Japan 20 years ago. The Japanese started with red but the market is now very mature with a huge space for white, rosé and sparkling," Deglise says.
In Hong Kong the market for wine priced at US$5-US$10 is predicted to grow slightly faster than wine priced at US$10 or more and the market for wine under US$5 is predicted to shrink by 29 per cent.
The city's drinkers continue to drink wine from the two traditional sources of France and Australia but exports from Italy grew by 132 per cent, the US by 79.5 per cent and Spain by 58 per cent from 2008-2012.
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