Sales of Bordeaux wines have slumped by almost 50 per cent in the SAR because of the economic downturn and the increasing quality of cheaper New World wines. In a trend mirrored across the region, imports of wines from the Bordeaux region of France fell by 49 per cent last year compared with the previous year. The Bordeaux Vintners Council said demand from Taiwan fell by 84 per cent and from Japan by 55 per cent while region-wide demand slipped 12 per cent. Industry figures say importers and suppliers cut down on Bordeaux wines as the economic crisis started to bite in Hong Kong in 1998. Barry Burton, chairman of the Hong Kong Wine Society, said drinkers had clearly switched their choice of wine during the slump. 'In 1996-1997, people were drinking the really expensive, top-end Bordeaux wines. But now they tend to buy the less expensive wine,' he said. Suppliers and sellers also had large stocks of Bordeaux bought before the slump, he said. When the downturn came, they ordered less and relied on using up existing stock. James Rowell, manager of Watson's Wine Cellar in Central, said: 'Importers are clearing up stocks.' The improved quality of New World wines has also hurt the popularity of Bordeaux products. Wines from Australia, Chile and South Africa have been catching up in taste and popularity. Mr Rowell said: 'Wine consumers are maturing, becoming more demanding and looking for value for money. They are less focused on Bordeaux than before.' Bordeaux's top-end wines can fetch $2,000 to $5,000 a bottle, while mid-range bottles cost between $150 and $500. A top-end Australian wine ranges in price from $500 up to $5,000.