Many Chinese Prefer Their Wine Sparkling With a Bouquet of Coke
By Craig S. Smith
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
SHANGHAI, China -- Wine is catching on in China. But it's hardly the stuff
that wine lovers dream about.
Western wine is starting to replace cognac at bars, weddings and business
banquets. But the drinkers aren't wasting time sniffing and sipping:
They're mixing it with soda pop and downing it by the pitcher. Red wine
with Sprite and white wine with Coke or fruit soda are easier -- and
cheaper -- to gulp during glass-draining toasts, say Chinese drinkers.
Such fashionable concoctions are pushing up wine sales across the country,
and have spawned dozens of small importers who sell obscure French wine
labels like Red Chateau and Pavilion.
Connoisseurs sniff at such wines, retailing for around $6 a bottle. These
wines are made from "the fourth or fifth pressing of the grapes," says
Timothy Yeo, who among other things runs a wine bar in Singapore. "It's
like cooking wine."
But that doesn't matter when soda mixers provide most of the flavor. At a
dim bistro in downtown Shanghai, a waitress offers customers a bottle of Le
Elmar 33, "produit de France," though there's no address on the bottle to
identify the vintner. The thin Bordeaux stings going down, inducing a
purple-tongued cough from one young drinker. The proprietress offers to mix
it with something smoother -- Seven-Up, perhaps. "That's the way I drink
it," she says.
Wine makers say growing health awareness in China has increased wine sales.
When French studies linked healthy hearts with moderate tippling a few
years ago, China's stock of red wine sold out in a matter of months. Dozens
of foreign brands -- mostly from France, Spain and Australia -- have since
poured into the market. French wine imports more than quintupled in 1996.
One newcomer, a French wine called Chantfleur, advertises itself as an
official drink of Shanghai athletes at China's Eighth National Games.
Paul Clark, a Shanghai-based wine distributor, tested the market by
importing 20 cases of Chateau Lafite Rothschild Grand Cru Classe. At a
wholesale price of $150 a bottle, the wine sold out in 10 days -- all to
one karaoke bar that was mixing it with Sprite. "It sent a shudder through
many circles that would have appreciated the product," says Mr. Clark. But
another shipment is on the way. "We'll let the wine go where the money is,"
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