Year of the flagon turns into wine's time

QHow serious is China as a wine-producing nation and when can we expect to see its products entering the UK market?

A China, which is now the world's biggest beer market, is also making progress with wine - both as a producer and importer. Its domestic consumption rose 23 per cent between 2001 and 2005 and is forecast to increase by a further 36 per cent between 2005 and 2010. China is among the top 10 wine consumers and should reach ninth place by 2010. Its vineyard area is the sixth biggest in the world and growing at an annual rate of as much as 20 per cent, but its industry is currently ­fragmented and uncoordinated and produces mostly unremarkable bulk wine. There is limited foreign investment, but many wine experts believe China has the sites to make wine that will have domestic as well as export potential.

There are already export brands such as Great Wall and in the UK Bibendum recently teamed up with Changyu to introduce Noble Dragon Shandong White, "an intriguing, spicily aromatic blend of lightly-oaked Chardonnay with Riesling and Muscat" retailing at £6.99.

More launches are likely and it's possible that Chinese wines will shake off their novelty image in the coming years, but only if quality continues to improve.

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