Drawn by the prospect of vast, relatively untapped pools of Chinese consumers, producers from around the world are competing with rival claims that their wines go best with the country's rich array of culinary delights.
Of course, the debate among French foodies about how to pair wine and food is as old as France's famous vineyards, but it is relatively new in China. Predictably, there is little agreement between the foreign "experts", and the not so expert.
"There are a lot of people thinking about that, making courses and writing books," says Robert Beynat, the French chief executive of Vinexpo, the world's biggest wine fair which is holding its Asian edition in Hong Kong this week. "But I'm not a specialist. I drink red with Chinese food – even the sweet and sour. It's personal."
Among the growers and distributors at the three-day expo, it seems that everyone has an opinion about a topic that vexes even the best sommeliers. After all, food pairing is essential to the whole enjoyment of wine and, from a purely business point of view, it's vital to the industry's mission of encouraging Chinese consumers to drink more of it.
Georges Haushalter, president of the Bordeaux Wine Council – the French region that dominates the Chinese market – has a theory about Chinese food and acidity in wine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he believes that as long as you stick with a Bordeaux all will be well.
"The critical factor is acidity because of the spicy nature of Chinese cuisine; because of the mixture of sweet and sourness. You need a good level of acidity in the wine so it can sustain the strength of the Chinese cuisine. To this end, Bordeaux is well equipped," Haushalter says.
He concedes that the varied dishes of a Chinese banquet make it impossible to offer a one-wine-fits-all suggestion, but notes that red wines from Bordeaux are, for better or worse, the most popular choice.
Nikki Palun, the Mandarin-speaking export manager for De Bortoli Wines of Australia, has traveled extensively in China. From the hearty pork, lamb and pickled vegetable dishes of the north-east, to the fiery spices of south-western Sichuan and the mild, steamed specialties of the southern Cantonese-speaking region, Palun believes there are opportunities aplenty for wines to find their perfect culinary pairing.
But of the great French varietals, she prefers the pinots of Burgundy to the heavier cabernets of Bordeaux with her Chinese dinners, due to the tannin that helps give a wine its flavor and structure. "I'll stick with chardonnay and Burgundy. Pinot is a great match with a lot of Chinese cuisine – the pork and duck," says Palun.
Her take on Bordeaux? "The tannin can clash with the chilis. If you're eating something that's delicate in flavor, the shiraz or cabernet can be quite overpowering. That's why pinot can be a bit more harmonious for Chinese foods. But it depends on the region, because in China each region has a different cuisine."
With Sichuan dishes, for example, Palun goes for an off-dry riesling for a little sweetness to offset the chilis. "If you drink something with a strong tannin structure, it's just going to make the spice even hotter," she says.
Philippe Garnier, of Vins-Vignerons which represents the major chateaux of Burgundy, agrees that Chinese diners too often bypass white wine as a match for seafood-based or spicy dishes. "It doesn't have the tannin, which gives the spicy character to the red wines," he says.
And the argy-bargy continues...