Real or fake? That’s the single biggest factor stopping Chinese drinkers from buying imported wine.
More than 40 percent of wealthy Chinese wine drinkers are concerned that the bottles they are buying from overseas aren’t the real thing, according to a survey of upper middle-class drinkers across Chinese cities by Wine Intelligence.
Fakes are "everywhere – from the bottom to the top-of-the-range," said Romain Vandevoorde, head of wine importer Le Baron.
Experts say it is difficult to estimate the impact of counterfeits on China's wine sector. The price range for fake wine varies from as little as 90 yuan ($14.60) to as much as 35,000 yuan ($5,700) for an exceptional vintage.
Supermarkets and shops – where the majority of Chinese people go to buy their wine due to a lack of specialist wine cellars – are full of fakes.
Counterfeits include bottles of Bordeaux wine that have been diluted with sugared water and had coloring agents and artificial flavorings added, before being sold for high prices.
Good vintage wines sold for unusually low prices with brand-new labels are also a warning sign, as are bottles spelled incorrectly, such as "Laffite" or "Benfolds."
But, "there are much more upmarket copies, much better made, generally by re-using 'grand cru' bottles," said Vandevoorde. Empty bottles have also sparked a roaring trade, and can be found online in China.
Beyond fakes, more than one-third of affluent Chinese wine drinkers also claim that they are deterred from buying imported wine because they don’t know what the wine will taste like and would like to see more information on the bottle’s back label.
The Wine Intelligence report, "Is Your Back Label Right For China?," says that when describing their favorite wines Chinese drinkers most commonly use terms like “rich taste,” “soft,” “delicate,” and “fresh.”
It warns that “common flavor descriptors used in the West to describe wine flavors are similarly puzzling for Chinese consumers, who rarely come across flavors such as elderflower or blackcurrant in their daily lives.”
Instead, producers should try descriptors like rose, raisin, vanilla or red apple, which appeal to Chinese wine drinkers, notes the report.