Drinking wine and spirits is a big part of the Chinese culture, especially for weddings, business banquets, and holidays. Alcoholic beverages such as BaiJui, MaoTai, HuangJui, and assorted non-grape wines are created to make a person drunk very quickly. The Chinese do not generally drink alone and most Chinese do not understand what constitutes good wine, bourbon, or rum – the important thing is that the drink must have a “kick” – a high alcoholic content. Drinking seldom takes place at home unless a large dinner is being.
Since wine has been produced in China as far back as 2,200 years ago, and the development of the wine industry has been encouraged by the Chinese government for 25 years, you might think that Chinese wine is good – it is not. About 97% of all the wine consumed in China is produced in China by a handful of brands such as Great Wall, Changyu, Dynasty and Dragon Seal – average prices range from 25 RMB to 80 RMB per bottle. The great majority of China’s wine grapes are grown by farmers who have never tasted a drop of wine in their lives and are never likely to. Their chief concern is to deliver as large a crop to the wine producer as possible.
Drinking in China
Normally, Chinese businesspeople will entertain important colleagues, guests or clients lavishly. Sometimes businesses hire professional drinkers as “designated drinkers”. Chinese businessmen and women are expected to take their clients out drinking to entertain them. Deals are easier to close when the opposition is tipsy – in addition, people sometimes blurt out the truth when drunk or near-drunk.
This type of drinking culture is an accepted standard practice by Chinese professionals to get ahead. Colleagues often go out for drinks after work – women and men. All employees asked to go are expected to go, and it is not advisable to leave until the boss has left.
Alcohol is served in copious amounts at birthdays and weddings. If a Western drink, such as cognac or brandy is served, it is not sipped as in France or England, but downed in one gulp. During weddings the groom’s friends spend the evening trying to get their friends and the groom drunk – it is traditional to shout “gan bei” (“bottoms up”) throughout the dinner. When dinner is over, many people are invariably inebriated.
Taxes on Spirits
The import duties in China for wines and liquors are 14% and 10%, respectively, plus 17% value added tax. There are no special consumption taxes once the spirit is inside the country.
Wine as Gifts
People in Shanghai like to buy wine to give as gifts on special occasions. As in Japan, the presentation of gifts is extremely important. Larger gift boxes may include 2 bottles of wine and a corkscrew or wineglass, all encased in a silk-like cloth. Packaging usually consists of a large sturdy box with ornate handles and lettering.
Residents of Shanghai are among the wealthiest in China. As incomes increase, there is a common desire to manifest one’s success through material possessions. Wine represents the “good life”, and through online, print, and televised advertisements, it has become a sign of success. It is one symbol by which Shanghainese can show publicly how much money they possess. Shanghai wine importers and retailers are aware of the significance of “face”, and market their wine and wine products accordingly.
Predominance of Red Wine
Red wine is overwhelmingly more popular than white wine in Shanghai. The color red is associated with good fortune and happiness. Also, the tannins in red wine allegedly evoke a taste similar to that of tea, which is the most commonly consumed beverage in China. Certain colors are very important in Chinese culture. One retail wine shop features a Californian wine containing dazzling flakes of real gold floating in rose or white wine. Gold is auspicious in China, and this particular wine, which is marketed as a gift item with two wine glasses in a well-built box, is a top seller among premium wines.
Location of Shanghai Wine Stores
The shops in Shanghai are concentrated in a small area: there are as many as four wine boutiques on Weihai Road, an ebullient shopping street lined with fashionable clothing stores, foreign restaurants, and high end imported goods. Another locale is Dagu Road, where three shops are in close proximity to one another. The reason for these concentrated selling areas is simple. Chinese are unlikely to initially trust independent wine shops. Since local consumers are still relatively unfamiliar with foreign wines, they are hesitant to buy a bottle because even if it is labeled “premium”, they will not know if it is a high quality product or not. It is difficult for an untrained palate to differentiate a bad bottle of wine from a good bottle. For a consumer who knows little about wine, a young wine shop harbors the buyer’s fear that he/she is not getting the “real deal” of high quality wine.
Hypermarkets like Carrefour and Metro offer a wide range of imported and domestic wines. These wines are most often distinguished by country of origin. The Gubei Carrefour store has several rows of imported wines, ranging in price from 30 RMB to 2,500 RMB. The wine displays in these hypermarkets are strategically located next to other foreign liquor and are usually very close to the imported foods section.
The newest venues to find specialty wines and educational and social events are specialty wine shops, which are popping up all over in Shanghai. While state-owned tobacco and liquor stores selling rice wine nourish the rest of China, and large scale retail shops offer wine selections without explanation of taste or quality, independent wine shops with distinctive merchandising and character have become more common in certain sections of Shanghai. Individual importers carefully select exclusive wines to promote in these small stores, and the ambiance of each store is refreshing.
Carrefour: They have the largest and best collection of wine in Shanghai. Periodically they have sales to coincide with French and Chinese holidays, with discounts of up to 25%. These wines are by far the least expensive in Shanghai. They have excellent collections of wine from France, Australia, Chile, and South Africa.
Napa Reserve: This small store sells Californian wines from small wineries at premium prices. With a single supply of family-owned wineries, this shop caters to the wealthy upper-class local Chinese and expatriates who are aware of California’s distinguished vineyards. Tel: 6340 0493. Website: http://www.napareservewines.com. Open Weekdays 10:30 am-10:30 pm. Located at 383 Weihai Lu, Jing An, near Shimen Yi Lu. Wine tastings every Friday evening.
Jointel Fine Wines: First Floor, No. 403-409 Weihai Road, Tel: 6340 0889; http://www.jointekfinewines.com
Just Beer: This is a reputable online delivery service of an extensive collection of fine beers and wines (yes, they provide more than just beer). It was started in 2007 by three Australians who wanted better quality beer than was offered in Shanghai. Go to their website to see their selections: http://www.justbeer.cn
Just Grapes: Wi-fi at wine bars; http://www.justgrapes.cn; Branches:
- Dagu: 462 Dagu Lu near ShiMenYi Lu; tel: 3311-3205
- Xingeng: 77B XinGeng Lu near TianYaoQiao Lu; tel: 3368-6218
- Anfu: 162 AnFu Lu near Urumqi lu; tel: 5404-6505
Torres China: This is a Spanish wine importer and distributor established in China since 1997. They have offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen so they can delivery within 36 hours in the center of those four cities. Delivery to your door is free in central Shanghai for a minimum of 200 RMB purchase per order. Website: http://www.torres.com.cn; Address: 3F, Building 4, No. 990 ChangPing Road, 200042, Shanghai; Tel: 6267 7979
Globus Wine Company: Globus Wine imports over 200 different wines over 30 top boutique wineries around the world, starting from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany in the Old World and continuing to California in the New World. The founders of Globus Wine have travelled to many of these places, made friends with local producers, tasted the wines, and chosen the ones which best represent the spirit of the place. Throughout the Globus portfolio, wines share common values: small production, exceptional quality, and a unique character.
- Head Office: 500 South Xiangyang Lu, Suite 1005 (near Jianguo Lu); Tel: 5465 2774
- Ferguson Lane: 376 Wukang Lu (near Hunan Lu); Tel: 6466 8969
- Highstreet Loft: 283 Jianguo Xi Lu, Building 5 (near Xiangyang Lu); Tel: 5466 1575
- 1933: 10 Shajing Lu (near Jiulong Hotel); Tel: 6501 5315
You must be careful about buying wines in China. There are labels that read in the small print: “May include milk or dairy products.” — this signifies that it is a counterfeit. We recommend that you purchase any wine or spirit from a reputable store or food market.