German wines are having a difficult time wooing Chinese tipplers, according to a recent DW piece. German wine representatives attribute German wine’s struggles in China to the fact that German brands aren’t the status symbols that French brands are:
German wine does not have it easy in China. The Chinese love red wine, but Germany is more of a white wine country. Chinese people also tend to buy wine similarly to the way they buy cars – the brand has to stand out.
That becomes obvious at the wine fair. There are over 100 French vintners, dozens of Italian ones and numerous representatives of Spanish wine. But there is only one winemaker from Germany: the winery Jakob Gerhardt from Rheinehessen. Its representative, Oliver Altmann, is something of a pioneer. Many Chinese people don’t know much about wine, he says.
“I wish they didn’t chase images so much. They should listen to their taste buds. To what really tastes good to them. If they did that, they will have come a long way. The whole Chinese wine market will have come a long way.”
China’s wine market is dominated by the French. Over 50 percent of imported wine comes from France. Labels like Chateau Lafite or Mouton have a cult status among the country’s nouveau-riche. German wines are much less glamorous but nonetheless equal in taste to their French counterparts, says Monika Reule, CEO of the German Wine Institute.
Many Chinese would disagree. Some claim that German red wine, in particular, is not robust enough for their liking, and prefer French red, while others state that despite the renown of brands like Riesling, they tasted sour and did not meet their expectations. Could it be that Chinese wine consumers are, contrary to popular opinion, listening to their taste buds rather than just brand names?
German wine representatives won’t likely win over Chinese taste buds with their recent strategy of trying to convince them how perfectly German wines pair with Chinese cuisine. Having attended a few “perfect pairings” dinners, we can attest to this. The expressions on the faces of the Chinese tasters after sampling a Riesling with Shanghai river shrimp reminded us of a mother’s feigned looks of enjoyment while eating a Jolly Rancher and Snickers pizza her kids fixed her for Mother’s Day.
And we don’t blame them. Since a lot of Chinese seafood comes either lathered with, or paired with a soy-vinegar sauce, the acetic acid overwhelms any kind of wimpy white wine. Pairings like the roast squab-red wine fared a bit better, but we still don’t see German wine becoming a regular at Chinese banquets, which have survived without it for around 5,000 years. Maybe when Baijiu becomes the pairing of choice for spaetzle in Germany.
Either way, German wine representatives need a new way to pitch their grape.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].