Friday, September 7, 2012

A Wine Tasting in Beijing and Dried Pig’s Ear for Dinner

Aug. 28, 2012 – As usual on my first few days in China, I awoke at 4:30 (even with the assistance of a sleeping pill) and couldn’t fall back to sleep. However, it was useful to have some extra time to have a cup of Starbuck’s Via in my room before heading to a tasting of the top 20 wines in the Beijing market priced between 200 – 350 RMB ($30 – 55 US).

Qin organized the tasting as part of a research project with the university. It was conducted with wine buyers,sommeliersf and educators working in Beijing and included about 18 people. She is also planning on conducting a similar tasting with a group of consumers and comparing the results in order to understand why certain brands are so successful in the market.

The wines were all red, as the Chinese drink 90% red wines, and we tasted them blind providing a score for each wine. Next we tasted and scored the wines again, but this time with knowledge of the brand and grape varietal. Qin plans to compare how the scores differed when tasted blind compared to when the Chinese know the brand.

The Wines Revealed

It was fascinating to see the brands when revealed. They included 4 wines each from France, Australia, and Chile, 3 from China, and 1 from Spain. There were no wines from California, Argentina, or Italy. I was dismayed to discover that I had scored 2 of the 3 Chinese wines very low, finding one extremely thin and green, and the other oxidized. The third was enjoyable with simple, red berry fruit and reminded me of Beaujolais. I was surprised to find it was a Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorite wine of the tasting was the one from Spain, which was the Torres Gran Sangre de Torres.

Next was a facilitated discussion regarding reasons they select these wines for their shops and restaurants. A primary reason was distribution – that it was available from their distributor who recommended it. Other reasons included brand image and the name of the wine – especially if it included the term “Chateau.” Promotions, or discounts, were perceived positively as long as the brand was known. They said they were suspicious of discounts on unknown brands, because it was assumed the wine was poor quality. A small distributor from Spain confirmed this the next day when she told me her wines were not well received when she first entered the Beijing market because they were priced too low!

Wine Mark-ups in Beijing

In terms of pricing, I knew the mark-up was high, but was surprised at how high. Wines that sell in the US market for $12 to $15 are double or triple in Beijing. I was informed that the tax on wine is 48%. Then the distributor will multiple that by 1.5 and the restaurant by another 1.5. Wine shops mark-up are less. The example I was given was if the wine costs 100 RMB ($15US), the tax will make it 148 RMB, then the distributor will take it to 222 RMB, and the restaurant will price it at 333 RMB or higher. In general, restaurant mark-ups are 300% and wine shops 200%.

Dinner with Dried Pig’s Ear, Mumm’s and Chateauneuf de Pape

After the tasting, we had a nice lunch together and then I headed back to my room to rest. Later that evening, we had dinner at a private club and Qin brought a lovely chilled bottle of Mumm’s Champagne and a Chateauneuf de Pape to celebrate. Probably the most unusual dish that evening was dried pig’s ear. It looked like a plate of sliced salami (see photo), and tasted vaguely like it also!

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