The Madeleine Brand Show

The Madeleine Brand Show is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand

The rise of red wine in China

by The Madeleine Brand Show

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A bartender serves Chinese wine connoisseurs the newly released French Beaujolais Nouveau in Beijing. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

China is getting a taste for wine. Wealthy Chinese are paying high prices for imported bottles of Lafite, Margaux, Mouton and perhaps ... Yao Ming?

"Yao Ming's wine, if it gets a lot of attention, could really be a good kind of ambassador for California," said Mitch Frank, associate editor of Wine Spectator.

Ming launched his first wine this week - a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that costs about $300 per bottle in China. The 7-foot-6 former NBA player is a big celebrity in his homeland. Now he's lending that star power to a line of super premium wines exclusively for the Chinese market.

The Chinese government has been promoting wine as a healthy alternative to hard alcohol, and there's now a multitude of state-owned companies producing wine for the masses, Frank said. But there's also a burgeoning wine culture embraced by the "new wealthy" Chinese class.

"They are consuming it in great amounts and they're really going for the classics," Frank said.

While Bordeauxs were a common favorite, there has been a recent shift towards the wines of Burgundy, Frank said. About 40 percent of bottled wines imported to China are from France, with the United States ranked at a distant sixth place.

"There's a lot of hurdles for foreign countries," Frank said. "It can be a daunting market if you have never done business there before."

To help sidestep this issue, many wineries that do succeed have typically partnered with a local Chinese distributor. For Yao Ming, his celebrity may help attract the high-end clientele he is appealing to. The wealthy often purchase expensive, prestigious wines to give as gifts over business deals or for loved ones on the holidays.

Guest:

Mitch Frank, associate editor of Wine Spectator.

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