Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chugging Wine

I went to KTV last night. Awesome times.

Chinese people (or maybe Asian people if you include short Japanese businessmen) love to sing. They just love it.

Without getting into all of the absurdity funny and interesting parts of Chinese KTV, I wanted to briefly talk about what we drank.

As some of you know by now, the wine industry in China has grown at a 30% rate for the past 2 years. That's incredible. The normal observer would guess that the reason behind this growth has been from the new middle class, eager to get their hands (and lips) on clique western lifestyle-esque things.

The argument usually goes something like this:

As more and more people in China are making more money, this new middle class craves more luxuries. One needs to look no further than the auto industry or Louis handbags (real ones) to see that this is most definitely true. If the wine industry is talked about with this framework, it would be: Chinese middle class consumers, who are trying to become more and more western are driving this expanding market. This growth, of the wine industry shows that they are drinking wine to adopt a higher-class lifestyle.

Last night at KTV, I finally realized that wine is very different from this classic model.

We had a total of 5 bottles of wine between the 8 of us. At 180 yuan a piece (buy 4, get 1 free), we enjoyed our Cabernet…with ice, sprite and orange slices.

Yea. If you have never seen this, it is most definitely a sight to see. Just as Chinese people love mixing good whiskey with green tea, they enjoy mixing ice, sprite and red wine.

This was actually the first time I’ve seen it myself, and I realized a few things:

  • After my initial hesitation, the combo was actually pretty good. It tasted sweet and yummy. Imagine the Chinese version of Sangria
  • Wine wasn't drunk to be savored. It was drunk to be chugged. At no point in the night did anyone buy me try to savor and taste of the red wine itself. Everyone else just played dice with it.
  • As my friend Jason has said: Chinese people love the sweet drinks. Adding sprite, ice and orange slices to a bitter wine definitely achieves that objective. Now let’s see how successful coffee-flavored coke becomes.
  • Chinese people love transforming foreign things and make it their own. Look at McDonald’s, TVs at restaurants and traffic laws.

The Chinese “enjoyment” of wine is currently non-existent. There is only a very small population of people in China that know anything about wine and how to drink it. The movie Sideways was definitely not a hit here.

Everyone else has moved wine from the high-cultured place it holds in US culture to a basic mix beside beers and whiskey-green tea. Now, instead of people drinking beer or whiskey at the local bar/club/ktv, some of them are ordering wine. This is where the massive growth of wine comes from (combined with the fact that it wasn’t really in China before).

China: creation by destruction.


Anonymous said...

I'm very intrested in your observation, you have a good eye. Anyways, what city were you in and do you have the names of some of there high quality "chugging wines"? Is this how it is everywhere in China?

Mike said...

thanks. i really appreciate it.

it actually doesn't matter what city you are in (i'm in shenzhen, in guangdong province, right next to hk) or what kind of wine you drink (great wall nasty stuff or a 500 yuan bottle), Chinese people will still be drinking it the same.