Wine: The New Drink Of Asia?

No, there aren’t vineyards suddenly springing up along remote portions of the Great Wall, inside the DMZ or on the upper slopes of Mt. Fuji. Of that much I am certain. There are, however, many people who live in these areas who are developing a notable penchant for wine and, all of a sudden, the big name wine growers are starting to take notice.

A recent news release discusses that although European wine exporters have seen a decline in their traditional markets in North America and Europe, the expanding palates of Asia are proving to be a welcome change of direction.

Evidence? The article uses the example of a South Korean wine importer perusing the stalls of a massive wine expo in Verona, Italy, who admits that Italian food and Italian wines are becoming more favorable in South Korea.

Also, according to statistics cited in the article, there was a 10% increase in wine consumption in Asia in 2011 bringing it to 5.5 billion liters, whereas estimates run as high as the continent being able to quaff a record 6 billion liters for 2012.

Meanwhile, in China, Benjamin Chau, deputy head of the Hong Kong trade development council believes that as a growing number of Chinese markets prosper, so too do their imbibing habits change. Historically drawn to strong liquor, Chau argues that as quality of life improves for many Chinese citizens wine is becoming a fashionable and more health-conscious drink of choice, which is often imported from vineyards in the West.

So how much emphasis is being placed on Asia as an emerging wine market? Enough that new Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti was told to be peddling a list of “Made in Italy” products while on a recent visit to Japan, South Korea and China. Seeing as Italy was the world’s largest exporter of wine in 2011, I am sure multiple vintages and varietals were offered as part of the touring menu.

So is it time to trade in the sake for the syrah the next time you’re in Tokyo? Should we swap the soju for sauvignon blanc while nibbling on kim bap in Seoul?

I’m not sure if I would go that far, but if this is a trend that continues to gain steam, it may not make for a far-fetched future.