Food and wine pairing in China: Technicalities ruin the fun

By  Maxime LU/ 陆江
7 February 2018

(Published on Decanter China, the Chinese version of Decanter)

Food and wine pairing ‘helps but won’t drastically boost wine sales’ in China, despite the enormous number of wine and dine events being held in the country, said Chinese trade professionals

Distributors: Pairings don’t boost sales

There is no clear sign that the widespread media coverage and many events on food and wine pairing in China have directly helped wine sales, according to several importers and distributors.

‘Most of our customers drink wine for business occasions,’ said Christian Zhang, chief sommelier of Noah’s Yacht Club in Shanghai. ‘They still only have very basic knowledge about wine and pairing. The concept of wine pairing helps, but won’t make a huge difference in sales.’

At retail stores, ‘we are rarely asked about food pairing options by our customers,’ said YANG Zuyan, fine wine and projects manager of Pudao Wines.

‘To properly pair food with wine, you need a certain level of wine knowledge. While media and trade professionals are interested in the concept, their buying power is limited. Real consumers, however, don’t have [the] knowledge to be influenced by the concept,’ said Yang.

‘To make a sale, it’s key for us to demonstrate scenarios in which consumers can picture themselves drinking wine,’ said WANG Xiaoshan, Market Director of Joyvio, a wine importer owned by Legend Holdings, which also owns Lenovo.

‘If we start lecturing them on what wine they should choose if they’re going to eat a certain dish, things get too complicated and they won’t remember anyway,’ Wang said.

‘[Food and wine pairing] is additional information for consumers, and may help them to picture themselves enjoying the wine with food, but that’s about it,’ said Ma Tao, general manager of B2B wine distributer

‘For the general public, fine wine and dining is still considered as something enjoyed only by the white-collar elites, despite the heavy media coverage on the subject. In most cases, people still drink wines for quaffing and “Ganbei (bottoms up)” in China.’

Meanwhile, the concept of food and wine pairing as a branding and communication tool is considered important by producers and regional bodies, which stress that localised and less ‘textbook’ pairings tend to work better in China.

Producers: Non-textbook communication is the key

‘We wouldn’t rely on food and wine pairing events to push sales,’ said WU Xiaoxia, head of marketing in Changyu, the biggest wine producing company in China.

‘Culturally speaking, the majority of Chinese consumers care more about who they drink with and what the occasion is, so they pay less attention to what they drink. Plus, they usually have a variety of dishes laid out on the table at once, so the textbook course-based rules of Western wine pairing won’t work here,’ Wu said.

‘The key is to focus the pairing around Chinese food,’ said CHEN Lizhong, owner of Xinjiang-based boutique winery Tiansai.

‘We used the concept of Chinese food and wine pairing to promote our rosé, dry white and an easy-drinking red wine range, and we saw some growth in sales.’

The experimental and ‘fun’ elements of pairing are ideal to ‘bring Chinese consumers closer to wine’, especially during wine-themed dinners featuring local dishes, said YIN Kai, president of Castel China.

Food and wine pairing is an ‘important method’ for promoting Australian wines in China, agreed Willa Yang, Wine Australia’s head of market for China.

However, instead of teaching consumers about pairing roles, the regional body focuses more on helping Chinese consumers to ‘form the habit’ of having wines with food, Yang added.

‘Technicalities would ruin the fun and enjoyment of wine drinking,’ said Judy Chan, owner of Grace Vineyard.

‘However, when you start to recognise the basic principles of food and wine pairing, you will be better informed when choosing a bottle to buy, and naturally find more enjoyment in the pairing experiments.’

Food and wine: The ideal occasions

High-end restaurants that serve Western or Japanese food, as well as the more ‘westernised’ modern Chinese food restaurants, tend to naturally fit the concept or food and wine pairing, said professionals.

Fine wine and dining experiences are still important for promoting premium wines, said Ma Tao of

‘”Wine by the glass” and special pairing menus are welcomed by our customers,’ said Christian Zhang of Noah’s Yacht Club. ‘Wine region-themed promotions, such as ‘Rioja and restaurant week’, also help us to sell,’ he added.

Major events hosted in hotels, such as weddings, are also opportunities to promote wine via food pairings, said Wang Xiaoshan of Joyvio.

‘The guests tend to pay more attention to the choice of wine and food for the occasion, because they demonstrate the taste of the host.’


(Editing by Chris Mercer)

Translated by Sylvia Wu

Exclusive – Hit Chinese reality show music director: My life as a wine enthusiast

By Maxime Lu / 陆江

(Published on DecanterChina.COM,  Chinese version of Decanter.)

The mega hit reality TV show ‘I am a Singer 我是歌手’ needs little introduction to the Chinese audience. Ever since its first season in 2013 one of the top producers in Greater China, Kubert Leung, has been the music director for this highly popular show.The musician, who came from Hong Kong, is known to the Chinese audience as a talented, gentle and elegant producer in the world of music (as well as for being a low-key workaholic who never leaves his studio). Few, however, would have imagined that the musician is also a serious wine enthusiast in his personal life.This month Decanter speaks exclusively to the award-winning music producer. Read all about Kubert Leung’s life as a wine lover.


Image credit Kubert Leung

Q: How did you fall in love with wine? Which are your favourite wine regions at the moment?

Kubert Leung: When I was studying in New York many years ago, there was a big wine shop near my house. I would go there to buy some wines. These were my first experience with wines, mainly produced in the US, though I wasn’t really drawn to wine just yet.Fortunately, I had a Chinese friend whose uncle worked for a high-end local restaurant. From time to time he would bring unfinished wines from the diners, and I would get to try them whenever I visited their house. ‘What good wines do you have this time?’ was always my first line at the door. These wines gave me access to many of the most famous and interesting wine regions and producers outside the US.When I went back to Hong Kong in 1997, I grew a habit of drinking whiskeys, as they were easier to store, and I could take my time to finish them. At that time, we didn’t have many wines to choose from, until Hong Kong abolished its tariffs on wine.From five years ago, I started to visit Mainland China frequently and now I’m based in Beijing. Here I met a group of enthusiasts who share my passion for wine, and my interest in wine grew stronger.What I drink the most at the moment are wines from Burgundy and Italy. I’m fascinated by the finesse and elegance of Burgundy, as well as the versatile characters of Italian wines.


Image credit Kubert Leung


Q: Who is in your ‘wine circle’? Tell us a little bit about your wine gatherings in Beijing.

Kubert Leung: My wine friends come from various professions; some are from the music and movie industries, or in finance and media, while others are wine merchants and wine critics. It’s a fun gang of interesting personalities, though we are from very different backgrounds.Our ‘headquarters’ is always Beijing. We try to meet once or twice a month, even when we’re busy with our day jobs. We would pick a theme every time, and each would bring a bottle to share and talk about with others.We even spend festivals and celebrations together—the year before last a few of us met up for Valentine’s day. I brought a bottle of Clos de Vougeot Grand Crus, while my friends brought wines including limited edition Champagne and icewine from Canada. We had lots of fun (though not romantically) by sharing good food, wines and interesting topics.


Q: As an artist who loves wine a lot, how would you balance work and drinking?

Kubert Leung: I would drink a little bit to get into a more creative state. But drinking for fun is a different matter, and I’d rather keep them separate—honestly, drinking too much will bring nothing but a negative influence to work.We would only drink abundantly to celebrate after the end of a show. My team came from around the world, and the Australians and Canadians would bring wines from their home countries to share with everyone. When I travel to Changsha for a show I would bring my own wine or sometimes, whiskey.



Image credit Kubert Leung

Q: Has your love in wine brought any changes to your life?

Kubert Leung: I have learnt to enjoy life more and discover the small and beautiful things in life—this is an attitude associated with the wine culture.I also try to visit more wine-producing regions when I travel. A while ago I was invited to Sweden as a commentator for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. I decided to drive all the way to Rome and Florence and visited a few wineries.On my way I was the most impressed by an almost mythical Vin Santo from a famous winery in Tuscany. The wine was so rich and sweet; I heard that it was matured for 10 years, during which 2/3 of the wine was lost—imagine how precious and delicious it was. They (the winery) would use the fat brandy glasses to swirl the wines around, releasing the luscious aromas of the wine. That was a very interesting experience.I also loved visiting the ancient castles of these wineries—you would hardly meet any tourists there. These old chateaux at nights are so mysterious and somewhat spooky—maybe I’ve watched too many horror movies.


Q: For leisure, which wine region would you visit next?

Kubert Leung: I would love to visit Burgundy, a region I have admired for so long. I am in fact looking up information about chateaux visits in Burgundy right now.I would go to the regions where my favourite wines were produced, to feel the local culture and environment for myself. The experience of visiting chateaux and communicating with winemakers always fascinates me. But I would prefer a spontaneous holiday— I’d choose not to plan every detail before I set off for a trip.


Q: In the Chinese music circle, what beverages are trending right now?

Kubert Leung: When I first came to work in the Mainland, Chinese Baijiu and expensive top cru classes from France, such as Lafite and Petrus, were the most popular.Whiskeys were the next to become popular, especially single malt whiskies. These can be very characterful and they satisfy different preferences, but they’re increasingly expensive nowadays—especially those Japanese whiskeys, which are the most fashionable right now.Although in the music circle people mainly drink whiskeys at the moment, there are a few wine lovers as well. Like me, they found their favourites when exploring wines from various regions and styles — eventually falling in love with wine.


Q: Finally, what is your wine dream?

Kubert Leung: My dream is to try more good wines, and visit as many wine regions around the world as possible with my fellow wine enthusiasts.


Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦


Maxime Lu / 陆江

-The founder and Chief wine editor of WineOnline.CN since 2005
-The founder and Chief wine educator of  WineSchool.CN since 2006
-The founder and main contributor for WineBlogChina.COM since 2011
-Wine Judge for international wine competitions: Decanter Asia Wine Awards 2015(Hongkong) , Wines of Portugal Challenge 2014(Lisbon) , Radici del Sud 2013 ( Puglia ) ,and some domestic wine competitions.
-A contributor for Decanter China(Chinese version of,Prowine China(Prowein branch) and for main stream media on fashion, finance , food and wine.
-The consultant of  Wine Collection.
-The consultant of wine companies.