VERONA, Italy: On paper it seems as obvious a pairing as a glass of spicy Gewurztraminer with crispy duck and pancakes.
Yet Italy, the world’s biggest wine producer, is lagging in the fight for sales in China, tipped to become the world’s second biggest importer of wine by 2020.
Sales of Chianti, Pinot Grigio and other samples from Italy’s 300-plus wine denominations accounted for barely five percent of the $2.4 billion dollars worth of wine that the world’s most populous nation imported in 2016.
Of that total, 44 percent by value was sourced from France. Australia, Chile and Spain are also ahead of Italy in seducing the palates of China’s burgeoning middle class.
“It’s a pity. Italian producers have been slow to get into the market,” says Andrew Tan, a Brunello di Montalcino enthusiast in charge of procurement for 1919, one of China’s biggest liquor retailers.
With a network of more than 1,000 stores and an online platform, 1919 sent Tan to last week’s Vinitaly trade fair in Verona.
His mission: to find Italian wines capable of matching the success of popular Australian brands like ‘Jacob’s Creek’ and ‘yellow tail’ in the entry-to-middle sections of the Chinese market.
“We are coming in to cooperate with big wineries on branding,” Tan told AFP. “We want to co-own the brands and we promote them —that is what we are talking to several big producers about.”
Tan also sees potential for smaller Italian wineries at higher price points, and for Italy’s top-end Barolos, Brunellos and Amarones as fine-wine investors expand their horizons beyond Bordeaux and Burgundy.
But first Italy has to find a way into homes where glasses are currently filled by beer or spirits.
“We have to cut short the distribution channel and get a good price for the consumer,” Tan says.
The simple brands message is not easy to get across in a country of more than 300,000 wineries with an unrivalled diversity of grape varieties and styles of winemaking.