What if everyone in China drank just one bottle of wine a year? With a population of well over 1 billion, China would move ahead of all of Europe combined. Of course, this is the sort of stuff winemakers dream about (along with producing 100-point wines), but the reality may not be so very far behind. In just the past decade, China, and indeed all of Asia, has seen a dramatic increase in the consumption of wine. According to the International Wine and Spirit Record, Chinese wine sales could grow by more than 80 percent between 2002 and 2011. China, currently the leading wine market in Asia and 10th in global consumption (soon to be ninth), is one of the fastest-growing markets on the planet.
Alessia Antinori has witnessed much of this growth firsthand. As the export manager and a winemaker for Marchesi Antinori, Alessia, 32, travels all over Australia and Asia for months at a time. In fact, she may be on the road even more than her father, Piero, a Florentine nobleman and world-renowned vintner, who introduced Americans to Italian wine back in the 1960s.
When Piero arrived in America some 40 years ago, there probably weren’t many more serious wine drinkers in the U.S. than there are in China today, and there wasn’t much of an audience for Italian wine. Of course, there also wasn’t much good Italian wine around, either; straw-covered Chianti bottles were sort of universal shorthand for the offerings of the entire country. But Piero, whose family once made quite a few of those straw-covered bottles, wanted to produce great wines, not just from his native Tuscany but from other parts of Italy, too. Piero believed that Italian wines could be among the best wines in the world. He made critical improvements to his Chiantis and created two sought-after Super-Tuscans (Tignanello and Solaia). In the process, he became a sort of de facto ambassador for all Italian wine.