Jeannie Cho Lee, a Korean-born, Hong Kong–based master of wine, weighs in on the Chinese wine scene and why no Chinese sommelier would pair Gewürztraminer with Cantonese cuisine.
How popular is wine in China?
The Chinese have been into wine for almost a decade now. Recently, sales have slowed; government policy now curbs luxury gift-giving, and wine is seen as a part of that. But I think that’s a good shake-up. What’s happening is that the true wine lovers are still drinking—the people who are saying, “I know wine’s not that trendy or popular now, but I’m still going to drink it because I love the taste.”
Is wine a traditional part of Chinese culture at all?
No, but if you’re talking about a sophisticated beverage where there’s a quality spectrum and differences in taste, aroma and flavor, the Chinese have always had that. Think about tea. Tea has tannins and different textures, different quality levels—you can get inexpensive to very expensive tea, and green and black and everything in between. So when wine came along, it didn’t take people long to catch on. Plus, the dining scene in China has improved incredibly in the last 20 years.