HONG KONG: Champagne brands like Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger could spearhead a move into China, in an indication of changing tastes in the country, an expert has argued.

Robert Beynat, chief executive of Vinexpo, the wine and spirits trade fair organiser, was speaking to the Wall Street Journal following the publication of a new study.

Almost all of the wine currently drunk in China – some 99.5% overall – is still wine. "The Chinese ignore the sparkling wines right now," Beynat said.

He attributed this to a shortage of marketing by the champagne industry, and said leading brands would play an important future role in educating Chinese consumers about sparkling wines.

More specifically, Beynat suggested the Chinese would start drinking Champagne as an aperitif before moving on to other sparkling wines.

The overall growth in wine consumption in China is expected to slow to 39.6% over the next four years, compared with the 142% increase seen between 2007 and 2011.

Vinexpo thus expects 252m cases of wine to be drunk annually in the Asian nation by 2016, up from 159m in 2011.

Beynat said the slowdown was a natural correction after the explosion in demand witnessed in China in recent years.

Nonetheless, he anticipated that the country would remain a growth story, as he pointed out China is expected to become the world's sixth largest wine producer in 2016, ahead of Chile and Australia. "The more you produce, the more you drink," he noted.

French wines still rule the Chinese market, accounting for around 48% of imports in terms of volume.

China's per capita consumption is predicted to increase from 1.4 litres of wine per person to 2.1 litres over the next three years. This remains far behind France, the top nation on this metric, at 53.2 litres per person.

Data sourced from AFP/Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff