Tmall Introduces ‘Michelin Guide for Wine’ for 9.9 Festival

As China’s taste for global wine and spirits grows, global wineries have turned to Alibaba to uncork valuable consumer insights that will shape their marketing strategies for selling into the world’s second-largest economy.

For Italian winemaker Allegrini, that meant leveraging a report on Chinese wine trends published last December by B2C shopping site Tmall to find three wines that may be suitable for the market. All three were chosen to match a notable preference among China’s wine lovers for the slight sweetness in wine made with dried grapes.

“China is a very interesting market, and right now we are learning and working step-by-step to design the right [wine] portfolio,” said Allegrini owner Marilisa Allegrini.

Allegrini was among a group of wine sellers from France, Italy, Spain, Australia and Chile in Shanghai on Friday for a press conference kicking off Tmall’s second annual 9.9 Global Wine & Spirits Festival. The 10-day online shopping event, created to introduce overseas wines and spirits to Chinese consumers, includes more than a thousand brands from more than 50 countries—and 10,000 types of wine. During a pre-sale between Sept. 1-4, Tmall will highlight premium wines and offer discounted pricing on well-known brands between Sept. 5-8. The sale itself takes place on Sept. 9-10.

“We wanted to build a link between Alibaba and the world through wine, bring the world’s best wine and spirits to Chinese consumers through our platforms, as well as bring good wine to more people around the world,” 9.9 Wine Festival head coordinator and Tmall Director for Fast Moving Consumer Goods Lei Zhao said in a statement.

Tmall announced that it has created a “Tmall Wine Standard” as a kind of Michelin Guide for budding wine lovers in China. The online marketplace enlisted 99 sommeliers and gourmets to taste and categorize nearly a thousand wines according to acidity, sweetness and texture, among other indicators, in addition to offering advice on food pairings. A number of brands have also signed on to the initiative, including France’s Lafite, GIV in Italy, Australian winemaker Penfolds, Santa Rita of Chile, Mondavi in the U.S., and Changyu and Monlot in China.

Chinese customs data shows that about 638 million liters of wine worth $2.4 billion were imported into the country last year, a year-on-year increase of 15 percent in volume and 16 percent in value. According to wine-and-spirits trade show Vinexpo, China will grow an average of 7 percent a year and reach a value of $21 billion by 2020, overtaking the UK to become the world’s second-largest wine market as vino grows in popularity among the middle class.

France and Australia make up the majority of the bottles of wine imported in China, accounting for 42.3 percent and 25.5 percent of the market, respectively, according to the China Association for Imports and Exports of Wine & Spirits. Italy accounts for 5.7 percent.

Allegrini took steps to catch up on Friday by holding a tasting for its three chosen wines, with plans to reveal the winner at the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival in November. She will bring half-sized bottles of wine to the China market as well, in a bid to cater to needs of younger wine lovers that seek quality wine at a cheaper price point. In addition, she is not ruling out the launch of a blended wine just for the China market in the near future.

“We have to learn how to interact and communicate with Chinese consumers—make Italy more well-known,” Allegrini said.