I have been in Shanghai (and other parts of China) tens of times. It was my previous job as a chemicals buyer that brought me to the region and to be honest I saw more industrial estates than actual culture. So it was wonderful to get to know Shanghai again with a different pair of glasses – a wine enthusiasts eyes. My expectations were not low per se, but I was expecting big brands and high price tags to be the common denominator. I am glad that I was at least partly living in the past. Shanghai is a melting pot with expats and student from around the world mixed with the growing liberal and curious local upper and middle classes. Wine has already made its way to the city life and it will not take long for it to boom. Perhaps it aleady has.
M had done some homework and had selected around six to seven different wine bars to try out. We did not have time for all of them, but I will list them in the end, so anyone with an interest can go and check them out. However, there are some differences to the western wine-culture so here are the five things you should know about Shanghai and wine.
1. There is a clear preference to French wine. This may come with the history of French influences or the large expat community, but every wine bar in town is serving a wide range from France. Other wine countries include Australia and New Zealand, due to their geographical “closeness” and Italy with Prosecco as the less expensive bubbly on the market. Spain and Portugal were not widely represented, nor was America or South America and South Africa.
2. The prices for wine are in general high. This comes from a bunch of logistical and political reasons, duties etc. But mostly due to wine being a drink for foreigners. It is not often understood what is a reasonable price level for a tourist. Would you be happy paying 10-20 Eur for a mediocre glass of wine? We live in Stockholm where prices are also high, but due to the Swedish currency being weak, the prices in China are elevated for us. Don’t get me wrong, we found many places with some reasonable pricing, but in general one should not expect Shanghai to be cheap.
3. Smoking is allowed inside. If you were intending to have a nice relaxing moment with you glass of wine breathing in the beautiful aromas, you can forget about it. There will be at least a few people smoking cigarrettes next to you. It is not something I am used to, but knew in advance, so it was not such a big deal when someone took out their lighter on the table next to us. If you want to avoid the smokers, I suggest to find a nice rooftop terrace with a breeze.
4. Bars are (usually) open every day of the week, but have a plan B if your selected hangout is not open (or has suddenly moved). Sometimes the internet is wrong (or has old information).
5. Local wine is expensive, but that has nothing to do with quality. Local wines cater to local tastes. The wines are often sharp in taste, high in alcohol and have an oxidized character to them. I am not saying there is no good local wine, I have just tasted a few. But be prepared for a different palate than what we Eurooeans are used to. China has a lot of potential for future vinegrowing and I believe some day we will see great things happen. But today is perhaps not yet that day.
(6.) And here is an extra treat for you: The local saying “kam pai” (kam bei) does not really mean cheers in the same way that we understand it. In reality it means bottoms up. So if someone raises their glass to you and says these words, you are expected to empty the whole glass with one gulp.
Here is our list of wine bars to try out and visit. I will review the ones we had time for in future posts. Roosevelt Wine Cellar, Dr. Wine, Project Wine, Le Vin, Napa Wine Bar & Kitchen and Wine Must.