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Bottling it up for a tasty cause

AS the consumption of wine grows here in the Chinese mainland, it is still a heck of an effort actually buying it. While restaurants and supermarkets are stocking more of the stuff (even if much of it is the same old, same old) the idea of walking into an off-license for a cheap and cheerful bottle has yet to be fulfilled around these parts.

Wine retail stores, pretty much the very foundation on which Western civilization was built upon (caution: content may be exaggerated), may have been popping up in the past few years, the phenomenon has yet to reach fever pitch. While the likes of Epicure, Just Grapes and Napa Reserve, among others, have been a boon to Shanghai wine lovers, there is still a while to go before the city can boast "one around every corner."

Quality, however, is the name of the game, and having a million and one shops purveying cheap plonk does nothing to promote the great pastime of getting elegantly wasted. Wine shops are not simply mortar shells housing the latest releases fired by producers but should be gathering centers where those so inclined may converge to glean further knowledge in this noblest of passions. This is exactly the mission Russian couple Alexey Poznyakov and Galina Kotova have embarked upon since arriving on these shores four years ago.

"Back then, the situation with wine was so-so °?- we bought most of our wine from supermarkets," says Kotova.

"We even bought a box of (odor samples of) wine faults from Taste du Vin because every second bottle would have a fault."

The couple immediately knew they were on to a great business opportunity. Like many entrepreneurs who have landed on these shores, their background was something completely different. The pair were, in fact, investment bankers in Moscow, working 16 hours a day for more than 10 years when they decided to try a life worth living.

After taking time to smell the grapes in vineyards across Europe and in California, the two eventually made their way to Shanghai and found the allure of the city too hard to resist. As promising as Shanghai was, however, their love for vino was uncatered for.

"People could either buy from the supermarket or drink in restaurants, and restaurants are very expensive," says Kotova. "There were no exciting wines back then, nothing that surprised. We could not afford to drink Grand Cru (top-tier) wines everyday. We prefer drinking medium range wines but good quality and interesting styles. There was nothing in the market at all."

Globus Wine has been a very good step in the right direction for wine lovers since its inception in 2006. Today, the company has three stores in the city - Ferguson Lane, Highstreet Loft and 1933. Each outlet has a tasting area with staff on hand to offer recommendations and offers a selection of about 500 labels, from the entry level to the ridiculously expensive (see sidebar).

As well as listing wines from the major distributors, Globus also brings in its own labels and is actively involved in promoting its principals.

While the economy has hit spending in the upper echelon of wines, signs are promising that people are still keen to enjoy the beverage and the challenge to stay in business is thus to offer customers diversity.

"We want to improve the business, and it's not only about selling more bottles or having more staff. The expansion of the business is about improving quality, and getting more customer satisfaction. Improvement is just as important as growth, and we're trying both." Pick of the wine

Chateau Beausejour Saint Emilion Grand Cru 1990

Price: 15,988 yuan

Wine Advocate: 100 points

One of the most expensive bottles on offer, this claret was given full marks by the world's most influential wine critic, Robert Parker. Ready to drink now (which, along with its limited production, explains its lofty price tag), Parker described it as possibly "one of the greatest wines made in (the 20th) century," in the same league as the legendary 1961 Latour. Only for those with very deep pockets AND a keen appreciation for wine. Dominio de Atauta Ribera del Duero 2005

Price: 588 yuan

Wine Advocate: 92 points

Still pricey but providing better value is this little Spanish number. What makes this biodynamic wine all the more enjoyable is the audacity of its young French wine maker, Bertrand Sordais. During his frequent visits to Shanghai, the Frenchman often extols the virtues of being unshackled in the Iberian Peninsula, while enjoying the beauty of classic Old World terroir. While drinking well now, this is another to reward the virtue of patience. Mas de Fondreche VDP Cotes de Ventoux 2006

Price: 98 yuan

Wine Advocate: 87 points

Who said good wine had to be expensive? While special occasions call for special purchases, a simple meal is made all the more enjoyable with a splash of this sub-100 yuan bottle. Vin de Pays is French for country wine, and is often derided for being akin to plain ol' table wine. These days, however, more thought and effort is put into producing high quality wines without the constrains (and cost) of the archaic Appellation d'Origine Controlee system. Wine lovers would agree this is a great bargain.


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