How the democratization of wine in China has led to a soaring number of consumers

More affordable prices, globalized palates, younger demographics and e-commerce are driving wine consumption trends in China higher than originally forecast.

According to a report by Wine Intelligence, the number of consumers drinking imported wine in China has soared in the last three years to 38 million -- double the original forecast of 19 million projected in 2011.

Up until three years ago, wine culture in China was reserved for the elite, “...confined to a relatively rarefied world,” reads the summary.

Wine was a status symbol and came with exorbitant price tags -- the equivalent of a week’s salary -- and ended up more often as a mantelpiece ornament than in a glass.

But the rise of urban, educated Chinese consumers in their 20s and 30s, and the product's reputation as a sophisticated status symbol, are driving increased wine consumption, the report says, with people opting for a glass of wine over beer, tea or baiju.

Demand is particularly strong in affluent and cosmopolitan areas like Shanghai, Guangzhou and emerging destinations like Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Shenyang.

Lower price points thanks to axed wine duties in Hong Kong and overstocked shelves are also driving consumer demand, as is the convenience of e-commerce: nearly half (47 percent) of Chinese drinkers of imported wines said they had bought a bottle via the internet in the last six months.

Meanwhile, after a decade-long wine boom in China, imports and consumption of French wine fell for the first time in 2013, a drop that's pushing France's winemakers to look beyond China and towards other potential wine markets such as India, Vietnam and Thailand.