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Rothschilds tapping Chinese thirst with first vintage champagne

The Rothschild family is betting affluent Chinese will be as keen on its vintage champagne as they are on the finest red Bordeaux wines it produces in France.

No longer are China’s nouveaux riches mixing first growth wines with soft drinks, said Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, chairman of Champagne Barons de Rothschild, which has allocated more than 10 percent of its rare 2006 vintage to the China market. The palates of Chinese fine drinkers are becoming as sophisticated as anywhere else, he said.

"Those days are far gone," he said in Hong Kong on the last leg of an Asia tour that included Beijing and Shanghai. "The Chinese have become extremely knowledgeable about wines, and they love to drink."

French winemakers have been looking to Asia for growth in recent years as markets elsewhere in the world level off. China has been a boon for top first-growth wines including Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Lafite, both of which are made by branches of the Rothschild family.

A bottle of standard Champagne Barons de Rothschild, which is blended from several different vintages, retails for about $80 a bottle in China, while the 2006 vintage, the first single-year champagne the family has released, sells for about $350. China has been allocated between 500 and 600 cases of the 5,000 cases produced, he said.

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