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China’s thirst for knowledge about wine is growing as its expanding middle class and new generation of drinkers give the industry a boost.

Edward Ragg, cofounder of Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, a wine education specialist in Beijing, told China Daily: “There is now a far greater number of younger Chinese people developing an interest in wine, especially imported wines. This goes hand-in-hand with many Chinese nationals’ interest in the world beyond China and how China fits into the world.”

According to figures released by the China Association for Imports and Export of Wine & Spirits, total imports amounted to 567.5 million liters, worth about $2.12 billion, between January and November 2016.

The country imported $1.97 billion worth of bottled wines, a year-on-year increase of 18.3 percent. Bulk wine imports grew by 13.1 percent in value, to $96.4 million.

However, Ragg said Chinese wine lovers are still unenthusiastic about wine produced close to home.

“Chinese nationals who love wine are quite suspicious of Chinese wine,” he said. “They do not trust what is in the bottle and find certain wines to be too expensive and of less-good quality compared with many imported wines.”

But, in an attempt to change perceptions and prejudices, Ragg has used local wines in blind tastings.

Ragg explained that teachers get the students to rate the quality of the wines and think about how they are made and the climates that produce them, before then revealing the source of the wine.

Wine specialists say many Chinese people aged between 25 and 35 have developed an interest in wine, especially imports.

Although there are still challenges for the Chinese wine industry, including the long-term health of vineyards and cost of labor, Ragg said it is evolving to compete with imports.

“Wine producers are realizing that Chinese consumers who love wine are interested not just in red wines, but in white and pink ones too, as well as both still and sparkling wines,” said Ragg. “There is some good Chinese Chardonnay being made now, as well as pink wines from a range of grape varieties.”

He said quality sparkling wine has been produced in Ningxia and Shanxi and there is an “increased interest in grape varieties more suited to China, such as Marselan, which is less disease-prone and can make quite fruity, deep-colored reds”.

The London-based Wine and Education Trust, the largest global provider of qualifications in the field of wines and spirits, said China has overtaken the US to become its second-biggest growth market. The UK is the biggest.

The trust opened its first international office in Hong Kong in November in response to strong demand from Chinese customers.