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China team’s victory hits wine-tasting world like a ‘thunderbolt’

A group of young Chinese wine tasters, with an average age of 25, won an international tasting competition in France on Saturday – a result that organisers called “a thunderbolt in the wine world”.

The four-member team from China, with their French coach, Brice Leboucq, beat 20 rival teams – with France finishing second and the United States third – after identifying details of six white wines and six red wines without seeing the bottle or label. Former champions Spain were 10th.

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Chen Xi, 28, a member of the winning team, who also took part in the same competition last year and in 2014, said teams from European countries were traditionally “stronger”, but the Chinese team had an advantage in having greater access to wines produced outside Europe.

Born and raised in Qingdao, a city renowned for its beer-making, Chen first discovered a love – and talent – for tasting wines when he went to France as an exchange student in 2009.

Over the course of two hours at the Chateau du Galoupet,one of France’s biggest wine estates, teams had to identify details of the six white wines and six red wines, including the countries of origin, grape varieties, vintages, producers and appellation, or geographical area.

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Chen said the Chinese team had focused their efforts on identifying the grape varieties and origin of the 12 wines.

“Telling the appellation is difficult, but it’s true for all competitors,” he said.

“When it comes to the vintage, one needs some luck.”

The French magazine La Revue du vin de France, which organised the competition, said the Chinese team had remained “humble even in victory” because they had “conceded that in blind tasting, 50 per cent is knowledge and 50 per cent is luck”.

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Jia Jingru, the Chinese representative of the magazine, said the team’s win showed the great potential of the French-educated young wine tasters, who were younger than their rival teams.

China’s imported wine consumption dropped steeply after 2013 in the anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping.

But it has gradually picked up again thanks to the burgeoning ranks of affluent young wine lovers on the mainland.