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As growth in China has soared over the past 15 years, the image of high-ranking Communist Party officials toasting one another at events with goblets of expensive French wine became something of a cliché. Then Xi Jinping took a tour of southern China in December 2012.

The trip, his first as head of the Communist Party and one laden with symbolism, was a model of austerity. No roads were closed to make way for his official motorcade. Buffet dinners were sparse affairs with few dishes, and little or no wine was consumed. Xi reinforced that démarche by declaring a nationwide crackdown on government corruption when he assumed the presidency in March last year, with party officials’ conspicuous consumption of luxury items firmly in his sights (see also “ China Economy Stays on Track but Rebalancing Risks Remain”).

The depressed state of the international wine market suggests that the campaign may be working. “Given the size of the Chinese state sector in the overall fine wine market, one should not underestimate the impact” that Xi’s crackdown has had on wine prices, says Justin Gibbs, co-founder and sales and marketing director of Liv-ex, a London-based firm that runs the global wine industry’s leading exchange. But even amid the gloom of a protracted slump in wine prices, many investors think emerging markets like China might still provide the source for the next surge in global demand.

Prices for tradable, investment-grade wines, a global market that industry observers estimate at anywhere from $5 billion to $10 billion, have been in decline for three successive years, a situation unprecedented in the three decades that wine has been treated as a professional investment vehicle. Although fine wine has historically generated annualized returns of 10 percent to 12 percent, “returns over the past five years are basically zero,” says Gibbs. “The doom and gloom are palpable.”

The Liv-ex fine wine 100, the firm’s benchmark index, rose dramatically from 2005 to mid-2011 — climbing from 100 to 365 — on the back of a powerful upturn in demand from China, which rapidly became the largest export market for wines from the storied Bordeaux region of southwestern France, which make up 95 percent of the index. China’s recent economic slowdown, coupled with a sell-off generated by the troubles of two of a handful of notable wine funds and a market-wide realization that high-end wine producers had inflated their prices to ride the Chinese demand wave, caused the bubble to burst. Since June 2011, the index, which is calculated monthly, has fallen sharply, touching 255 at the end of January.