Spirits imports into China posted dramatic gains in 2006, rising by 36.5% to 3.5m nine-litre cases, according to the latest findings from The IWSR Drinks Record.

Scotch whisky spearheaded that growth, rising by 36% last year to reach 1.6m cases, of which 1.4m were premium-and-above qualities. Cognac sales rose by 40% to 1.1m cases, with most of this at VSOP-and-above qualities.

Chivas Regal continued its dominance over the key 12yo segment after a near 10% rise to 725,000 cases, which nevertheless represents a slowdown compared to previous years. That slowdown has continued in the first half of 2007. Pernod Ricard managing director Pierre Pringuet told a press conference last week: "In Spring 2007 we really saw a slowdown in the market (for Chivas). There are a number of factors. We had quite a nice geographical expansion in China in past years covering more cities. That process has ended because you can only expand so far."

There is also little doubt that Chivas is facing a greater challenge from Diageo's Johnnie Walker Black, which posted a phenomenal rise of 92% in the year to just below 400,000 cases.

While Chivas Regal's rate of growth may have slowed in 2006, sales of another Pernod Ricard brand, Ballantine's 12yo, nearly doubled to about 100,000 cases- most of it at super-premium prices.

Cognac's growth was led by Hennessy, which posted a very impressive gain of 53% to just under 500,000 cases. Pernod Ricard's Martell brand overtook Rémy Martin last year to become the second-ranked Cognac brand after posting an equally impressive 47% rise. Rémy Martin brand sales increased by 17.6% to 288,000 cases.