Imported wine and spirit sales in China soared last year, according to new research.

The IWSR Drinks Record said yesterday (13 July) that it estimates imported spirits sales in 2005 to have leapt by almost 62% year-on-year to 2.55m nine-litre cases.

The drinks analyst credited the surge to the booming Chinese economy, rising levels of disposable income, the elimination of trade barriers as China complies with World Trade Organisation rules and the development of both on- and off-trade distribution channels.

The increase was driven by Scotch whisky, The IWSR said, which overtook Cognac last year to become the leading imported spirits category in the country. While Pernod Ricard's Chivas Regal saw its flagship 12-Year-Old whisky leap by 120% year-on-year to 660,000, Diageo's Johnnie Walker Black could 'only' muster a 63% rise to 201,000 cases in the same period.

International white spirits are attracting positive attention in the modern on-premise sector, the IWSR noted.

Speaking to the magazine, Diageo China's corporate relations director, Michael Lu, said: "The growth in this industry will be sustainable for the foreseeable future. People are getting more health-conscious, which results in a trend to trade up to better-quality brands."