LOOKING for someone with their finger on the pulse of the world wine market?
Chances are Robert Beynat is your man.
Beynat was one of the co-founders of Vinexpo. Held every other year in Bordeaux since 1981, it's now widely regarded as the world's leading international wine and spirits exhibition. He's also the brainchild behind Vinexpo's expansion into Asia, where 13 years ago he helped launch the first Vinexpo Asia Pacific and subsequent shows.
In anticipation of this year's fair (June 16-20), Vinexpo released an avalanche of numbers and forecasts.
Some you might find quite surprising.
While we all know the Chinese have been big on red wine for a while, China has more than doubled its consumption in the last five years, and bumped the Americans out of third place as one of the world's top red wine drinking countries.
Long gone are the days of cutting Petrus with Ginger Ale.
Reasons for the increased Chinese appetite are numerous, suggests Beynat, ranging from the ongoing influence of the "French paradox" that still carries plenty of weight, to the strength of Bordeaux as the world's most famous wine brand. Plus, he suggests, red wine is the wine of choice for Chinese cuisine.
Yet, when looking at China, Beynat says it's important to note that wine culture hasn't been embraced by its entire billion-plus population. The real number, he suggests, is likely closer to 120 million, at least for now.
Expect China's love affair with the grape to continue to grow, he says, particularly as its domestic wine industry gathers steam.
Even if China has moved into fifth spot in world wine consumption, it still lags behind the United States (no. 1, overall), which Beynat still regards as "the market to watch first, today . . . and tomorrow."
Back here in the Great White North, Vinexpo's number crunchers say we'll also be drinking a whole lot more wine in the next few years, with consumption pegged to increase 14.27 per cent by 2016, three times greater than the global average rate. Our thirst for more and better wines, predicts Vinexpo's forecast, will see Canada become the world's fifth fastest growing wine market, behind China, the United States, Russia and Germany.
"The trend in the world is to drink better," says Beynat. "But there's now a tendency in (the) old countries to drink less."
Then again, as Beynat notes, Canadians "still drink only half what the British drink," and he jokes that "we (the French) are at 50 litres per person, compared to your 15."
Some of that wine will also be pink: Beynat says rosé's popularity is definitely on the rise; and while white wine sales continue to struggle, "a glass of Chardonnay remains the ideal apéritif."
In fact, overall, the picture is a whole lot rosier than you'd expect.
"The surprise of the study," says Vinexpo's wine market guru, is that the economic crisis didn't have a lot of impact because, in the end, people will pay for pleasure." I'll drink to that.
. . .
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Tim Pawsey covers food and wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: info@ hiredbelly.com.