You may be surprised who drinks the most wine

Guess who, of all the world’s peoples, consumes the most wine?

It’s interesting to watch trends, as consumption rises in some countries and falls in others, and to speculate about the reasons in each case. In Canada, per capita consumption of wine has been rising slowly and steadily for years, as wine has become a lifestyle choice for many people, especially in the younger (20s and early-30s) age-groups.

Canadians currently go through about 13 litres of wine per capita.

But look at France and Italy. They used to consume massive volumes of wine — 120 litres per person each year in France in the 1960s. Now, they drink only about 45 litres a year, less than a glass a day. Contrary to widespread belief, most French people don’t drink wine with most meals. Reasons include health concerns, changing patterns of sociability and tougher drinking-driving laws.

There’s a similar pattern in Italy, where wine consumption has fallen from about 110 litres per capita in the 1960s, to just over 40 litres today. It looks as though it will keep on declining. While about 70-per-cent of Italians over the age of 65 drink wine every day, that’s true of only 13-per-cent of those under the age of 35. Over time, heavier drinkers will be replaced by lighter-drinkers and non-drinkers.

Trends like these (echoed in other previously high-consumption countries like Spain and Argentina) explain why there are ongoing adjustments in international wine markets. With declining domestic demand, producing countries like France, Italy, Spain and Argentina mounted aggressive export campaigns.

We are among the beneficiaries. I compared the prices of imported wines in the 2011 edition of my book of the 500 best-value wines in the LCBO, with those in the 2013 edition (to be published in September). While some prices have risen, most have either stayed the same or fallen. Currency exchange rates are factors, but so is the keen competition to be listed in the LCBO.

There are also new target markets, like China, where wine consumption is tiny, despite a long history of production. (The earliest evidence of wine has been found there.) But wine is taking off among the wealthy and middle classes, and China is now the single biggest market for high-end Bordeaux wines.

Everywhere, of course, per capita rates of wine consumption are misleading, because a small section of the population consumes a disproportionately large volume of the wine. Recent research suggests a correlation between interest in and knowledge about wine, and higher levels of consumption.

As for the question I started with, the place with the highest per capita consumption in the world? At 55 litres per person a year, it’s the Vatican City. It must be all the communions.

Email Rod Phillips at rod@rodphillipsonwine.com.  Join him online Thursdays at 2pm at ottawacitizen.com/winechat, and follow him on Twitter at@rodphillipswine

Territory 61 Sauvignon Blanc 2011

This sauvignon blanc from South Africa’s Western Cape region is a well-priced and refreshing partner for grilled fish (and chips), seafood, chicken and also for curries. Look for bright and quite-complex fruit, crisp and juicy acidity, and very good balance. 13-per-cent alcohol; $14.95 (272310)

SLENT Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2010

This blend, from the Paarl wine region in South Africa, delivers intense and tangy fruit from start to finish, along with good fruit-acid balance and easy-going tannins. It’s a good choice for burgers and grilled red meats and, at this price, ideal for a barbecue party. 14-per-cent alcohol; $9.75 (226688)

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2010

From South Africa’s warm Swartland region, and made by the prestigious Boekenhoutskloof winery, this value-priced syrah shows delicious, layered ripe flavours beautifully balanced with fresh acidity. It’s a natural for grilled lamb and other red meats. 14.5-per-cent alcohol; $14.95 (595280, Vintages Essential)

Limoncé Lemon Liqueur

Limoncé is Italy’s top-selling limoncello, made by steeping the zest of specific varieties of lemons in alcohol, and often served chilled (not too cold) as a digestif after meals. This has lower alcohol than many, but retains full flavour and excellent balance. 25-per-cent alcohol; $19.95, but $17.95 to June 18 (271874)

Connect with Rod Phillips |@rodphillipswine|rod@rodphillipsonwine.com