For as long as I can remember, Italy has been known as the world’s No. 1 wine-drinking country.
Over the years, I’ve written countless stories about how wine is considered an important part of dinner — not merely a beverage, but almost like its own course… except that it’s enjoyed throughout the meal.
Traditionally, Italian families introduced their children to wine early in life. It was common for parents to let a child have a little sip of wine with their evening meal — often watered down a tad. The idea was that if kids were exposed to wine and its responsible use — as a complement to a meal, not a means of getting hammered — early in life, they would not abuse alcohol as adults (when their parents were no longer around to monitor them).
But things have changed in Italy. According to this report from Associated Press (http://www.wkrn.com/story/23806446/italian-vintners-look-abroad-as-home-sales-slump), wine consumption in Italy has sunk to its lowest point since the country was unified in 1861.
There had already been a quarter-century trend toward other alcoholic beverages, and that trend was accelerated during the recent global recession. It seems that Italians still like to drink, but they’ve become more inclined to order a $10 cocktail than a $50 bottle of wine.
This news comes on the heels of a report issued about this same time last year (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/wine/9713390/French-wine-consumption-hits-record-low.html), indicating that another traditional wine country — France — was experiencing a similar trend.
What does all this mean for American wine lovers? Well, most importers and sommeliers I’ve talked to believe it’s good news, for the most part.
Let’s take care of their chief concern first: They fear that if Italian and French people are drinking less wine, it could force some wine estates out of business. In order to thrive in today’s global marketplace, wineries of a certain size need global distribution for their products. This is not presently a problem at the top of the market, as ultra-premium wines are finding new homes in emerging markets such as China. But for the vast majority of wineries that produce the vast majority of the table wines that we love so much, having a solid relationship with a good exporting company is critical.
The flipside of that equation is that more and more good wine — an array of varieties and blends from both Italy and France — is finding its way to America’s shores. Restaurants and wine bars staffed by passionate buyers and sommeliers are now able to assemble the most eclectic wine lists ever… and at by-the-glass prices that can compete with those fashionable cocktails.
I’ve been part of the Vinesse team for two decades, and I’ve never seen such a wide spectrum of featured wines being offered. As the Italian and French people drink less wine, we here in the States are enjoying more choices, higher overall quality and better prices.