Wine has been an integral aspect of almost every civilization from ancient to modern times. Although its origins remain unclear, the first evidence of its cultivation was in China (around 7000 BCE). From the Ancient Greeks to the Ancient Egyptians to the Roman Empire, works of art from great civilizations invariably depict figures drinking wine. The beverage has even taken a prominent role in religion, used in the Christian Eucharist to represent Jesus’ blood for worshipers.
Nowadays the wine industry represents a huge chunk of alcohol’s market share (US retail revenue from wine sales holds at over $30 billion p.a.). US wine exports to Europe are worth $435 million, whilst exports to Canada are worth a further $308 million. Predominantly made in California (which produced 638,400,000 gallons back in 2011) America is taking full advantage of the world’s love of wine.
In spite of the huge global production of the beverage, due to the aging process of fine wines the prices you pay for a premium bottle can be astronomical (as anyone who has been given the onerous task of picking the wine at dinner will support). Back in 1985 $156,450 was paid for a bottle of 1787 wine, in spite of the fact that this bottle of Bordeaux was 150 years past drinkable.
So how do we get through the huge amount of wine produced every year? Well, although the US does get through 330 million cases of wine annually, as an average per citizen (8.96 liters) this is paltry. In comparison, those on this list drink above 38 liters per head each year. Although you may consider such high numbers to be representative of a dangerous drinking culture, many of these countries drink wine almost daily, as a sociable and culinary aspect of the dining experience. Particularly in the Mediterranean, sitting down to dinner with your family accompanied by a few bottles is not only acceptable, but expected.
So pour a glass and read on to discover the top seven countries with the highest annual wine consumption per head…
6 Switzerland, 38.14 liters per head / year
Wine is the most popular alcoholic drink for the Swiss, so it's no wonder that its citizens get through so much every year. Ever since the country was part of the Roman Empire, there have been vineyards in Switzerland (although there is speculation that cultivated wine-growing has been common practice in the country even before then). Of the over 1 million hectolitres of Swiss wine produced, almost all is drunk within the country’s borders (with only 2% exported, predominantly to Germany). Perhaps explaining the large consumption, the drinking starts young here. It is legal to buy wine from the age of 16 and many families encourage socialization with alcohol (most children will have their first taste at just 14). Following an anti-abuse campaign, last year it was reported that sales of alcoholic beverages were at their lowest level in 60 years. However, it has been estimated 20% of citizens consume 70% of the alcohol in Switzerland (skewing the averages, and proving that drinking remains an issue in the country).
5 Andorra, 38.65 liters per head / year
This ‘landlocked microstate’ is surrounded by two of the finest wine producers in the world (France and Spain) so it's really no wonder that its citizens drink so many bottles of ‘vi’ (Catalan for wine). Its small population (of under 80,000) can expect a long, and presumably drunken, life as they have the third highest human life expectancy at birth (84 years old). Wine comprises over 40% of all the alcohol drunk in the country. Although there has been a slow decline in the consumption of alcohol over past years, wine consumption has remained relatively steady. Despite their spot at #6 on this list, Andorra’s ‘Pattern of drinking score’ (which measures the alcohol-attributable disease for a country) is scored as the ‘least risky’ on the scale, perhaps due to strict rules on public drunkenness (deterring excessive drinking).
4 Italy, 42.15 liters per head / year
Italy is internationally known as the world’s largest wine producer, so it is unsurprising that wine forms an integral element of Italian cuisine. With some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, there is a historical precedent to Italian drinking. The Romans vastly improved the efficiency and scope of Italian wine production but long before the Roman Empire, Greek and Etruscan settlers were producing wine in the country. Wine is a key aspect to Italian culture, commonly drunk with both lunch and dinner; but, since the economic downturn, there has been a significant reduction in wine consumption (previously per capita annual consumption had remained around and above 45 liters). As Europe emerges from the credit crunch and Italy’s consumption continues to fall, many worry that the culture is changing as beer becomes increasingly popular.
3 Portugal, 42.49 liters per head / year
Portugal is famous for its sweet fortified ‘Port wine’, the first wine to have controls imposed upon it within Europe (a region was demarcated specifically for Port production). Although many other countries now make fortified wine, due to these regulations only wine produced within Portugal can be sold as ‘Port’. Although the drinking age in Portugal is now 18 (previously 16), anyone accompanied by an older family member is permitted to drink. Portuguese attitudes towards wine drinking are relaxed and, provided they are not causing a problem, the police rarely enforce the law on underage drinkers. This relaxed attitude towards underage drinking, however, does not extend to spirits: last year the government introduced a ban on the sale of spirits to anyone under the age of 18 (with an attached fine of up to €30 000 for those who break it). All of this means that wine-drinking is on the up for under-age drinkers in Portugal.
2 France, 45.23 liters per head / year
Some of the best wines in the world come from France, and so drinking good wine in the country in incredibly cheap (from as little as €3 for a cheap bottle). Back in 2006 the legal drinking age was raised from 16 to 18 (as part of a Europe-wide policy to curb an underage drinking problem). However, vendors rarely check ID (relying on subjective judgments on age, unlike in the US). Like other Mediterranean countries, wine-drinking has become an integral part of French culture. It is commonplace to order a glass of wine or two over lunch, even on a working day. Providing children with a small amount of wine over dinner is considered not only the norm, but healthy. France’s high levels of red wine consumption have even been offered as an explanation for their significantly below average incidence of cardiac disease.
1 Norfolk Island, 46.68 liters per head / year
This small island is situated between Australia and New Zealand out in the Pacific Ocean. Although the tiny island only has one winery, ‘Two Chimneys Wines’ (which opened in 2006), it certainly consumes a lot of the beverage at an average of almost 47 liters per citizen. Although the island only boasts a population of a little over 2000 people, it has a booming tourism industry (perhaps skewing the statistics as people may splash out on wine whilst visiting the island). Although there is a growing trend towards emigration, those who remain on the island clearly like to kick back and enjoy the natural beauty with a glass of wine.
At the top spot is the tiny European country of Luxembourg, where each year citizens drink an average of over 50 liters of wine each (put into context, that's ten times the amount of blood in the average human body). Most native Luxembourg dishes show a preference for peasant cuisine; however they offset this by accompanying their meals with the wines of their neighbor (France) in addition to utilising their own growing wine industry (which now produces almost 200,000 hectolitres a year). Wine in Luxembourg is taxed at 15%, ensuring that the government makes a healthy profit out of its nation’s favorite drink.