THE French are no longer the world's biggest drinkers of red wine – they have been overtaken by the Chinese, according to new figures.
Last year, Chinese drinkers – including those in Hong Kong - consumed 155 million cases of red wine, 5 million more than France, which claimed second place.
Italy came third, according to figures compiled by International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) on behalf of Bordeaux-based organisation Vinexpo.
The popularity of red wine in China has accelerated rapidly. Between 2007 and 2013, red wine consumption rocketed by 175.4%, the Vinexpo / The IWSR study found. During the same period, its popularity fell 5.8 % in Italy and 18% in France.
China is now the fourth largest export market for French burgundy behind Japan, Britain and the US. Researchers believe that drinkers in the Asia-Pacific region will be enjoying more than 4 billion bottles of different wines a year by 2017.
Some experts say the boom, which has led to increasing interest from Chinese buyers in French vineyards, is more a matter of cultural sensibilities than taste.
According to Vinexpo the passion for red wine is because it is a positive colour in Chinese culture, associated with wealth, power and luck – hence it goes down well at important business meals.
White, on the other hand, is associated with death. However Vinexpo expect the popularity of white wine and champagne will rise in China as the market develops further.
Overall, French drinkers still consume more wine per person than any other country. According to 2011 figures, the French drank 52.6 litres of wine a year, compared to just 1.3 litres a year per head in China. By 2015, French consumers are expected to cut the amount they drink to just over 50l a year.
America is the biggest overall consumer - nearly 318,000 nine-litre cases in 2012 - followed by France with just over 303,500, then Italy, Germany, China and the UK (138,506).