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July 29, 2014
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In Malbec country, Fernet becomes king

Wine consumption is becoming more high brow.

Wine consumption plunges 25 percent in last decade amid rise in bitters

Argentina may be famous around the world for its wine but Argentines are increasingly putting down the glass of Malbec to pick up a glass of Fernet — probably mixed with coke.

New figures show people are increasingly moving away from the country’s celebrated grapes, towards other alcohol varieties, in particular that famous Italian blend of herbs and spice.

Wine consumption in Argentina has plunged 25 percent since 2003, from 33 litres per person per year in 2003, to 24.3 litres in 2013, according to Abeceb, a local consultancy.

This drop comes in stark contrast to trends for other alcohol products in the decade from 2003.

Currently, Argentines drink an annual average of 1.5 litres of fernet or bitters.

Yet not all wines were down and out.

Sparkling wine has also risen in popularity, following a similar trend. Consumption of sparkling wines soared in the same decade from around half a litre consumed in 2003 to almost one litre in 2013.

Particularly notable is how sparkling wine has stopped being exclusively a seasonal beverage. In 2003, 20 percent of total sparkling wine sales in a year took place in December, a number that decreased to 10 percent in December 2013.

Beer vs. wine

While wine and beer were at similar consumption levels in 2003, with 33 and 35 litres per person per year, respectively, they later diverged.

Beer — the unassuming leader in the Argentine alcohol market — registered stable consumption data for the decade ending 2013 to consolidate its place as the country’s preferred alcohol option. With wine consumption faltering across the decade, Argentines last year guzzled away 41.7 litres of beer per person, reaching a peak of 45 litres in 2008

“The increased preference for beer among Argentines came at some cost to the wine market. In fact, it’s considered to have had a subsitutional effect, since beer now occupies the place that table or non varietal wine once had,” Abeceb explained.

Changing palates

Despite the decrease in consumption by no means should the data suggest the rumblings of a crisis for Argentina’s wine industry, Abeceb highlights.

“Even though (wine) consumption has generally fallen, at the same time it’s become one of the most sophisticated sectors. This is due to a trend that’s been noted in the preferences of wine drinkers, who for some time have preferred varietials overs non-varietals,” it said, suggesting that a drop in wine sales might be balanced out by the higher prices of more expensive bottles.

The firm’s report also returns to and expands on the example of sparkling wines, which it claims Argentines are now popping open right throughout the year, instead of just during the holiday season.

“In 1993 sparkling sales in December represented 20 percent of the annual total (of the sparkling wine sector), and in 2003 that was 18 percent. But the most startling change was perceived at the end of 2013, when December sales represented just 10 percent of bottles sold during the year,” the report read.

What’s more, the data indicated that on a quarertly basis, sparkling mine sales had began to spread out, decreasing the concentration of sales from October to December.

In 1993, half of all sparkling sales were registered in that period, with the figure decreasing to 42 percent in 2003 and to just 36 percent by 2013.

If tastes are changing in this country — and of all things in relation to wine — it may not be long before vegetarianism takes hold.

Herald staff

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