When we romanticize wine drinking over the past 50 years, most of us begin to form a very specific picture in our mind, and that image usually includes French or Italians. While for many people, the go-to image of classic wine consumers immediately conjures up such a vision, when you look a little deeper at the past five decades, new trends and patterns begin to emerge, revealing interesting shifts across the globe when it comes to wine consumption.

Back in March we focused exclusively on the growth in American wine consumption (1994 – 2011), a topic particularly dear to our hearts. (Big hint — it went way up.) That got us wondering what global wine consumption looked like over time, specifically the last 50 years. There are a lot of ways to look at that, but what we wanted to know was this: When you add up every bottle of wine drank around the world, which country’s citizens are drinking the largest percent of that (delicious) pool? The answer to our questions existed, in five year slices, going all the way back to 1961. A lot’s changed since 1961, but first, let’s take a look at the animated map. Head below for an explanation.

The Countries That Drank The Most Wine Over The Past 50 Years - ANIMATED GIF

Looking at the data, we see that four major trends occurred over the past 50 years:

  • Global Diffusion: In the 1961-1964 period, the top three wine consuming countries drank 58.08% of the world’s wine. That number plunged to 34.81%.
  • The Big Jump: The United States started to drink a lot of wine, and there are a lot of us! We’re starting to see the same thing happening in China (more on that below). Other ‘New World‘ nations like Australia and South Africa upped their consumption as well.
  • The Big Plunge: France and Italy, the heart of the ‘Old World,’ have been drinking less and less wine, though they’ve been quite happy to export away billions of dollars worth of bottles. We saw this in Spain, on a smaller scale.
  • Europe, Part 2: Germany, another major ‘Old World’ wine producer (of Riesling, primarily), began to shift their consumption a bit from beer to wine, increasing their share. The Brits can’t grown much of their own wine due to geography. Although they’ve historically been the world’s leading importer of wine, a lot of that was Bordeaux headed to the upper class. Consumption has increased across the board, but it took them a while to jump back toward the top of the consumption list.

With this information at our fingertips, we can’t help but wonder what the next fifty years will bring. Will our grandchildren think of American wine drinkers as the classic image of wine drinkers? Or, will the winds shift again?

Some other interesting things we found:

  • The big South American wine producing countries, Argentina and Chile, have moderated their wine tippling, but not nearly as much as France and Italy. Argentina was able to maintain about 7 percent of global consumption from 1961 until 1994. Since then, Argentinian consumption has declined sharply, while Chilean consumption leveled off.
  • The 200-plus countries absent from the maps consumed between 3.4 – 6.6% in a given period.
  • Wine consumption surged in Russia from the 1960s into the early 1980s. Domestic grape production also soared during a similar timeframe — following heavy vine planting campaigns initiated in the late 1950s. In the period immediately prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union wine consumption began to fall rapdily, due to broad anti-alcoholism campaigns. Following 1989, consumption ‘shifted’ to the former Soviet Republics, a number of which had strong wine production and consumption traditions going back thousands of years. If you count Crimea as part of Russia going forward, ‘domestic production’ will increase, and recent evidence suggests the Russians can’t wait. Whatever the case, there’s great wine to be found in Crimea.

What about the next five years (aka 2010 – 2014)? Two predictions. The United States will leap past Italy into first place and China will jump into the top 5. How do we know? We already took a peek at 2013’s data (from a different source). Late last year we reported that the United States had pulled into first place in the global wine consumption race. China didn’t even register on the map above until the late 1970s, clocking in at .04%, when Deng Xioping began to open up the country’s economy. Within ten years they might leap past everyone.

Finally, we’ve prepared a start-to-finish 2-pane map to help illustrate the 50 year shift:

World Wine Consumption Share 1961 Vs 2005

Notes: Belgium and Luxembourg were combined into Bel-Lux in the original data. The first period covers four years instead of five. Due to the way our mapping tool works countries that did not register consumption during earlier periods are represented on the map in those years in the lightest shade on the scale.

Data Source: Data: Wittwer, G. and K. Anderson, Global Wine Markets, 1961 to 2009: A Statistical Compendium, Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, 2009