The United States is one of the world's biggest wine importers – but Americans still only drink a fraction of the amount of wine consumed by the Italians, Germans, French and British.

Both in 1997 and 2001, the US was the third biggest importer of wines, measured in hectolitres, behind Germany and the UK, according to research commissioned by the Vinexpo organisation.

The 9.3 litres of wine that American adults drunk per capita in 1997 rose to 9.9l in 2001, and may rise to 10.3l in 2006, the study said.

But America is still far from a wine-drinking nation. By comparison, in 2001 Italians drank 58.7l per capita, Germans 37.2l, United Kingdom residents 21.8l and Canadians 10.2l.

The analysis and projection, involving only still light wines, was presented by Robert Beynat, Vinexpo’s chief executive, at a Manhattan news conference on March 12.

Vinexpo commissioned a study of current and future wine trends worldwide by the International Wines and Spirits Record in London. (The comparative actual and theoretical data are based on five-year intervals.)

In 2001, America made 18.9 million hectoliters of wine and was fourth in wine production, behind Italy, France and Spain respectively. In 2006, America will remain fourth, but with 21 million hectoliters produced, the study forecast.

America’s consumption of still light wine, 16m hl in 1997, rose to 19m in 2001, and may reach 21m in 2006, the study projected. Only France, Italy and Germany currently surpass America in total consumption.

The American and German data are so close that if Germany’s overall consumption falters, and America’s does not falter or grows, America could move into the No. 3 spot in overall consumption.

The top five suppliers of still and sparkling wine for the American market in 2001 were, in this order, Italy, France, Australia, Chile and Spain.

The top five destinations of American wines in 2001 were the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan and Belgium.

America led the world with US$16.1bn in retail sales in 2001, up from US$12.2bn in 1997. France was second in 2001 with US$11.5 billion and the UK third with US$9.1bn.

The Vinexpo trade fair takes place in Bordeaux between 22 and 26 June.

Written by Howard G Goldberg17 March 2003