If you want to understand Viognier, you're going to have to take a deep breath and buy a bottle or two of Condrieu...
Acquiring a wine education, as every MW student will confirm, can be an expensive business. Those Gevrey-Chambertin samples, like it or not, will never be cheap. There’s no cut-price route to getting a fix on what might distinguish Brunello from Chianti Classico. If you want to understand Viognier, you’re going to have to take a deep breath and buy a bottle or two of Condrieu.
I have, however, a piece of good news for anyone who wants to research the statistical end of the wine world. Yes, commercial purveyors of wine data charge frighteningly high, three-figure prices for their reports and their ‘insights’. But the best statistical overview of the wine world that I know of is now available, freshly updated, as an entirely free download. It’s called Global wine markets, 1961 to 2009: a statistical compendium and you can get it as a PDF from here. If you want a physical version, you can have that, too, for a fairly modest two-figure sum. It’s the work of one of Adelaide University’s star professors, the economist Kym Anderson working with his colleague Signe Nelgen. Kym runs the newly founded Wine Economics Research Centre at the University.
Let me give you a few of the more surprising nuggets of information contained in this very rich pudding. Many wine fans assume that vines are an important crop for our favourite wine-producing nations. Wrong. Just 4.3% of France’s crop area is given over to grapes, and even Italy, ‘Oenotria’ itself, can only boast 7.8%. Portugal and Chile are the only two countries where vines account for more than 10% of the total crop area (and yes, this does include table-grape producing nations like Turkey).
When it comes to varietal heterogeneity, I’d always assumed that Italy was unbeatable. Not necessarily. The top five varieties in Italy (which, since you asked, are Trebbiano, Sangiovese, Catarratto, Montepulciano and Barbera) account for 38.2% of Italian plantings. Among the big 12 producing countries, it’s Portugal once again which looks most diverse. Not one of its major five varieties (Periquita, Fernão Pires, Tempranillo, Malvasia and Tinta Amarela) occupies more than 7% of the vineyard area, and together they only occupy 24.6% of plantings.
We all know that Australia’s wine scene is dominated by big companies to a greater extent than elsewhere. Actually … not. Australia’s top four companies have a 62.3% share of national wine sales, where just three companies in Chile account for over 80% of national wine sales, making Chile the least commercially diverse wine market of all. (In Italy, the top four companies can only manage just 9.7% of the domestic market.)
There are high-latitude exceptions to the following general rule, but low vineyard yields tend to equate with high wine quality. Who, then, are the world’s viticultural villains, logging the world’s highest yields in tonnes per hectare (t/ha)? That used to be an Argentinian speciality, but Argentina’s average of 13.2 t/ha is now easily eclipsed by that of the USA, at a whopping 17 t/ha. Good old Portugal makes do with just 4 t/ha – which, by the way, is under half what Italy takes (10.4 t/ha). The world champions for productivity, though, are India’s sub-tropical viticulturalists, who snip off an astonishing 25.2 t/ha each year.
France, you might presume, has the highest share of world wine exports, driven by all that Champagne and Bordeaux. That was only true in recent times for just five years in the late 1980s. Today Italy is in top spot, with 21.3%. And between 1961 and 1964, remember, it was the countries of North Africa who dominated the world wine trade, with an astonishing 54 per cent of world exports. The ‘New World’ once lay just across the Mediterranean.
The French, it’s true, still lead major exporting nations in terms of the unit value of total wine exports in US dollars/litre ($6.22 in 2010) – but don’t assume that wine is in any way statistically significant to France’s merchandise exports: it represented just 1.62% in 2009. One nation alone vastly eclipses all others in terms of wine’s importance to its overall exports. Step forward, mighty Moldova, whose figure is nearly 10%.
There is more, much more, in the Anderson/Nelgen opus. You never need lie awake at night again wondering about the share of wine production volume exported from Germany (37 per cent in 2009), or fret away the hours trying to guess per capita wine consumption in Finland (11.96 litres in 2009). Download and enjoy.
On another matter altogether, I am preparing a column for the October edition of Decanter magazine about the 2010 Bordeaux campaign, and would love to hear from readers who feel strongly about it in one way or another. Amused, outraged, distraught, upset – or is it a lot of fuss about straightforward market mechanisms, as Bordeaux’s mayor Alain Juppé has claimed? Contact me at email@example.com.
Written by Andrew Jefford