Many countries do not encourage the consumption of alcohol (see: Lifetime alcohol abstainers — where in the world are they?), but in those places where alcohol is consumed the preference for wine versus beer versus spirits varies considerably. The following table lists the percent of world consumption accounted for by each of 47 countries for 2018 (data from: Annual Database of Global Wine Markets).
As you can see, the USA, with 330 million people, easily beats all other countries for wine, but it is China, with slightly more than 1,400 million people, that consumes the most beer and spirits. While the USA is second for beer, it is a poor third for spirits behind India, with slightly less than 1,400 million people. India is also 12th for beer, but is a lowly 41st for wine — needless to say, India is seen as a big potential market by the wine exporters of the world. Similarly, Japan is 4th for spirits and 7th for beer, but 17th for wine, making it another potential future wine market. Russia is the most consistent of the top markets, being 5th for spirits, 6th for beer and 7th for wine.
This leads obviously on to what percentage of each country’s alcohol market consists of wine, which I have briefly covered before (In which countries is wine the greater part of the alcohol market?). The following graph shows the percent of national alcohol consumption for each of the same countries as above (taken from the same source).
Wine makes up >50% of consumption in the countries down as far as Switzerland (ie. nine countries), with the cradle of wine-making (Georgia) at 48%. Obviously, not all of these countries consume much in the way of alcohol in the first place (eg. Morocco). However, six of the nine countries are in Europe, where wine-making got its initial widespread hold, with the remaining two in South America.
These data very much reflect the modern world, as well as tradition. Notably, the Nordic countries have traditionally based their alcohol consumption on spirits, since grapes (in particular) have not been a viable crop for most of history; but there have been concerted efforts to replace binge-drinking of spirits with moderate consumption of wine and beer (see: Why are there wine monopolies in Scandinavia?). Wine now makes up a fair percentage of their consumption: Sweden 44%, Denmark 43%, Norway 31%, and Finland 24%.
In turn, this leads to a consideration of beverage wine consumption per person, within each country. The next graph compares the data for two possible ways to measure this. It shows wine consumption in liters per person (capita) horizontally, and wine consumption in kiloliters per $million of real Gross Domestic Product vertically, for the year 2016. The latter measures consumption per income, rather than per person.*
We would expect these two measures to roughly agree with each other, which they do (67% of the variation between countries matches). The six countries with the biggest per capita consumption are (right to left): Portugal, Croatia, France, Italy, Moldova, and Switzerland. All of these are in Europe, of course, as also are the next six.
Indeed, the variation in wine consumption among continents is pretty obvious, as shown in this summary table:
| Per capita
|Per $m of GDP
Wine-making from grapes started on the border of Europe and Asia, but it mainly spread west, not east or south. From there, it was transported by invading Europeans into Africa, the Americas, and Oceania (mainly Australia and New Zealand). Interestingly, Oceania matches Europe in terms of consumption per person but not per income — the Australians and New Zealanders drink as much wine as the Europeans but do not spend as much of their income on it.
Two of the countries in the graph do not fit the correlation between consumption per person and per income, as shown in red. These are Moldova (on the right) and Romania. The denizens of both countries spend a much greater part of their income on wine than does anyone else. Someone needs to look into this!
Finally, it will interesting to keep an eye on how consumption trends vary in the future. It is reported that Millenials are consuming more beers and craft spirits than did their Baby Boomer parents, which would notably change many of the patterns shown here. Of course, the data for 2020 may also be seriously affected by the current pandemic.
* The gross domestic product (GDP) of a nation is an estimate of the total value of all the goods and services it produces during a specific period. GDP can be calculated by adding up all of the money spent by consumers, businesses, and government in that period, or by adding up all of the money received by all of these participants.