Italy should further explore Chinese market to boost wine sales: experts

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After many years at the top, Italy has been unseated this year as the world's top wine exporter in terms of volume, and the fast-growing Chinese wine market is one of the main reasons for the drop.

According to the latest international sales figures, Spanish wine exports reached nearly 23 million hectoliters, slightly ahead of Italy, which had been in the top spot for years.

Overall, wine experts say, Italy's wine industry is in good shape, It is winning regular praise from critics, with a healthy mix of small players and large conglomerates in the sector, and shows increased investments and expertise improving the quality of production over time.

Domenica Bosco, who monitors the wine sector for the Italian industrial association Coldiretti, told Xinhua Italy might retake the lead from Spain as soon as this year and he noted that Italy's wine sells for a much higher average price than those of Spain or any other country except France.

But some trends are working against Italy, such as the fact that the world is suffering from a wine glut. Gaetano Manti, publisher of "Il Mio Vino" wine magazine, said that the world produces around 40 million hectoliters -- around 5.3 billion standard bottles of wine -- more than it consumes each year. That puts downward pressure on prices. That has helped Spain, which has more than half of its wine exports sold as bulk wine rather than in bottles.

Another big factor is China, which is an increasingly important wine market. China is the fifth largest wine market in the world, and the world's top market for red wine. And with its fast growth rate -- China's wine consumption grew by 136 percent between 2008 and last year -- it could surpass Britain for the No. 4 spot by the end of this decade.

But Italian wine has failed to benefit from that rise. Manti said that between 2013 and 2014, Italian wine exports to China declined by 1 percent, while Spain's grew by 9 percent.

If those figures were reversed, Spain would not have passed Italy to become the world's top wine exporter.

Manti told Xinhua Italy should do more in the Chinese market: "Italy has done too little to promote its products in China," Manti said. "Spain and France have governments that help promote and market their wines. This is something where Italy must improve."

Lorenzo Tersi, a leading Italian wine commentator, said the problem was partially due to know-how. "The Chinese wine market is very important, and it requires a great deal of cultural knowledge to succeed in it," he told Xinhua.

Chinese wine consumption on average is low: only about 0.35 liters, or around half a bottle, per year per person, but it is on the rise.

Italy's per capita consumption is the opposite case, per capita consumption is a little more than 100 times higher, at 36 liters per year, though that is on the decline, down from around 55 liters per person each year 15 years ago, according to Tersi. Enditem

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