Italy sells more white wine than any other nation, a conference to mark the 50th anniversary of a Verdicchio DOC heard. For publication in week of 8 October 2018.
Red is the world’s most popular wine, representing 55 per cent of global sales, but white is growing in popularity, especially among consumers aged under 30.
Still white wine has become more popular that still red in Italy, a reverse of a situation that prevailed until recent years. White sales in Italy rose 14 per cent in the past five years, against an increase of 7 per cent for red wine. Whites are more popular when consumed outside the home, though more people prefer drinking red at home.
Details were released at a conference in the town of Jesi in Italy’s March region held to mark the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi DOC in 1968. The neighbouring DOC of Verdicchio de Metalica celebrated its half century a year earlier.
Denis Pantini of Nomisma’s Wine Monitor service noted the change in consumption habits in Italy and worldwide, explaining that white wine was perceived as an “easy” drink compare with red, especially among women aged under 30.
Growth had been the result of new fashions and ways of drinking, Pantini said, and women represented a good “engine for the market”.
Women’s consumption of wine has increased in relation to men’s, which partly explains the surge in white wine sales. Italy’s global white wine sales were worth 1,287 million Euros last year, the highest in the world, and larger than the 1,276 million Euros of sales for white wines in France.
The conference was organised by the Instituto Marchigiano de Tutela Vini (IMT), the group representing wine producers in Italy’s Marche region. The Marche is on the west coast, aligned with Rome on the east coast.
The event took place in the beautiful Pergolesi theatre in the centre of Jesi. The theatre, whose roof is shown at left, is one of the few opera houses in Italy built in the late 1700s that has never been destroyed by fire or bombs. IMT represents producers covering about 8,000 hectares of vines and almost 90 per cent of the wines bottled in the region.
Italy currently exports more wine than any other country, Pantini said, but each litre is only worth 2.8 Euros compared with 4.93 Euros for New Zealand wine and 4.69 Euros for French wine. Pantini pointed out that New Zealand had increased its wine exports by 1,229 per cent in the past decade – albeit from a low base – compared with rises of 88 per cent for Italy, 62 per cent for Australia, 21 per cent for Spain and a decline of 20 per cent for France.
Germany, the United States, the UK, France and Canada are the biggest buyers of Italian wine and represent two thirds of total sales, according to Pantini. The US is the major player, with Italian wine sales there increasing 73 per cent in the decade since 2007.
Pantini said the future was bright for Italian wine sales if producers concentrated on promoting autochthonous grapes. “They are the wines of the future, the winning card,” he said. Other factors that would ensure success included production and promotion of organic and sustainable wines.
The director of the Instituto Marchigiano de Tutela Vini, Alberto Mazzoni, said Italian wines were appreciated because they came from autochthonous grapes grown in specific areas, often referred to as “native” varieties. He said Verdicchio, native to the Marche, was a great example because of its versatility and capacity to age well. Previous columns have described this longevity.
The Marche has worked hard to improve its vineyards and wine marketing. In the past decade more than a quarter of the Jesi DOC’s 2,190 hectares of vineyards have been renovated. About 100 million Euros have been spent on promoting and introducing organic growing methods. “We have the still white wine that has been most awarded by Italian guides in the past four years [yet] we are still not able to assert our real value in the market,” Mazzoni said.
Last year Verdicchio received the title of best still white wine in Italy for the fourth year in a row. At this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards 15 Verdicchios received more than 90 points out of 100, compared with only four wines in 2016. According to a Nomisma Wine Monitor survey in 2017, Verdicchio appears on more than four in five wine lists (83 per cent) in all Italian restaurants, with an average of six labels per list, so name recognition is high.
Dr Ian d’Agata, senior editor with the Vinous organisation and author of Native Wines Grapes of Italy, agreed that Verdicchio was under-valued. “You need to find ways to increase the price point.” About 18 million bottles of Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi DOC are sold each year, and about half of them are sold internationally. The top five export markets are the US, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and China.
The Instituto Marchigiano de Tutela Vini plans to invest 4.2 million Euros to promote their wine this year. Major targets include the US, Canada, China, Japan, Russia and Switzerland, with two thirds of the budget allocated to the first two countries.
Director Alberto Mazzoni said the program involved promotion in the media and at wine shops; a series of workshops and guided tastings for sommeliers, journalists and buyers; and participation at major wine events and conferences. Part of that program included the participation of the Collisioni Wine Project for the third time.
The Marche has 20 wine regions that are registered as DOC (15) or DOCG (five) covering about 17,000 hectares of wines. These produced about 45.4 million bottles in 2016, based on most recent data available. Exports represented half of all sales and were worth about 52 million Euros. Those exports grew by about 50 per cent in the past decade, a sign of international recognition.
Disclosures: Stephen Quinn was a guest of the Collisioni Wine Project, who provided his travel and accommodation for three days. Both photos by Stephen Quinn.