Anthony Rose: It's time for the Government to cut the duty on alcohol

The tax we pay on an average bottle of wine is the third highest in Europe

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The great Burgundy estate, Domaine de la Romanée Conti, held its annual tasting in London last month. Its priciest wine is Romanée-Conti, on offer for £2,110 a bottle, plus VAT and duty. Also last month: penny pinchers' friend Aldi pipped Waitrose and Majestic to the top slot in the 'Where to Buy Wine' award. (Don't get too excited deep-pocketed Romanée Conti-fans, you can't just buy the bottles. By popular demand, they are once more being 'allocated'.)

Nowhere are such contrasts as evident as when it comes to the attitudes of the Government and society to wine. The Wine & Spirit Trade Association launched its 'Drop the Duty!' campaign recently. Backed by independent economists, the WSTA claims that a 2 per cent cut in duty in the Chancellor's 18 March Budget would add an additional £1.5 billion to the £39 billion the UK alcohol industry is worth. The 56 per cent tax we pay on an average bottle of wine, up from 54 per cent since 2008, is the third highest in Europe, and out of kilter with our European neighbours. The €12.5bn wine and spirits duty that this brings in comes to almost 40 per cent of all the alcohol duty paid by consumers across the EU's 28 Member States.

Lurid news stories of Saturday night alcohol mayhem in town centres obscure the fact that not only is binge drinking decreasing, but alcohol consumption in the UK is down 19 per cent from a peak of 11.6 litres in 2004. Last year, we consumed on average a mere 9.4 litres.

That makes us 16th in the European league of litres of alcohol drunk per head. And a modest 22nd in consumption per head of wine, which stands at 20.2 litres compared to more than twice that in France and Italy. The 142.5 million cases of wine we drink is less than half that of China, the USA, France and Italy. And that figure is down 10 per cent in five years. Only sparkling wine is showing an increase, of 21 per cent, over the same five-year period.

Although 26 million people enjoy a regular glass of wine in pubs, bars and restaurants, far from being the nation of soaks with enlarged livers, we are in fact more moderate in our consumption than 15 other European countries. The temperance killjoys and medical pressure groups are to some extent wrong.

The industry is well aware of alcohol misuse and that is why it is involved in campaigns for unit labelling and also more campaigns to prevent underage drinking.

The vast majority, for whom a drink is an enjoyably civilised pleasure, should not be penalised.

So, come on George, you'll still pick up £422 VAT on that bottle of Romanée-Conti, so it's time to do the right thing and cut the duty.