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Britons drank 17m fewer bottles of wine last year

Wine consumption fell in Britain last year for the first time in more than a decade, a new report shows today.

Britons bought 1.16bn litres last year compared with 1.18bn litres in 2008, a fall of 2 per cent - or 17m bottles.

By value, sales fell by 1 per cent to £9.6bn.

Both red and white wines fell, but more people drank rose, according to Mintel.

It said that reduced discretionary spending, increased tax, and health concerns about alcohol were behind the fall.

And it predicted the wine trade would be in the doldrums for years, with consumption falling further each year until 2011. By 2014, the amount of wine consumed in the UK will be 1.18bn, the same as in 2007.

Wine sales have been growing for years, helped by customer moving off beer, an ageing population and greater travel on the Continent.

Until last year, the last drop in consumption was in 1995.

Measured by standard 0.7litre bottles, Britons drank 813m bottles last year, compared with 830m in 2007.

Mintel said: “The effects of concern over binge drinking, a trend towards healthy lifestyles and heavy Government taxation have all had an impact on the market.

“In 2008 alone, duty on wine increased by 17 per cent, meaning the British are now among the most heavily taxed wine drinkers in Europe.

“This, combined with rising production and manufacturing costs and the strength of the euro against sterling, have put added pressure on wine manufacturers.”

Fewer young people are drinking wine, according to consumer polling by the firm. A fifth of 25-34s found the choice of wine confusing, the highest for all age groups surveyed.

"In contrast to the majority of alcoholic drinks, people gravitate towards wine as they become older. This means that usage starts to take-off amongst the over 35s, with people continuing into their retirement,” said Jonny Forsyth, senior drinks analyst.

“The majority of drinks, such as lager and vodka, see an opposite trend with people starting young but cutting back as they get older.

“The 25-34 market are the most likely of all age groups to be influenced by what wines they have drunk before when purchasing wine, suggesting that they do not have the knowledge or confidence to experiment further.”

Mr Forsyth added: "Once people join the wine "club" they tend to stay in it for life. The problem for industry is getting people to join earlier.”

The wine industry had not been able to achieve its goal of trading consumers up to better quality and more expensive wine, Mintel said, partly because of supermarket discounting which had intensified in the recession.