A new report to be published this week will reveal that for the first time British shoppers are spending more on wine than on beer. An estimated £1.97bn a year is now spent on wine, compared to £1.79bn on beer.

Experts say the swing is the result of a number of factors, including clever marketing, the lack of a major sporting event this summer (traditionally a boost for beer sales) and, significantly, a substantial increase in women's drinking.

Craig Smith, the editor of Marketing magazine, which will publish the results of the TNS-conducted survey in this week's issue, said wine sales had risen by £250m since last year, while sales of beer had declined slightly.

"We are now in the era of branded wine," Mr Smith said. "Previously, wines had been a fairly impenetrable sector for most grocery consumers, who were faced with a big wall of bottles and didn't really know what to choose."

He said sponsorship of female-friendly television programmes had helped the rapid growth of branded wines, specifically Blossom Hill and Jacob's Creek, which sponsored Channel 4's Will and Grace and Friends respectively.

The consumption of alcohol by British women increased by 27 per cent between 1998 and 2003, with this group now accounting for 55 per cent of all wine drunk in the UK.

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