2005-02-04

Stats: UK Outspends EU on Food & Wine

After years of trying to chase the continental lifestyle, the cultural gulf between Britain and Europe is opening up again -- only this time it is we who are leading the way. A new study has revealed that bistro culture has now become so ingrained in British life that within three years we will be drinking more wine than France, Germany or Italy. Britons are also spending more eating out at restaurants than their continental cousins -- a fact that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. This year, British adults will each drink an average of 33 bottles of wine -- not including the wine they quaffed while on holiday or brought back from 'booze' cruises. Vinexpo, the world's largest wine fair, predicts that by 2008 the UK will have matured into Europe's largest wine market, overtaking France, Germany and Italy. Mr.Allen Sichel, the president of 'Union de Maison de Bordeaux', which markets the famous French wine, says Britain is becoming more and more sophisticated in its tastes and is developing a palate as good as our neighbours across the Channel.
'The UK is now a very mature market in terms of wine drinking, from a sales perspective that means it is very competitive. 'This is in contrast to France where we are seeing a fall in wine consumption as the young are drinking less and less', Mr.Sichel said. 'The UK market is a very "open-minded" market and I would say that Europe is now following what the UK is doing. 'For example, in France people are now starting to drink wine outside of mealtimes, something that was unheard of ten years ago'.
Mr.Quentin Rappaport, of 'The Wine and Spirit Association' said:
'Thirty years ago only one person in four tried wine -- now it is three out of four'.
But it is not just our tastebuds and palates which are changing beyond all recognition, according to Ms.Elizabeth Holt, head of 'The European Commission in Scotland'. From cinema, to food, to football, Europe is now an integral part of everyday life. Ms.Holt said:
'If I look back to the post-war period we never really drank wine but now it is everywhere. It's commonplace'.
Part of the reason, says Ms.Holt, is the post-war trend for visiting the continent for our holidays and the very recent phenomenon of buying second homes in Europe. A direct result of this is that local products Britons drink and consume on holiday, like Spanish beer or Italian olive oil, are then introduced into British supermarkets. It is not just what we eat and drink but the way we do it. Last year Britons spent on average 312_GBP on dining out. In contrast, Italians spent just 295_GBP, while the French spent almost 50_GBP less. And the gap looks set to grow in the next few years. Mr.Ronnie Clydesdale, the owner of Glasgow's 'Ubiquitous Chip' restaurant, said they had seen a huge upsurge in wine consumption within the past five years.
'People are drinking more and more wines from "The New World", however in "The Chip" we still get through a lot of claret -- mainly because this is the traditional drink in Scotland; it wasn't too long ago that it was sold for a penny a pint. 'But people's "palates" have also become more discerning in recent years; we are seeing people ordering wines like "Alsace" and "single-estate" German wines that perhaps they would not have done five years ago'.
Some experts believe the closing of the cultural gap between Scotland and the rest of Europe is understandable when put in the context of history. Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, Scottish soldiers, students, scholars and traders have all tramped the roads of Europe and left their mark. Scots influence can be seen in the Western Baltic, the Low Countries and, since 1295, when John Balliol, then King of Scotland, signed a defensive treaty with Philip-4 King of France. Mr.Tom Devine, the author of the historical work 'Scotland's Empire', said:
'If Scotland is becoming more Europeanised, all it is is a recovery or renewal of a very intricate relationship which existed until the Scottish axis changed towards the West and the Atlantic as a result of the Empire. 'The relationship between Scotland and Europe in the Mediaeval and early 'modern period' was extremely strong and can be seen in everything from literary influences to the architecture of small towns, particularly in the east of Scotland, and above all the massive consumption of wine. The great drink of Scotland right through to the early 19th century was wine rather than either beer or whisky'.
However Mr.Michael Romer, the proprietor of Edinburgh-based 'Peter Green's', an independent wine merchant, says that he has observed an alarming polarisation in Scotland.
'In Edinburgh there are plenty of signs that we are becoming more European. 'Take the university as an example: thirty years ago all the social meetings were in pubs, but now they are in caf�s and we have seen a proliferation of restaurants in Edinburgh which means people care about wine and food. So in that sense there is a real European feel. 'But there is also a disturbing polarisation taking place as well. 'The downside is that "binge-style" drinking or drinking "to get drunk" have become "the norm" among a certain section of society. A lot of students we know go out with the intention of getting drunk. 'I simply do not know where it is going to end up'.
However, Ms.Holt believes that Britain's new European identity runs no deeper than the surface of its 'palate'. She says:
'What is lacking a lot in Britain is that -- "yes we eat more European food", "yes we drink more European wine" and "we even watch more European films", but -- there is no sense at all of European identity. 'It is extraordinary that 32 years after becoming a member of 'The European Union' we still do not have a sense of European identity. 'Greece has been in the European Community for less time than we have -- and it has now been incredibly Europeanised (in the sense that they feel they are part of Europe). 'A lot of this is how reluctant we are to give up "America" in our culture. Generally speaking other European countries are not terribly interested in "America"'.
'Vintage growth in UK wine drinking', William Lyons, The Scotsman, 2005-02-04 Links: Peter Green Wine Merchant 37A/B Warrender Park Rd, Lothian:Edinburgh, EH9 1HJ tel: (0131) 229 5925.

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