- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

More Americans are saying “G’day” when sipping wine.

U.S. wine consumption is at its highest point in 15 years, paced by a big spike in the amount of Australian wine being served at dinner, according to the latest edition of the “Adams Wine Handbook,” a popular resource for wine professionals.

The average American adult drank 5.2 percent more wine last year than in 2002, largely because of a 34.6 rise in the consumption of Australian wine, a less-expensive alternative to other imported wines. Americans drank 38.5 million gallons of Australian wine last year, up from 28.6 million gallons in 2002.

Consumption of French wine, meanwhile, fell 11.1 percent, with domestic wines seeing a 3.4 percent jump.

“It’s primarily a value issue … for the cost, Australian wine is incredibly, incredibly good,” said Tiziana Mohorovic, spokeswoman for the Adams Beverage Group, which publishes the Adams Wine Handbook.

Adams said consumption of all imported wines rose 11.3 percent in 2003.

The average American adult drank 2.98 gallons of wine last year, the most since 1989, when wine coolers were at their height of popularity.

Aside from the cost, Americans have turned to Australian wines because the labels are clearly marked and in English, unlike French or Italian wines, Ms. Mohorovic said.

“[Australian wines] basically demystified wine in America, whereas before, someone may have been too intimidated to order,” she said.

Australia accounts for less than 2.5 percent of the world’s wine production. But it is the number four exporter of wine, trailing just France, Italy and Spain. The country exported more than 141 million gallons of wine last year, according to the Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin, a wine industry group.

French, Italian and California wines still dominate the wine lists of most good restaurants, but an increasing number of eateries are starting to offer Australian options.

New Heights Restaurant in Woodley Park offers several Australian wines including those from Trevor Jones and Coldridge Vineyards, two well-regarded wineries from down under.

Bill Hunter, general manager of New Heights, said it is wrong to assume people are buying Australian wine because of price alone.

“These are beautiful wines at most price points,” he said.

Wine experts said Americans are becoming smarter about wine because of its increased visibility in cooking shows and magazines. Also, restaurants have educated customers by pairing dishes on their menus with specific wines and offering specials.

It is not clear exactly why U.S. consumption of French wine declined, but several experts pointed to its higher cost relative to Australian, American and South American wines.

Ms. Mohorovic and Mr. Hunter dismissed a connection between slow French wine sales and a boycott of French products led by conservative groups angry with France over its opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

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