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PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Dump the image of Britain as a nation of beer and gin drinkers and raise a glass to a new record as the United Kingdom is set to become the world number one consumer country for imported wines by 2012.
The French, however, are world champions in drinking whisky while in Japan people are giving up sake for wine and joining the Chinese and Russians as fastest growing wine consumers.
"Wine consumption in the world will continue to rise over the 2008-2012 period to 2.8 billion cases of nine liters," said Robert Beynat, chief executive and co-founder of the Vinexpo annual professional fair of the wine and spirits industry.
Vinexpo will be held on June 21 to 25 in Bordeaux.
Beynat on Tuesday presented the results of a study made for Vinexpo by the International Wine and Spirits Record consultancy which shows that between 2008 and 2012, the consumption of wine in the world will rise by 6 percent.
Still wines will rise 5.5 percent to some 2.6 billion cases of nine liters (or 12 standard bottles) while those of sparkling wines such as champagne, cava or spumante will grow by 12 percent to 219 million cases.
Production will remain bigger than that with an expected 7.45 percent rise to 3.17 billion cases in the 2008 to 2012 period after a decline of 6.93 percent between 2003 and 2007.
This is partly due to an increase in production in emerging countries, such as China.
"China will enter the top 10 producer countries while Australia is dropping out," Beynat said, as Austalia is hit by dry weather and export problems due to long distances.
For Xavier de Eizaguirre, president of Vinexpo and managing director of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, the lesson for the French wine industry is clear.
"We have to help the Chinese plant vines, once they make wines themselves they will automatically one day move up the quality and price range and import French wines," he said.
"Don't forget that the United States did not become the biggest market for wines because of the French. The States started drinking wines because of the efforts of Ernest and Julio Gallo and others in California," he added.
In old Europe there are some changes ahead.
Italy, which overtook France as biggest wine consumer country in 2007, is set to lose that crown to the United States in 2012 when Americans will buy some 314 million cases of wines with an 11.9 percent rise between 2008 and 2012 following a 14.8 percent gain over the 2003 to 2007 period.
Spain will see a further 6 percent decline in 2008 to 2012 to 92.2 million cases and will drop behind Russia that will have a growth of some 25 percent in the 2008 to 2012 period.
That compares to a baffling rise of 60 percent over 2003-2007 and remains below the 36.6 percent expected growth in China in the period 2008-2012.
Britain will hold the number five spot for overall wine consumption in 2012 but will be the biggest wine importer at some 144 million cases.
The French, meanwhile, are expected to drink 13.7 million cases of 9 liters of whisky in 2012, up some 8 percent while they already held the title of top whisky country -- including any sales of booze to Brits in the Calais supermarkets.
However, consumption of their 'own' cognac and armagnac is seen down some 12 percent to less than 500,000 cases.
For more Reuters wine coverage see [nWINE]
Reporting by Marcel Michelson, editing by Paul Casciato