Tuscan winemakers see crisis, rivals draining 2010

Tue Feb 16, 2010 10:16am EST
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By Svetlana Kovalyova

MONTEPULCIANO, Italy (Reuters Life!) - The lingering impact of the global economic downturn and fierce competition from "New World" wines may drain consumer thirst for top-shelf full-body Tuscan reds this year, the region's winemakers said.

Italy is the world's second-biggest wine producer after France, but its export sales have come under pressure in the past few years as rivals from the United States, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Australia conquer global markets.

The 2010 outlook is foggy after a difficult 2009 when, because of the global economic crisis, some Tuscan producers cut prices, and margins, to win back consumers, winemakers from nearby Tuscan townships of Montepulciano and Montalcino said.

"I don't think the crisis is over. I think the difficult period is going to last, but I don't know how much longer," Federico Carletti, chairman of the consortium representing producers of Rosso and Nobile di Montepulciano, told Reuters.

"There is too much wine around ... There is a lot of wine coming from Chile, Argentina, from all over the world," he said.

In 2009, sales of the premium red Nobile di Montepulciano returned to pre-crisis levels of just over 8 million bottles after a dip to 7 million in 2008, while Rosso sales were little changed at around 2.5 million bottles, according to data from Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

But robust sales came after some bottlers slashed prices by as much as 40-50 percent, Carletti said.

Nobile is priced at between 12 and 40 euros a bottle on average in Italian wine shops, while Rosso sells for around 10 euros. Their famous cousin Brunello di Montalcino fetches 25-50 euros a bottle on average in Italy.   Continued...

<p>Bottles of Brunello di Montalcino red wine are displayed at a wine shop in the Tuscan town of Montalcino in central Italy in this September 22, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Max Rossi/Files</p>