Written by Alex Hillsberg
It’s an age-old debate, probably as old as the most antiquated oak barrels and brew pots. Behind the waggish claims from both beer and wine camps, sober or otherwise, lies a serious battle to wrestle market shares in developed and emerging markets and across generations.
If we go by votes, the people who altogether consumed 189 billion liters of beer in 2011 clearly outnumbered those who drank wine for a collective 24 billion liters in the same year. But sales can be misleading.
As highlighted in the infographic below, wine is gaining popularity—more pronouncedly in the United States according to a Gallup survey—even as beer consumption is sliding down in traditional markets, such as, horror of horrors, Germany. Early this year, Time reported that beer drinking hit a record low in the land of lederhosen and dirndl.
It didn’t also help for brewers that China, the number one beer market, is developing a taste for wine. In fact, Great Wall, the number two wine brand last year… great what? Exactly. The Chinese wine is a newcomer and was hardly known brand in the industry three years ago. Just last year it easily took the second spot spurred by millions of Chinese who started liking wine. “We will make a French Great Wall, a Chilean Great Wall and an Australian Great Wall,” Shu Yu, a senior manager at the company behind Great Wall, said. Brewers may not be the only ones paying nervous attention to this upstart, but the other top wine makers, too (check their rankings below).
Meantime, brewers lament that wine lobbyists hijacked most of the health claims. Beer is healthy, too, they say, at least in some respect as pointed out below in the infographic, notably that beer is kind to kidneys.
Likewise, one subtle but significant data we uncorked is that wine drinkers’ preference is more evenly spread than beer drinkers’. Cabernet, Merlot, and Pinot Noir among reds and Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc among whites are the top varieties of choice. For beer, only two styles—pale lagers and pilsners—account for most of the top beer brands. Does it suggest wine drinkers have a more sophisticated taste? We dare not ask a Bavarian.
So who wins? Maybe it depends on when you ask the question. This season of Oktoberfest celebrations around the world, it may be advisable to quietly sip and enjoy your wine in one corner. Prost!