Why do we no longer drink sweet wines? The Swedish monopoly Systembolaget recently presented the market situation for sweet wines and fortified wines in Sweden. It is catastrophic. And perhaps illustrative of what happens in other countries too.
Sweet wines disappearing?
Over 25 years the consumption of sweet wines has fallen by around 85%. In 1989 Systembolaget sold nearly 1.3 billion litres. In 2014 sweet wine consumption is down to around 200 million litres. However, consumption has shifted towards better wines. In 1989 Systembolaget classified 93% of the sweet wines as “simple quality” and only 6% as “higher quality”. In 2014 a full 67% were classified as “higher quality”.
(The following graphs have Swedish captions but I think you will understand what they illustrate anyway.)
Sweet wines are, as a reminder, wines with substantial residual sweetness without being fortified with spirits. It is, for example, Sauternes, sweet German wines, Vin Santo, Recioto and so on.
Fortified wines on a downhill slope
The consumption of fortified wines is also falling dramatically although not quite as much. Fortified wines are wines to which alcohol has been added to stop the fermentation when there is still some sugar left in the wine. They are usually around 18-20% alcohol content. It can be, for example, port, sherry and madeira.
Since 1989, consumption of fortified wines has fallen by two thirds. In 1989 we drank nearly 2 million litres of fortified wine. Today (well, 2014) it is down to around 700 000 litres. The most dramatic fall began in 1999.
But not all fortified wines are equal.
Pure disaster has struck sherry. (Sherry figures also include dry sherry, which of course is the most delicious variant of sherry.) Today, we consume only 25% as much sherry as we did, 1989. Three quarters of the consumption has disappeared.
Port wine, however, looks fairly healthy. Since 1989 consumption has risen from around 230,000 litres to more than 250,000 litres, although it has now started to go down from a peak in 2008 of over 300,000 litres.
There has also been a major shift from white to red. At the beginning of the period white port wine had a 30% share of consumption. It has now fallen to be only 5% of all port.
Madeira has in recent years attracted some attention in the press. But this seems not to have had any positive effect on consumption. Madeira had its (most recent and relative) heyday during the second half of the 90s with an increase up to almost 150,000 litres (what really happened in 1995?). But over the full period Madeira has fallen from 100,000 litres to 70,000 litres, I.e. it has lost 30%. In comparison perhaps not that bad.
“Other” fortified wines have fallen by more than half, from 400,000 litres to around 170 000 litres. The category includes wines like e.g. Vintry’s Taverna, Setubal (Portugal), Commandaria, Muscat d’Alexandrie etc. But here you also find the exquisite fortified wines from the south of France, the so-called VDN wines (vin doux naturel): Rasteau, Banyuls and others.
Also for these wines there was a remarkable peak in the second half of the 90s, but offset with some three years relative to the peak in port wine. Strange.
Makes you wonder what happened in the mid 90s.
Sherry is the biggest loser, port is a relative winner
At the beginning of the period, in 1989, sherry was the dominant wine with 56% of the entire market for fortified wines. Today sherry has fallen to second place among fortified wines with only 35% market share (less than 200 000 litres).
The winner, both in absolute and relative terms, in the fortified group is instead port which today is the largest category, selling around 250,000 litres annually, 25% more than sherry.
“Other fortified wines” comes third with around 180,000 litres. Madeira is by a wide margin last of the four with about 75,000 litres.
If we go a little bit further back in time the change is even more dramatic. Looking back to 1920 69% of all wine imported to Sweden was fortified wine. At that time, Sweden was probably also the largest export market for Madeira. Almost 40% of all madeira exported went to Sweden.
What will you do about this?
The big question now is: What will you do about this?
Open a bottle of Sauternes with the foie gras?
Take an extra glass of port wine with the Christmas nuts and stilton?
Start dinner with some toasted almonds and olives with a glass of sparkling dry sherry?
Or do yo have any other suggestions?
For we cannot let these fantastic wines disappear!
All data and charts come from a Systembolaget category presentation.
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