Wine volumes are falling thanks in part to recent increases in excise duty and health campaigns, but there are still opportunities for wine in Belgium, particularly when it involves food

Belgium is probably more associated with ales and lager than wine, but it also has plenty of time for grapes as well as hops. Belgians take a fairly traditional approach to wine, with neighbour France providing by far the most inspiration for them. However, as our latest Belgium Landscapes 2018 report suggests, they are starting to spread their wings and embrace a more 21st century approach to wine.

This report focuses on three main regions within Belgium: the northern Flemish region, the southern Walloon region and the capital Brussels. There are pronounced differences between the habits of the north and the south – for example, those in the Flemish region are more open to New World wines while the Walloon region (that shares a much larger border with France) have a stronger affinity for French regions like the Côtes du Rhône and Alsace.

There are national trends too, one of the most noticeable being a decrease in the amount of still wine being consumed overall. While a slight decrease is to be expected in an established market such as Belgium, trade experts also point to an increase in duty excise on wine in 2015 and an on-going healthy living trend as explanations.

In November 2015, the Government increased excise duty across numerous alcoholic beverages, including wine. Spirit volumes have seen the largest fall, but wine has certainly been impacted. Experts also suspect that more Belgian consumers are popping over the border to find better deals or heading online.

We’re seeing a desire to be healthy across several markets and in Belgium it’s reflected in a government campaign promoting a month without alcohol. Tournée Minérale enjoyed great success and although there was a noticeable drop in wine consumption, it does open the door for lower or no-alcohol wines in the future, though this may still be a hard sell.

While volumes may be down, our report findings show that significantly more Belgian regular wine drinkers consider themselves to have a high involvement in wine than this time last year and there has been a steady and significant increase in the number that confess to deriving pleasure from wine since 2013. Wine is also now being seen as a more integral part of people’s lifestyles.

They may be wary of some of the more extreme wine innovations, such as blue wine, but there is a willingness to experiment and try wines from new region or countries. Food matching is a big trend and finding wines to complement a meal is now the biggest choice driver in Belgium.

Price is also an important driver and is one of the reasons that Cava is currently prospering. Available at lower price points, the Spanish sparkling wine has overtaken Champagne as the most popular sparkling wine in Belgium. There is less of a stigma attached to Cava and as it becomes more socially acceptable Belgians are drinking more of it, with growth rates higher than even prosecco, which is most likely due to a preference for the drier, less sweet style.

So there is still every chance that the Belgians may watch their golden generation at the World Cup with a glass of wine in their hand instead of an ale, especially if the kick-off is around dinner time.

Author: Luke Catterson

Email: Luke@wineintelligence.com