When you think of the countries that drink the most wine in the world it is likely that your first thoughts will stray Italy, France and possible Spain, all of which have rich winemaking cultures. Perhaps the more adventurous amongst you may consider the likes of Great Britain and the United States, particularly considering the amount of people in those countries.
Now, when speaking about pure volume of wine consumed it is likely that you would be correct with one of those assertions. However, when considered on a per capita basis, which is essentially how much wine each individual in the country consumes, the answer is actually much more surprising.
The Vatican, which despite common misconceptions is not in Italian city, but is instead a state unto itself, has recently been found to consume more wine per capita than any other country in the world. It is a quite extraordinary phenomenon, so let’s explore why this may be.
Wine And Catholicism
Of course, we all know that wine has played an important part in the formation of the Christian faith. The famous story of Jesus Christ turning water into wine is one that is often repeated and the drink turns up at a number of points throughout the Bible.
Of course, wine is also used as part of the Holy Communion, where it is representative of the blood of Christ. All visitors to the sermon will be prompted to step up to the alter to partake, which can lead to an awful lot of wine being consumed amongst larger congregations. However, those small sips for each person are surely not enough to account for all of the Vatican’s wine usage, so the question still stands as to why the state has attained such a surprising distinction.
Wine and Demographics
With a population of just 842 people, the Vatican gets through an enormous amount of wine, with the figure being touted essentially working out to 74 litres of wine per person every single year. This is twice that of the Italians and more than seven times that consumed by those in the United States annually. The sip during communion is by no means enough to hit that figure, so why is so much wine consumed in the Vatican.
Even more astonishingly, these figures actually didn’t take into account the communion wine that is consumed at Holy Mass, making that a non-factor altogether. Such wine needs to be specially made in terms of being fermented naturally from grapes with no other additions, which means that traditional wine suppliers, even those operating biodynamic vineyards, are out of the question.
An assistant to Monsignor Jose Avelino Bettencourt, expanded upon this by revealing that the sacramental wine is not house or bottled wine. In fact, it comes in large vats that are distributed as necessary throughout the state. He reinforced the point by stating that: “Altar wine and table wine are two different things. Sacramental wine is considered holy, table wine is of a different variety.” Considering that the figures emerged from the California Wine Institute, which tracks market trends throughout the world, this sacramental wine is not a part of the considerations at all.
So why does the Vatican consume more wine per capita than any other state in the world. The most likely answer is that of demographics. Within the Vatican’s walls and fortifications are very small numbers of families and a large amount of prelates and nuns. In essence, this creates a society that is almost entirely devoid of children, who are the ones that are least likely to drink wine. This almost entirely adult community of people tend to dine communally in mess halls, where the table wine flows more freely as it does practically anywhere else in the world. The reason for this will be explored below.
Another important thing to consider is the fact that the pope commonly offers wine as a gift to dignitaries and other religious leaders that he visits. In fact, there are some vineyards that are specially chosen for providing such wines, many of which will mark their labels accordingly and send cases to the pope. Oftentimes this is more wine that the pope needs, resulting in it being freely distributed to others in the state, again increasing consumption per capita.
The pope’s own predilection for wine cannot be underestimated though. In fact, Pope Francis has blessed winemakers and given a number of private audiences to some of the best producers and sommeliers in the world at the Vatican. In short, this is an area of the world where wine is greatly appreciated and revered. A number of producers around the world have told stories of being granted audiences with the pope and creating special vintages for the occasion, in addition to sending large amounts of their own products in the meantime.
He has also blessed winemakers and his given several private audiences to producers and sommeliers at the Vatican. And when Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi first visited Francis, he brought a selection of Tuscan dessert wines that the pope was said to appreciate.
In truth, wine has always played an important part in the culture of the Vatican. Many popes before Francis enjoyed wine in their own right and it seems that many producers around the world are enamoured with the idea of sending their own vintages to the state in an effort to receive the pope’s approval and to claim that they are suppliers to both he and the Vatican.
This push is likely what has driven the per capita figure up to the levels that it currently stands and, despite how much of this wine is given away to residents, it is likely that there is a rather large storeroom somewhere that is growing ever-larger with each donation.
The Final Word
So there you have it. The Vatican is the largest consumer of wine in the world when considered per capita and there are a number of different factors that contribute to this rather startling statistic.