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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Anthony Garvey

The roar of Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy may have been silenced by the crisis on international markets, but the wine trade boom that it helped to create is still, well booming. Latest figures from the Irish Wine Development Board (IWDB) show that consumption has trebled in the last ten years, with the number of wine drinkers increasing by a remarkable 86% to 1,352,000, more than a third of the population. Significantly, most of them are aged between 25-44. In a country where Guinness and Jameson have long been kings, wine now accounts for 13.3% of total alcohol sales, and the figures for the first six months of this year show that the challenge is being maintained, according to the Development Board's David Dillon. He attributes the shift in tastes to the more prosperous lifestyles that the Celtic Tiger economy has brought, plus the fact that we're now very much part of Europe'. In European terms, the Irish are still bottom of the wine league, with per capita consumption at just 11.8 litres, compared with 56 litres in France, 51 in Italy and 16.9 in the UK. Part of the reason may be that, unlike their European counterparts, Irish wine drinkers are clobbered by the taxman, paying around e3 in excise duty and VAT on a standard bottle, the heaviest by far of any EU member state. For 15 years the IWDB has made representations to successive finance ministers in an attempt to encourage a more benevolent tax regime. Its only success has been that, with the exception of 1994, there has been no tax rise. Given the current international economic uncertainty, Dillon doesn't expect Irish wine consumption to treble again in the next ten years.