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Top red wine drinkers? French, Italians? Try Chinese

A visitor tastes imported wine at a wine fair in Shanghai, China, on Dec. 9, 2013.
A nose for wine in Shanghai? The Chinese have overtaken the French and Italians as the biggest consumers of red wine.Weng lei / Weng lei - Imaginechina

Cheers! The Chinese are choosing Chianti over Chardonnay.

China has topped the traditional wine-producing countries of France and Italy to become the world's biggest consumer of red wine, according to a study by International Wine & Spirit Research commissioned by Vinexpo.

Chinese downed 1.865 billion bottles of red wine last year, contributing to a 136 percent rise in consumption over the past five years, the survey showed.

The U.S. remained the world's biggest consumer of all types of wines.

Analysts say red is viewed as a lucky color in China, so it helps explain a preference for full-bodied reds over crisp white wines.

The latest data on red wine consumption shows that China has pushed traditional wine-drinking countries France and Italy into second and third place respectively.

China consumed 155 million cases of red wine in 2013, while France downed 150 million cases and Italy polished off 141 million cases.

Consumption of wine and spirits in China, the world's second biggest economy with over a billion people, has risen sharply in recent years alongside an increasingly affluent consumer society.

Asian buyers also continue to power the biggest demand for fine wines, with Sotheby's sales in Hong Kong totaling $25.5 million last year. London sales came in at $20 million, with New York ringing up $12.5 million. 

In fact, China's growing thirst is contributing to the risk of a global wine shortage, Morgan Stanley said late last year.

According to that report, increasing consumption levels in both China and the U.S. combined with declines in European production in 2012 following poor harvests in France, Italy and Spain, has raised the risk of a global shortage, which could lead to higher prices and increased demand for exports. 

This shortage is expected to be exacerbated as demand from the U.S., the world's second largest consumer of wine after France, and China, the fifth largest importer, grows, Morgan Stanley said.

Wine consumption in China has doubled twice over the past five years and is expected to double again by 2016 to 400 million cases, matching U.S. consumption levels.