Russia is probably the "most exciting" new wine market to emerge in the past five years, according to a report released today (24 November).

A growing number of middle class Russians have developed a taste for quality wine, according to Wine Intelligence's Russian Wine Market Landscape report.

Based on a consumer survey of Russian drinkers of imported wine, the report said that, unlike in the emerging Asian markets, people in Russia are familiar with wine and are used to drinking it at the table with food. Today, Russians treat imported wine, especially from traditional European winemaking areas such as France, as a product with an "important cultural value", the report said.

However, Wine Intelligence added that it believes Russia's modern wine market is still "relatively immature" and has suffered two serious crises in the past ten years, the financial crash of 1998 and the 2006 wine tax crisis. The threat of a global economic downturn may cause another crisis in the wine industry, the research company suggested.

Moscow represents around two thirds of all wine sales, followed by St Petersburg and a handful of other "key population" centres, according to the report.

Despite the global financial crisis dampening some demand in the short term, Wine Intelligence said it believes the long-term picture for wine in Russia is "very encouraging".

The company predicts that the Russian wine drinking population will more than double by 2020.

The challenge for the wine trade, it said, is to sustain the increase, as well as to educate a relatively unsophisticated market.