Businesses are shedding jobs and retail sales are in the gutter, but new research shows that consumers will stare into the economic abyss with a glass of wine in their hand, reports Michelle Russell.

Amid plummeting high street sales and economic doom and gloom, one sector believes it is bucking the trend.

A new wine market study predicts that sales in the UK will continue to grow over the next five years, despite the recession, with emerging world markets also predicted to make their mark on the industry.

Last week's annual wine trends report from Vinexpo highlighted that the UK has overtaken Germany to become the world's largest consumer of imported wine.

Imports topped 1.6bn bottles in 2007, according to the industry body, overtaking wine-producing nations such as Italy, France, Spain, America and Australia.

Wine from Australia proved most popular among UK drinkers, ahead of French and American imports, it said.

Despite the recession, this growth is expected to continue, with figures compiled by IWSR predicting that imports will grow by a further 100,000 bottles by 2012 to more than 1.7bn bottles.

The research also shows that wine-drinking in the UK, where only a fraction of consumption is home grown, grew more than 12% over the five years between 2003 and 2007 to 135.8m cases, and will grow by a further 5.9% to 144m cases by 2012.

Consumption of rosé is expected to rise by 47% to 220m in 2012.

This looks like good news for the country's wine sector, which has been facing a tough time of late. Xavier de Eizaguirre, managing director of Baron Philippe de Rothschild and chairman of Vinexpo, told just-drinks in an interview that as consumption grows per capita, the UK will continue to be the biggest export market.

"The UK is the target of the world. I do not know of any single producer who is not looking at the UK. Every segment is growing, but especially wines in the GBP8-10 category. This is a good sign and one we have also seen in other markets. People are buying less but better. UK consumers are also really adventurous."

A sentiment echoed by Guardian wine writer Malcolm Gluck.

"Wine in New Labour land is vivacious, fruity, inexpensive, and it's fun," Gluck commented. "Small wonder wine drinkers prefer Australia, California, South Africa and Chile to France and Germany. The wines from these countries speak our language (yes, even Chilean labels don't say Château Lamazelle de Figeac Brown Cantenac Lafite), they are open and furiously fruity, gluggable and yet serious, and they are not expensive."

With the UK's wine supping future looking rosé (excuse the pun), it comes as no surprise that interest in wine is also growing in Russia and the former Soviet countries, which de Eizaguirre sees as "a huge mine"

"The old Soviet countries are like sleeping giants. The Soviet-era kept consumption going, so we don't need to create customers; we just need to take them to better quality and to new products," he told just-drinks.

"Of course, there is also competition from these countries because they are also producers."

China is another emerging market developing a taste for wine. Both Russia and China are expected to see a "fantastic increase" in demand for wine from 2008 and 2012, soaring by 24.4% and 36.6% respectively, the study by Vinexpo showed.

"We believe that the effects of the economic crisis will be limited" in the wine sector, said Robert Beynat, director of Vinexpo.

Russians and Chinese are expected to drink more wine than Spaniards by 2012, with the two countries accounting for 58% of the growth in the international market, the study predicted.

However, de Eizaguirre believes China will take more time to develop than everybody thought in the beginning.

"You don't change drinking habits just like that; it takes more than one generation. Wine production in China will certainly help to speed the process. Every country that is producing is a market for the future."

This is certainly true for the US market, which is predicted to become the biggest wine consumer country, surpassing France and Italy, which have both seen a slump in demand recently.

Americans are expected to buy some 314m cases of wines by 2012, reflecting an 11.9% rise from 2008 and following a 14.8% gain over the 2003-2007 period.

And so, although trepidation reigns in 2009, global demand for wine shows no signs of abating in the medium and longer term. The war of the wines will go on and will expand on to new battlegrounds.