Canadians haven't lost their taste for beer but wine was the toast of the country last year with strong increases in sales, a Statistics Canada report suggested Wednesday.

The study, which measured sales of alcoholic beverages during the 2004-05 fiscal year, also noted that general alcohol sales cooled considerably with liquor and beer stores posting a modest increase of 3.8 per cent over last year. This increase marked the slowest rate of growth in eight years.

Claude Vaillancourt, a Statistics Canada analyst, said the modest growth in sales was in part caused by a three-month strike at the Société des alcools du Québec in 2004. He noted that sales in Quebec dropped 4.4 per cent in 2005 from the previous year.

Wine sales jumped 6.5 per cent over the year before, nearly twice the 3.3 per cent rate of growth in the beer market. Spirits experienced a modest gain of 2.3 per cent.

Appeal of imports grows

In dollar value, beer proved to be the most popular beverage, capturing 50.4 per cent of sales. Wine accounted for 25.2 per cent of sales compared with 24.3 per cent for spirits, marking the first time wine has claimed second place.

The study also found that an increased number of Canadians were opting for imported beer, wine and spirits, with stores selling $2 billion worth of imports. Sales of imported wine, beer and spirits increased at a far greater rate than sales ofdomestic products.

"I think it's because other people now have more choice," Vaillancourt said. "People can now go to their liquor authorities and have many, many products."

Vaillancourt also noted thatthe 1988 Free Trade Agreement has had aninfluence onCanadian choices, largely because prior to the FTA, imported wines were marked up as much as 66 per cent.

Canadians spent $638.60 per capita on alcoholic beverages in 2004-05, up $15 from the year before. In total,alcoholic beveragesales amounted to $16.8 billion for the year.