Monday 18 April 2016 3:15 pm

Italy and France’s "my wine is better than yours" battle goes to the top with Matteo Renzi and Francois Hollande exchanging jibes

A spat has been brewing between France and Italy in a "my wine is better than yours" contest. 

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi provoked the ire of the French last week when he claimed his country produces finer wine than France. 

During a press conference with Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma at an Italian wine festival in Verona last week, Renzi said Italian wine "is better than French wine". 

The Italian leader added that he had made similar comments to the French President Francois Hollande in a recent meeting. Hollande reportedly rebuffed Renzi, saying: "Perhaps, but ours is more expensive".

Renzi's latest comments, which all seem to have been in good jest, were made as the Italian leader and Ma pledged to increase the share of Italian wines from "six to 60 per cent" of all the bottles sold on the Alibaba online platform. 

Italy's red and white wines represent only around five per cent of Chinese imports, worth an estimated €1.8bn (£1.4bn), according to a report by think tank Nomisma. 

Wine experts say that although Italy does indeed sell more wine than France, Hollande was also onto something: French wine is judged to be of a higher quality and, as a result, is more expensive. 

"France has set the international standards – if you make sparkling wine in the New World, you look to Champagne; if you grow Pinot Noir, Burgundy is your benchmark, and so on," British wine expert Rosemary George told French news website The Local. 

"In contrast, Italy has a wealth of unknown and obscure grape varieties, and very few with any international recognition, though that is slowly changing."

While France and Italy might be leading the world in wine sales, English wine-makers are set to double in capacity and production over the next seven years

Italy is also fending off competition from France, Spain and Germany to provide Prosecco, which could suffer a shortage in the near future due to the strain put on its geographically-limited production by its surge in popularity in the UK.