According to written reports, there was already a class of wine merchants in ancient Greece in the early third century BC. They had their own professional title of "oinogeustes" (wine tasters), because the ability to taste wine was obviously a prerequisite for this. The Greek port of Monemvasia on the Peloponnese peninsula was an important transshipment point for sweet wines from the entire Mediterranean area, especially in the Middle Ages. For centuries, England exerted a great influence on the taste of wine through strong imports, especially from France. As a result, champagne, clairet, port and sherry have established themselves as wine styles. France has always been one of the main suppliers of wine to many countries.
Especially in the Bordeaux region many large trading companies have been established, because from here the transport was mainly to England. Therefore, the Bordeaux wine trade has a very special historical significance. The Négociants market in this region today about 70% of the wines produced here. At the time of their great colonial empires and overseas conquests, especially the three countries England, Portugal, Spain and the city-state of Venice had great importance in the wine trade. From the beginning of the 17th century onwards, the former naval power Netherlands had a leading or determining influence on the wine and spirits trade for over a hundred years and rose to become the world's largest trading power.
A distinction is made between the trade in unbottled wines in large containers (tanks or barrels), which is generally referred to as cask wine (barrel wine), and the trade in bottles. Barrel wine is sold by winegrowers and winegrowers' cooperatives mainly to the wine trade and to wine and sparkling wine cellars for further processing. The most important forms of distribution for bottles are the consumer market, food trade, specialist wine shops, farm-gate sale, mail order (increasingly via the Internet) and gastronomy. The German company Hillebrand, headquartered in Mainz-Hechtsheim (Rhineland-Palatinate), is the world's largest wine and beverage forwarding agent. Special forms of wine trading are auctions (increasingly via the Internet such as eBay) and subscriptions, i.e. advance sales even before a wine has been produced (with a special form "en primeur"). Big changes occurred from the 1980s onwards due to the increasing globalisation of the wine markets with giant multinationals (see under Biggest Wine Companies in the World).
The USA is the largest export market for European wine. The absolute front-runners in imports are Germany and traditionally the countries England, USA and China. The three top export countries for a long time are Spain, Italy and France. In December 2005, a wine trade agreement with far-reaching consequences was concluded between the USA and the EU; see the relevant section under the keyword Wine Act. In addition, a new EU wine market regulation came into force in August 2009 with major changes in wine quality levels and wine designations; see in detail under the section on quality systems. With regard to the areas under vines and wine quantities of all countries, please refer to the section on wine production quantities.