The Ubiquitous Grape
Wine is becoming more accessible and attractive to more consumers.
More Americans are shunning beer for wine, and younger generations enjoy it outside of meals, preferring it instead with snack foods or solo, says new research about the latest in wine trends. In fact, experts say, one-quarter or wine is enjoyed without any food at all. Wine drinkers’ ages may determine how wine is drunk, as older drinkers are more likely to have it with food than younger wine drinkers. Half of the wine that those aged 65 and older is consumed with food, while less than a third of the wine that Millennials drink is enjoyed with meals or snacks, says the study.Why the generational differences between wine drinkers?
The results make perfect sense, says Elizabeth Schneider, Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine and owner of Wine for Normal People.
While the study says that one-quarter of consumers don’t eat food with wine, that means the majority—three-quarters—do, she notes.
Also, while less than a third (31 percent) of MIllennials drink wine with food is an “important statistic,” Schneider says, it is tied to their life stage.
“That age group is probably just beginning to enjoy better food, [and] learning how to cook,” she explains. “The group is upwardly mobile, but maybe isn’t at the place where food has become a big deal for them—that generally comes with the ability to afford meals out or to buy gourmet ingredients to cook.”
Just as the characteristics of wine change over time, so does how an individual treats it. “Younger people tend to consume alcohol for different reasons than older people, and their behavior changes with age and time,” Schneider says.
Schneider dispels the notion that drinking wine without food is something unique to the Millennial cohort; as they age, she contends, their habits will more closely resemble those of their Boomer counterparts.
“I guarantee that as the generation ages, earns more, and grows more savvy in its knowledge of wine and traditions, individuals will consume more food and wine together,” Schneider maintains.
While there tend to be differences between groups of wine drinkers, it is never good to over generalize, agrees wine tasting expert Melody Guerra, who is sommelier-in-training for Cooking Vacations Italy.
“People talk about different 'palates' whether it's generational, European versus American, [and so on],” Guerra says. “Certainly there are differences and we can make generalizations, but that is never the rule. Young people are becoming very interested in wine—experimenting with wines from different areas, wine grapes—and pairing them with foods to enhance both too.”
The varying availability of wines from region to region also defines palates and preferences, she adds.
“Most palate preferences are associated with a drinker's experience; the average Italian simply drinks a lot more wine than the average American,” Guerra explains.
“For example, living and working on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, we have very specific wine varieties that are not known worldwide and rarely exported outside of Italy, so it is natural that an Amalfi Coast palate would be different than a New York palate.”
Alexandre Brard, wine director for Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro at The Palazzo, Las Vegas agrees that wine preferences may be influenced by one’s background, but people also like to explore other cultures.
”Latin Americans love to order Spanish wines or Chilean and Argentinean,” he explains. “Americans favor domestic, French and Italian wines. Many people from Quebec order French wines. Europeans like to experience our domestic wines and they are pretty positive about them.”
Americans are “branching out,” Guerra adds, as they are eagerly trying unfamiliar wines that are hard to find in the States.
Having been a sommelier in four countries, Brard says that he notices one constant.
“People most of the time choose a wine that is local or the closest,” he says. “I can have a serious wine conversation with either a man or a woman coming from anywhere in the world.“
As Americans drink more wine and seek out new ones, wine watchers note that we are in a “transitional phase,” observes Laura Mohseni, general manager of the winery division at CA-based Riverbench Vineyard and Winery.
“Americans really make wine part of their lifestyles,” she states. “There are so many trends in the wine drinking of today- and I think we're in this transitional phase where. Younger drinkers are open to new varietals, like Albarino, Tempranillo, Viognier—things that were unheard of for twenty-somethings to drink in prior generations.”
Mohseni acknowledges that the role of wine culture is becoming a great social tool and its increased accessibility has made it more attractive to more demographics than ever, no matter their SES, sex, race, or age.
“Wine has become social; people use it as a networking medium, to meet others, to interact and have conversations, to open up a lifestyle that is full and happy,” she maintains. “To go to a wine bar now is to be interact, and the Internet has added a whole new dimension to that. Older folks have always gone to a store or a winery, bought bottles, and opened them up at home with a meal. They didn't have wine bars. Now, you can get wine at Target or World Market, even the grocery stores have decent bottles at decent prices. It's much more accessible, so enjoyed more often, not just with a meal.”
The love of wine is universal, Schneider contends, and it appeals to all kinds of groups for various reasons.
“People drink wine for so many different reasons: tradition (their parents drank it), prestige (they like the idea of being snob or part of an elite club), dorkiness (its a subject you can never know everything about), or just pure love of the stuff (my favorite reason),” Schneider explains. “These reasons cross age lines and traditional marketing ‘boxes,’ so to speak. It’s indisputable (and awesome!) that consumers are drinking more wine than ever, but I think it’s a little dodgy to lump people in by generational patterns.”
No matter how much research emerges stating the latest demographic preferences, the key to success in this business is the same as in any other. Get to know your customer.
“A sommelier should never assume based on a nationality or gender what the guests wine preferences are,” Brard concludes. “The key to define the taste of somebody is to listen.”
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