The new attraction to wine
It looks like everyone is drinking wine in the U.S. these days, but it doesn’t seem that long ago that wine appeared to be more of a snobby pastime enjoyed only by wealthy, stuffy, old men. In Europe, wine has long since been enjoyed by people of many age ranges, but the American fascination is a new and rapidly growing one. In 1992, when Americans were questioned as to what their preferred alcoholic beverage was, 47 percent preferred beer while a mere 27 percent preferred wine. When asked again in 2005, 39 percent said that wine is there preferred beverage, while only 36 percent preferred the beer. One of the main factors of this statistic is its growing attraction to younger Americans of a broader social status and wider ethnic diversity.
In my shop I have a trove of high school kids that come asking for cheeses like Epoisses, Langres, aged Gouda, and Tellegio and get mad at me when I run out of Valancay. They want to know why the Prosciutto di Parma is so expensive and what makes the Grand Reserva different from the regular Prosciutto di Parma. I don’t remember caring about what spices were in traditional chorizo or what basic differences exist between various single origin chocolate bars when I was in high school but today things seem to be different. Our food culture is leaning toward the side of conscious for the first time in a long time. If it was legal to let them taste the wines and learn about the regions, I imagine that they would grasp onto it with the same enthusiasm as they do with the food products.
So why all of the sudden is there such a shift in culinary focus with younger Americans and why do they love wine so much? I believe there are a few reasons. I hate to underestimate Americans by reducing all of our trends to mass media, but it is a factor. We now have reality shows featuring young chefs and major motion pictures about wine tours. We make celebrities out of chefs like Emeril, Jean-Georges, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, and of course the king, Ferran Adria. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have a little media support and the wine industry seems to be benefiting from it greatly as we consumed over $22 billion worth of wine in ’06.
I also believe that the industry has tapped a chord with our younger generations by making wine both more financially accessible and more readily available. With wines like "2 Buck Chuck" and decent quality boxed wines on the market, it is actually just as cheap to drink wine as it is beer. In addition, in most states, wine is sold in convenience stores and super markets and the selection is getting larger and larger. I recently bought a nice white Burgundy in a gas station in Suwannee. That’s right, the town "down along the Suwannee River," in Florida. The choice between a bottle of wine and a six-pack has become much more relevant.
In addition, I believe that wine and fine food is becoming so much more popular now because it wasn’t popular with the generation previous and kids have a natural tendency toward rebellion. The days of TV dinners and fried everything are far from over but it seems to me that there is at least a small youth rebellion against food that is over, processed and under quality. People seem to want to know where their food is coming from and wine goes right along with that ideology as it can be a great reflection of the earth. You know what they say, you are what you eat.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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