Monday, March 28, 2011

Rant: Is Wine & Food Dying?

A new wine consumption survey, conducted by Wine Opinions, offers some rather disturbing findings, indicating that Americans are moving away from drinking wine with meals, preferring to drink it on its own. And it is the Millennials, the next wine generation, which is drinking the least amount of wine with meals. Why is this happening?

The survey involved some of the "most frequent purchasers and consumers of wine" and those are the type of people I would have expected to drink wine the most with meals.  41% of the respondents drank wine with a meal while 26% drank wine without food, the rest drinking wine while preparing a meal or with snacks/appetizers. Women drink less wine with food than men, 29% vs 25%.  The largest group that drinks wine without food are the Millennials, at 31%!  In fact, it is the oldest generation, that over 65 years old, which drinks the most wine with food, about 50%, and each younger generation is drinking less and less with food.

This seems to indicate that Americans are moving away from drinking wine with food, away from a more European view of wine.  In Europe, many see wine and food as integrally linked, and thus rarely drink wine without food. That contributes to making wine a closer element of their culture and society, rather than just being another alcoholic beverage. So what does it say about Americans that they are more and more preferring to drink wine on its own? Are they more concerned about the alcoholic effects of wine than how it might enhance their dinner? Is wine being viewed more as just another alcohol, and not more as a food?

I don't like this trend and its potential ramifications.  I think the American wine culture would benefit from more people viewing wine as an accompaniement with food, rather than a stand alone product to alter your mind. Thinking of wine more as an alcohol can have an effect on our legislators, giving them additional justification for their more draconian wine laws. It may also affect the type of wines that U.S. wineries produce, as they cater to the desires of younger consumers. I always thought that more and more wine consumers were learning to drink wine with food, but I was very wrong. The opposite is actually the truth.

Can this movement be changed?  If so, how can it be changed?  And if you don't think it should change, why not?


Leeanne said...

This is an interesting viewpoint. I'll look at it as a "millennial" (born in 1981.)

Though my wine knowledge has grown by leaps and bounds in the past five years, I'm still learning about ideal food pairings. And don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that some wines' characteristics are hugely amplified by the right food. But if food isn't available at the venue where I'm drinking wine, it's not a huge problem for me.

I'd rather have a glass of wine at a bar or lounge than a martini or beer. And if I can't order cheeses or small plates to go with it, due to kitchen setup or a late hour of the night, it's not catastrophic to me. Typically, I just enjoy that wine on its own.

Sure, there are Millennials out there with a high level of education and expertise in wine. But many others are just learning to experiment and taste, figuring out along the way what they like to drink.

At this point in our lives, we haven't had a whole lot of experience, nor do we have a huge amount of disposable income. We can't necessarily hop a plane to Europe or Napa Valley, and we might not be able to afford a $150 ticket to a wine festival or a $90 wine dinner at a restaurant. We may have learned to sample wines at a friend's house, informally at a restaurant or during a quick tasting at a local package store. I can tell you that I, along with most of my wine-drinking friends, stick to bottles priced under $20.

Our tastes may evolve with age, but I think it's largely circumstantial at this point.

Paul said...

Can this movement be changed?
Yes, teach Millennials how to cook their own food and then they will be able to afford food with wine. Seriously...

Hadley at The Urban Grape said...

I'm not sure I see it as dying as much as evolving. TJ and I often will open a bottle of wine on a weekend afternoon as we bathe the kids, settle into our evening routine, etc. It's the same as opening a beer. It's not to get drunk at all, but just to sip and savor. I think that's how a lot of people incorporate wine into their lives these days, and I think that's a good thing!
The fact that people are enjoying wine without food doesn't preclude them from enjoying it with food. We certainly do both in our home.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Leeanne and thanks for your comments. First, the survey concerned frequent wine consumers/purchasers and not the casual drinker. So you would expect such people to drink wine more often with meals. But that does not seem to be the case.

Second, I don't think experience levels have much to do with it, as the trend applies to all demographics under age 65+, though most with the Millennials. So there is a larger issue involved.

Third, there is nothing wrong with drinking wine without food, but most wine is probably better when paired with food. But if more and more people want wine to drink on its own, then producers may start making wine to fit that desire. And out culture then starts treating wine more as an alcohol than as a food.


Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for the comment. As I said, this is more than just an issue with Millennials, though they are the greatest offenders. So, I think the solution is greater than teaching Millennials to cook. It is more a society-wide problem that needs to be addressed.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Hadley:
I don't see this as a positive evolution, as it seems to be drastically changing the role that wine has occupied for centuries. Wine and food have long been integrally linked, yet now that link is being broken in the U.S.

Each successive generation is drinking wine less and less with meals. When will that trend stop? What about all that great wine that has been produced to drink best with food? Should Americans ignore all that wine, in favor of U.S. produced wines specifically made to be enjoyed on its own?

It is fine to enjoy wine on its own at times, but we have to consider the potential ramifications of what happens if that becomes much more prevalent.

Though you may not drink wine to get drunk, it is a fact that you will feel the alcohol more strongly if you do not have food with your wine.


Leeanne said...

I guess from my standpoint, I don't see wine as something that needs to have such strict guidelines. I'm going to enjoy wine the way I want to enjoy it, whether food is there or not. And yes, I would consider myself a frequent wine consumer/purchaser, though my purchases are certainly on the less expensive end.

Millennials are fairly casual about their wines, and I don't think that's the worst thing. We're still enjoying what we drink, even if it's not to the standards of so-called experts.

Richard Auffrey said...

I am not sure I am making myself clear, as I am not advocating for either strict guidelines or standards. You are certainly free to enjoy wine in any manner you wish. And the issue is about much more than just Millennials.

I think it is a fair generalization that wine often tastes better when accompanied by food. And plenty of wineries produce wines that are intended to benefit from being paired with food. So it is strange why more and more people are drinking wine less with meals.

Hadley at The Urban Grape said...

As to feeling the wine more strongly without food - with two kids under five and a new business, one can only hope!

The Sediment Blog said...

As Roger Scuton said, “Wine is an excellent accompaniment to food; but it is a better accompaniment to thought”

Todd - VT Wine Media said...

Recent experience tells me that in order to really comprehend Scrunton, you need to be sober as a judge...

Wine IS food, and yes it can be enjoyed on its own, just as raw carrots can be enjoyed in isolation...making wine (or carrots) part of a greater whole, and enjoying that, can be even more fulfilling.

It would seem, that at this point in time, when the US has become the biggest consumer of wine, that the price paid for that elevage, is the diminuation of wine's traditional role as an alimento, in favor of its new job as a beverage of choice. Let's hope that this is just a phase, and that the people will accept it as a regular contributor to the dinner table.

Richard Auffrey said...

I would like to think of it as just a phase, but I worry that is not the case.

SparkPeople said...

My favorite part of any wine documentary is the close ups of people drinking wine. Cause that makes sense. If I did a goddamn documentary on Mcdonalds, I would make it two hours of close up shots of people eating fucking cheeseburgers!

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