Americans are a nation of wine-drinkers, surpassing even France as the top market in the world in 2013. Wine sales have set records in recent years, and the market is predicted to continue to grow.
Not surprisingly, those over the age of 55 are the largest consumers, drinking 41 percent of the overall volume.
But the Millennial generation is gaining on us. Those in their 20s and early 30s now consume more wine by volume in the U.S. — 25.7 percent — than their parents did at the same age (13 percent, two decades ago).
5 Wine-Drinking Tips From Millennials
As a highly-coveted market, researchers have been studying Millennials' drinking habits closely. Here’s what I’ve learned from this generation, and what I encourage you to try, too:
1. Rely on your own taste buds. Marketers have learned that Millennials taste for themselves and decide what they like rather than listening to experts. As it turns out, it’s a good habit to have. Studies have backed up my suspicion that wine emperors are often clothed in nothing but elaborate metaphor.
For example, in 2001, researcher Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux asked 54 wine experts to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red wine. However, one glass was actually white wine with red food coloring added. All the tasters described the “white wine” with typical red descriptions, such as “jammy” and “crushed red fruit.”
Brochet also served a medium-priced Bordeaux in two different bottles with fake labels – one from an expensive, high-quality vineyard and the other an ordinary vin de table. The experts summarized the wine with the prestigious label as being “agreeable,” “complex” and “balanced.” They described the same wine with the more ordinary label as “weak,” “flat” and “faulty.”
Researchers do cut the connoisseurs some slack, pointing out that when not influenced by the power of suggestion (i.e., fancy labels, etc.), some can do quite well in identifying various elements such as sweetness, fruitiness and bitterness.
2. Embrace — and share — what’s new. Because this generation is not as easily influenced or intimidated by experts, they don’t mind being neophytes. Many a wine purveyor has heard this phrase from Millennials: “What a great list. I don’t recognize anything on it.”
According to a survey conducted by the Wine Market Council, 85 percent of Millennials "frequently" or "occasionally" purchase unfamiliar brands. That number drops to 76 percent for Gen X'ers and to just 61 percent for their boring old parents.
Millennials like to share their new discoveries on social media sites, where smart marketers keep a watch on what’s trending. No reason boomers can’t share and be trend-setters, too.
3. Love a good tale. These consumers like wines that are made with “passion” and have a “story.” The story often goes something like this: “Former airline pilot/teacher/CEO starts his or her winery on a patch of land like no other in search of the perfect bottle.”
This generation likes to know who’s making their wine and its members often favor mom and pop wineries. This allows them to know more about what they are drinking, which leads to the next point…
4. Look for boutique wineries and shops. According to market research, Millennials have been driving the growing trend in buying more wines from small artisanal producers. Not all boutique wineries produce a great product, but as with any artisanal effort, it is less likely to have additives. The goal is a wine made with wonderful tasting grapes that don’t have to be too manipulated or masked with artificial flavors.
5. And perhaps most important: Make it fun. Marketers have found that Millennials often avoid what they consider stodgy old labels depicting castles and hilly vineyards. This is one reason we now see so many creative graphics on bottles — everything from drawings of cupcakes to cute animals to curvy pinup ladies. The message is: Don’t be overly serious.
Blogger Randy Caparoso encourages new wine drinkers to have fun with their metaphors, too. Ask yourself: Does that New Zealand sauvignon blanc taste “like cold steel and gooseberry pie” or maybe “Uma Thurman in full metal jacket?”
If you can’t wax poetic, be a music lover. Musical metaphors are fairly common when describing wine — whole books have even been written about it (The Song of Wine).
My friend and author Cal Fussman, who won the James Beard Award for writing about becoming a sommelier, had a hard time describing wine until he connected it with music. It started when he tried a $400 bottle from the Rhone region of France and heard Edith Piaf singing No Regrets, “right out of that glass,” he says. From there he knew what to recommend to a loud party of Australians: “A Shiraz from Down Under that wailed like Tina Turner.” A good champagne became “Ella Fitzgerald singing scat.” A hard-driving Cabernet: Lynyrd Skynyrd.
We will leave it up to the Millennial generation to figure out from which wine they can hear Taylor Swift.
Annette Foglino is a journalist and author of Spa Journeys for Body, Mind and Soul.