By Caroline Helper (@forgetburgundy)
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Although there are always other factors at play, this, I truly believe, is the force that drives trends more than anything else. You can see it in fashion, you can see it in food, and you can see it in wine.
My parents, for example, are Baby Boomers, and their wine preferences would give them away even if they never told you how old they were. My dad loves big, rich, smooth wines – give him a California Cabernet and he’ll give you a big wine-stained smile. My mom prefers Kendall Jackson Chardonnay – affectionately referred to as KJ in my house – a wine that is big, buttery, rich, and redolent of oak and vanilla.
My parents became wine drinkers during the golden age of Robert Parker, whose preference for big bold California wines has defined a style that is still extremely popular with wine drinkers around the world. The Robert Parker effect has been so vast and so penetrating across the wine world that even while winemakers everywhere strive to emulate the style that launched 100 points, the beginnings of a backlash have already stirred.
As the next generation (sorry Gen-Xers, but we are 80-million strong to your 51-million), in terms of sheer size, power, and influence, we Millenials are already making a significant impact on the wine industry. Oh, and there are still 20 million of us who have yet to turn 21.
For a glimpse into just what kind of power we Millenials yield in the marketplace, take a look at what we’ve done to Moscato. Moscato used to be a relatively obscure grape known mostly for producing the slightly fizzy sweet wine, Moscato d’Asti. Recently, however, big industrial wine producers like Barefoot Cellars and Yellow Tail have started producing versions that are a runaway success. A recent Nielsen survey showed that Moscato sales grew 78 percent in 2011, driven almost entirely by wine drinkers between the ages of 21 and 30. It was also recently reported that plantings of Moscato grapes in the U.S. are expected to increase by 136 percent by 2015. Reports on the Moscato craze point to the wine’s ubiquity in hip-hop culture, its generally low price point, and its accessible flavor profile (it’s sweet, low in alcohol, and it tastes like peaches). Wine industry pundits are even starting to call Moscato “the next White Zinfandel.”
I bring up Moscato because it is a great example of the impact that Millenials can have on the wine industry and also because it points to a shift in palate that, I believe, is about due and not inconsequential.
I believe that we are in for a major shift away from the big, bold, high-alcohol California-style wines beloved by the Baby Boomers – our parents. I think there are a number of reasons for this, and our preference for Moscato is just the first indication of the impending shift towards lighter, fresher, and more food-friendly wines. Below are some important reasons (but not the only one) that I’d like to think this:
- The explosion of foodie culture: As food only becomes increasingly important (and cool – chefs are the new rockstars) to Millenials, I believe that wine will reclaim its rightful place at the table – as an essential part of the meal. That means the wine that’s on the table has got to more food-friendly. Those big bold wines that hold a special place in our parents’ hearts and cellars? They may be delicious, but they’re not very food-friendly. Food-friendly wines tend to be higher in acid and tannin and lower in alcohol (see: Moscato). Also, while our parents have stuck up their noses at sweetness in wines, we Millenials, raised on soda and fattened on high-fructose corn syrup, have shown that we have no problem imbibing our sweet fix (see: Moscato). Sweetness, by the way, does not inherently reduce a wine’s food-friendliness depending on what it’s paired with – it’s a fantastic accompaniment to spicy food and particularly Asian flavors.
- The internet: In the face of that great global connector, the internet, it’s hard to argue that we are not a more internationally influenced audience than any previous generation. We are aware of the rest of the world because we are connected to it in a way that is totally unprecedented. The effect is that we are more curious, more worldly, and more concerned about our place and our impact on that world. This factor, I would argue, means that all of the hubbaloo surrounding the Natural, Organic, and Biodynamic wines is not going to die down anytime soon. Especially with Natural and Biodynamic wines, the wine making process tends towards wines that fall neatly in the food-friendly camp – they are leaner, fresher, and speak more to varietal purity and that elusive concept of terroir. Looking out at the rest of the world, especially toward Europe, Millenials will also come face-to-face, again, with the idea of wine as part of a meal.
There is some data to support the claim that we are already seeing a slight shift, or the beginning of one. Hello Vino is a company that has a mobile app that doles out wine recommendations based on consumer taste preferences, meal pairings, gifts for occasions, or region. The company released a wine consumer survey last year (March of 2011) that showed the ways that taste/varietal preferences are shifting and that most recommendations (47 percent) were generated based on suggestions for pairing wines with a meal.
Like what I’ve got to say? Maybe want to read more? Head over to my wine blog, Forget Burgundy, for more of my personal musings on wine!