America sips past France in wine consumption

Miami HeraldApril 8, 2011 

Aren't we getting sophisticated? The United States last year, despite wars, government deficits and a punky economy, overtook France to become the world's biggest consumer of wine.

We drank 330 million 12-bottle cases in 2010 compared to 321 million for the French, according to California-based industry consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Assoc.

We're not ahead per-capita, of course. The average French aficionado drinks five bottles a year to every one downed by an American. But we're going up — at least 1 percent a year for the past 17 straight years. And they're going down — by 14 percent since 2006.

The rise to the top has been a long time coming. The average U.S. adult drank a gallon of wine a year in 1970. Today it's three gallons, according to the Wine Market Council.

Beer consumption, on the other hand, has declined slightly in the United States for each of the past three years — to a mere three billion cases, according to the Beverage Information Group. The slump is led by light beer.

It's generational, experts say. The big Millennial Generation, born since 1982, is coming of age sophisticated about wine, made comfortable and savvy by their parents — America's wine-loving Baby Boomers.

Millennials are going straight to complex red wines rather than starting with sweet wine, advancing to dry whites and then to reds as have previous generations, says a study by the research group Wine Market Council.

They're more affluent, less affected by the recession than older workers.

'The Millennials are a new force," says Chip Cassidy, chief wine buyer for Crown Wine & Spirits' 29 South Florida shops and a wine professor at Florida International University's hospitality school. " We run seven classes a year at FIU, with 40 students each, and they're all full. These kids are just so attentive and interested in learning about wines."

U.S. wine sipping is "driven by many factors including the adoption of wine in early adulthood by the large Millennial generation, the availability of quality wine at all price levels and the acceptance of moderate wine consumption as compatible with a healthy lifestyle," the council report says.

Lindsay Panzek, 29, a registered nurse from near Pinecrest, could be a poster girl for Millennial wine fans. "I went from picking up the cheapest thing in the rack in college to this," she said, lifting an Italian Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and a Portuguese Vinho Verde into her basket at the Total Wine & More shop on Biscayne Boulevard.

A well-traveled Air Force brat, she appreciates the Chateauneuf-du-Pape from France and the Amarones of Italy among others.

"Millennials have had a change to be exposed to good wine and learn about it," she says.

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