The wine business worries about its market like any other business. Fifteen years ago, it was concerned about who would replace the Baby Boomers, that enormous generation that guzzled wine with unparalleled attention and enthusiasm. Later to its relief, wine marketers noticed that the children of the Boomers, another enormous generation, were just as enthusiastic about wine as their parents, probably because they had grown up with wine on their tables.
But a funny thing is happening on the way to the wine shop. Younger people are not buying Bordeaux like their parents did. Bordeaux is their parents’ wine, and they have other interests. For Baby Boomers, France was the land of wonder and romance, and its wines were part of the lore. Young Americans of that generation headed to France in droves with “Europe on $5 a Day” in hand, and many drank wine there for the first time. Arguably, France produced the finest wines in the world then, and Bordeaux was the best of the best.
But times have changed as they always do. First, the wines of Bordeaux are some of the most expensive in the world and might start at $85 in a restaurant and levitate upwards. Young people are not likely to have that amount of money to spend on wine. Secondly, technology is a great equalizer. Winemakers everywhere have access to the science of viticulture and winemaking and the high tech equipment to implement it, so great wines are coming from countries throughout the world.
But even more fundamental than the high prices of Bordeaux wines and the competition for quality that Bordeaux is getting from the rest of the world, younger wine-drinkers are part of an infinitely more diverse generation than their parents, not only racially diverse, but their tastes in everything from movies, to music, cars, travel, and certainly food and wine are literally all over the map. The world market and the internet have given them choices that their parents didn’t even dream of and may not be drawn to even now to the extent that they are.
Writing for the New York Times, Eric Asimov reports, “In 2009, 1.29 million cases of Bordeaux wine were imported, accounting for 0.46 percent of all still wines, domestic and foreign, distributed in the country…a far cry from its highs in the mid-1980s.” In 1985, he writes that “Bordeaux shipments accounted for 1.69 percent of all still wines distributed in the United States.” I’d guess that these days, Bordeaux winemakers are worried not just about the weather.
Wine doesn’t exist in a taste vacuum. It’s an expression of the land and the culture from which the grapes grow. For younger people, France is not an automatic travel choice like it was for their parent’s generation. They will just as easily choose to visit Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, India, or China. And they will drink the wines of the country that they’re visiting and search for them at home when they return.
For different reasons, certainly not my age, I’m aligned with the taste for variety that is common to the young. Knowing that I have access to a tremendous variety of wines, people will often ask me what my favorite is. I have no answer for that question. My favorite wines are the ones that are in the warehouse in any given month. I am certain about very little, except for one thing. There’s more to life than Cabernet Sauvignon and its Bordeaux cousins. This month, it’s Centomoggia that has been rediscovered in Campania and that Pliny the Elder wrote about 2000 years ago.