Berger: Millennials bring diversity to the wine world

Once considered a beverage for old men, today wine is a stylish drink for younger connoisseurs.|

Wine once was seen as a beverage mainly for a few old men with long memories and longer beards. Today, the young drive the bus -- and there are a lot of them.

Thanks to Millennial wine buyers, we are seeing so many different wine types, styles, and blends that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Which is all to the good for the industry.

Wine shelves everywhere are filled with more wines than ever before, sales are up, and the bulk market is still healthy with a lot of wine for sale. This all comes about six months after a banking industry report that forecast a worldwide wine shortage. (Only days later, that report was proven to be utterly false.)

The signs are everywhere. Red-wine blends now take up more shelf space at wine shops and specialty markets than I have ever seen. Chardonnay still is tops in the checkout line, but Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, and sparkling wines are closing ground.

As for bubblies, with the great recent success of Italian Prosecco has come the word that all wines with effervescence are selling well. And so they are.

However, unstated in most of these bubbly stories is the fact that a large percentage of the 9% increase in U.S. sparkling sales in the last year is due mainly to the sparkling Moscato fad. Muscat-based bubblies were a big part of all sparkling sales’ increases in 2014, but that may well decline once people get over the fascination of these alcoholic sodas.

But drama elsewhere in the wine world continues to unfold.

-- Riesling remains a wine of intrigue to a growing segment of the population, who see dry and medium-dry styles working brilliantly with Asian foods. Germany sets the worldwide standard; U.S. leaders are Washington, Oregon, New York, Michigan, and small pockets of California.

-- “Serious” Pinot Gris sales are moving up, with dozens of wineries trying the formerly lackluster grape. When PG was less well understood, some wineries tried to do too much with it (such as aging it in oak). Lately, treated as the aromatic grape that it is, it appeals to many consumers, who are finding it to be a delightful sipping wine that also can work with some foods. The U.S. leaders here are producers from Oregon, Sonoma County, and California’s Central Coast.

-- Pinot Noir remains one of the hottest of red wines, mainly because of its lighter tannins.

-- Zinfandel seems to have survived a decade during which only the anvil-heavy versions were popular. Those oafs with their 16% alcohols, coarse tannins, and residual sugars still appeal to some, but more recently we have seen versions that pay homage more to claret. The results: more distinctiveness from region to region, vineyard to vineyard, and more compatibility with food. Sonoma and Mendocino counties and the Sierra Foothills make exceptional Zins.

-- Red Rhône blends featuring Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Carignan offer diversity that has made them drink-now alternatives to more heavy styles of reds. Among the better regions making such wines are Washington, warmer regions of California, and even Idaho and Colorado.

-- Merlot has survived the indignities of a decade of disparagement spawned by a mediocre movie and remains a charmer for those tired of Cabernet Sauvignon’s coarseness. Merlots from cooler regions appeal for their food-friendliness.

-- Red wines from Portuguese grapes like Touriga are not yet the rage, but from small plantings we are seeing a lot of interest from winemakers.

To be sure, there are a few fall guys in this scenario. Syrah remains a difficult sell (thus more blends using it); Gewurztraminer and Viognier sales are down (though white Rhône blends are up), and interest in Sangiovese has fallen (perhaps to be replaced by Barbera?).

Now add in all the myriad styles of wines being imported from at least a dozen countries, and it’s clear that wine-loving Millennials are having a field day.

Leave the ancient reds to those ancient long-bearded gentlemen. The diversity of today’s wines may be what has broadened the base of wine consumers: there’s a style for anyone.

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at

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