Fine wine strikes Generation Y
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About 100 students gathered at the Fine Arts building to sip two-ounce shots of Charles Shaw Merlot and raise a glass to the 18th Annual Stillwell Art Show that opened earlier this month.

The sight of students sipping wine on a chilly Tuesday evening stood as a testament to the increasing number of young people who are embracing the ancient beverage.

According to a study conducted by the Wine Market Council in 2006, more people are drinking wine than ever before. Adult per capita consumption of table wine in the U.S. now stands at an all-time high and millions of Americans between 21 and 28 are switching from beer and spirits to incorporate more wine into their alcoholic diets.

Susan Cholette, an associate professor of decision sciences at SF State and self-described wine expert, says this is because the wine industry is changing and becoming more accessible to young drinkers.

"There is a perception that a lot of winemakers are ultra-snooty and secure," Cholette said. "That age is done."

Cholette said that the millennial generation, or Generation Y, will surpass Generation X in wine consumption sometime next year.

"It’s partially because the younger generation looks at a lot of online things," said Cholette, who said that she enjoys an occasional glass of zinfandel from Cline Cellars. "They also pay attention to their colleagues and are willing to try new things."

SF State student Heather Smith says she believes that older people have a better understanding of wine, but younger people are willing to drink wine on its own.

“Younger people are drinking wine by itself, and I think it’s becoming a beer alternative,” said the 21-year-old hospitality management junior. “[But] I think older people are better at pairing wine with food."


A 2006 study conducted by Seattle-based TRD Frameworks concluded that millennial wine drinkers aren't particularly sophisticated about the wine they drink, and are prone to experimentation among cheaper brands.

Smith said this is because college students are more likely to be on a limited budget and need to take advantage of the increasing variety of wines available at lower prices.

The study also stated that millennial wine drinkers are not particularly concerned with regions from which the wine came, but with labels and brands, particularly Yellowtail, which is the fastest growing imported brand in the United States.

Smith said some of the wines that are popular among younger consumers include Charles Shaw, often called “Two-Buck Chuck” after its Trader Joe’s retail price, as well as Carlo Rossi and a variety of Australian wines like Yellowtail. They range in price from $3 to about $9.

“Beverages and More (BevMo) has great stuff,” said Smith. “And the tasting is free at most of the small wineries.”

Former SF State professor Kent Bach, who taught philosophy and language until 2004, also believes that people are drinking cheaper wines, though it is not confined to college students. He recently had an essay published in a book called “Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine.”

"Most drinkers of wine don’t drink serious wine," said Bach, who considers himself a wine expert in comparison to most people. "For many, it’s like an adult version of Coke or Pepsi."

Bach said that most people who are interested in good wine are also interested in food. He also said he brings his own wine to restaurants and argues all food can be paired with wine.

"Fortunately for [consumers] you can find both at pretty good prices," said Bach. "I just saw BevMo’s ad for 90 point wines for $20."

Wines are rated on a 50-100 point scale said to originate with connoisseur Robert Parker. Wines that fall between 96 and 100 are considered to be extraordinary wine with great complexity. Wines that fall between 90 and 95 are considered to be outstanding and have exceptional character.

Beverages and More offers several 90-point wines ranging from $12 to $20 and many are offered on their website, which makes wine shopping convenient.

"San Francisco often has wine fairs," Cholette said. "For a tasting fee, you can taste wines next to each other so you can figure out what kind of wine you like."

San Francisco also has a growing number of wine bars, many of which offer tastings. One of the most interesting is Vino Venue on Mission Street. The bar, which opened in 2004, offers a unique tasting experience where one can purchase a Vino Venue tasting card, which acts like a debit card that can be inserted into tasting stations for different wines with shots ranging from $1 to $28.

Another option for the college student with a car and a designated driver is to escape to wine country. But long drives, tasting fees, and crowds could be a problem, Smith said.

“If you go and find a winery you like, you can become a club member and they will ship wine to you every month,” Smith said. “It’s pretty cheap. You can get several bottles for under $40 a month.”

So, for young wine drinkers the options are many. Whether using a tasting card at Vino Venue, strolling Sonoma valley, or shopping online at Beverages and More, just remember there's more to it than Two Buck Chuck.

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