How millennials upended America’s wine scene, one taquería at a time

Hannah Selinger
June 4
Hannah Selinger is a copy writer for Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City and a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers.

(Flickr user Eduardo Fonseca Arraes)

 

At New York City’s Mission Cantina, diners eat tacos off goofy-colored plates. The restaurant is casual, with simple wooden tables and counter service.

It’s not, in other words, the kind of place where you’d expect a great wine list. But in addition to the usual beers and margs, eaters can order a sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley or a malvasia from the Canary Islands.

The same is true at The Whip Inn in Austin, Tex., a music venue where patrons enjoy Frito pie while watching their favorite local bands. And at Roy Choi’s A-Frame, an L.A. restaurant that riffs on Korean and American classics, diners can pair an inspired $12 double cheeseburger with a bottle of Comte de Bailly Brut Cuvée Rosé.

If beer has become bourgeois, catering to snobs who obsessively seek out the latest micro-brew, wine is the new drink of the everyman. Anecdotal evidence and experts suggest great offerings are popping up all over, as available at your local taquería as at the new Michelin-rated restaurant.

“You see it everywhere,” says Lorena Ascencios, head buyer for New York’s Astor Wines & Spirits, and she doesn’t just mean low-end options. Expensive bottles are edging their way into unexpected venues. On a visit to New York’s Motorino, you can pair a $10 Pizze Marinara, served on paper plates, with a $120 bottle of 2005 La Spinetta Barbaresco.

Why? Thank millennials. Fox Business recently reported that 20-somethings now drink a quarter of the wine inventory in the United States. And of core drinkers (people who drink wine at least once a week), millennials represent 30 percent.

“Historically, wine has been marketed to older generations and came with a huge pretense,” Melissa Saunders, owner of wine importer Communal Brands told Fox. “But this generation is blowing all of that out of the water. They don’t care about the pretentiousness of a wine, they want something that is authentic and speaks to them. This is a huge marketing opportunity.”


A wine bar in Omaha, Nebraska. (Flickr user Ali Eminov)

Restaurants are trying to take advantage, in part, by hiring a new kind of sommelier. “Younger, enthusiastic, and un-accredited wine stewards are waxing, and older, sommelier-pinned professionals are waning,” says Maxwell Leer, wine director of Los Angeles’s Bestia.

When he started in the service industry 22 years ago, David Johnson, a wine consultant for New York City retailer Morrell & Co., found wine service to be “rigid.”

“I don’t recall ever having a casual conversation with a somm,” he said. Today, the environment has changed. “I love that you can get perfectly quaffable wine on tap while you enjoy a charcuterie plate at, say, Franny’s,” a Brooklyn restaurant known for its clam pizzas, Johnson said.

The poor economy also helped push wine into the mainstream. After the 2008 recession, diners began to seek more casual eateries. “[T]he concept of value became important,” says Matthew Kaner, co-owner and wine director of the restaurant Covell in Los Angeles. “Now consumers and diners are aware of restaurant or wine bar mark-ups in a way they weren’t worried about before the economy tanked.”

It’s why restaurants like Roosevelt in Richmond, Va., serve local wines, priced with minimal mark-up. “I eat at Roosevelt because of this,” says Kerry Woolard, general manager of Virginia’s Trump Winery.

Jeremy Parzen, wine director for Los Angeles’ Sotto and writer for DoBianchi.com, agrees. “America is only now adolescing as a wine nation. There’s more wine available to Americans than ever before. … Even my 80-year-old mother knows the difference between Prosecco and Champagne. And that’s not just because I’m her son.”

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