Washington-area consumers are slaking their thirsts with more wine and less liquor, according to the Liquor Handbook, a New York-based market research study.
D.C. drinkers sipped 126 percent more wine in 1980 than in 1970, compared to an increase of 4.5 percent in their injestion of distilled spirits.
Nationwide, consumers follow the same wine pattern, only not quite so dramatically as in D.C. During the past decade, distilled-spirit consumption rose 20 percent and wine use rose 83 percent.
Not surprising, considering that "natural" products have received a broad marketing effort, which has embraced wines but not their higher-proof distilled cousins.
What's surprising is the dark-horse entry in the wine competition: not California or New York, but the Eastern bloc nations.
Until recently considered inferior to their better-known French and German neighbors, according to New York importer Monsieur Henri, these wines have been well-received nationally as well as in the local market, and their share of that market is growing.
There appears to be little hesitation from such nonmarket economies as Romania and Bulgaria to allow Western wine importers to build capital through intense advertising and promotional activity.
According to Cornelius Buckley, wine manager at a D.C. discounter, Rodmans, and to other local retailers, two red wines, Premiat, a Romanian Cabernet, and Trakia Cabernet of Bulgaria have won a favorable reception in the Washington metropolitan area.
Introduced in the United States just over a year ago by Monsieur Henri at rates competitive to the jug wines of California, these Eastern wines still are inexpensive enough to allow distributors and retailers to offer the product to the public at a low price.
Advertising for Premiat has been keyed to D.C. radio stations, and the wholesale price of both wines has encouraged local retailers to run promotional sales with a frequency that, according to Buckley, has helped build a following for the wines.
According to Larry Soll, vice president for government and industry relations at Monsieur Henri, the New York reception has been comparable. National sales of Premiat were 175,000 cases in 1980 while the Trakia did almost as well with sales of 100,000 cases, he said.
In the D.C. area, these wines have done equally well with Premiat's Washington sales totaling 16,000 cases and Trakia 10,000 in 1980. And sales for both wines in 1981 are expected to increase 50 percent over 1980, Soll said.
A favorable local reception for relatively obscure wine labels is never a guarantee, according to Stuart Emden of International Distributing. He reported that two wines of relatively similar price had only a quarter of the sales of the Trakia and the Premiat in 1980, primarily, he said because of the heavy use Premiat promoters have made of electronic media.
Reaction from package store retailers has been understandably enthusiastic. Buckley, whose father was a wine importer in Ireland, gives Premiat and Trakia first-class ratings. The wines, he noted, are "from one of the finest wine regions in the world. They, of course, have their own character.
"These wines, however, have the quality I most highly regard in a wine, drinkability."
Dennis Kinsey, sales representative for International Distributing, a firm that markets neither Trakia nor Premiat, emphasized the drinkability aspect of wine marketing: "You want a wine that will please people enough that they will order that second glass."
Buckley and Kinsey agreed that Eastern European wines have made great strides in the past 10 years, both in quality and acceptance. They cautioned, however, that the vintage wine produced during the drought of '76 may be the exception more than the rule as far as the wines of Romania and Bulgaria are concerned.
Kinsey said that D.C. is an "unusually sophisticated wine market" and that the local palate will tolerate nothing but the best.