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More Americans Choosing Merlot at Miller Time

This spring, some surprising stats revealed that our nation of beer drinkers is now the world’s largest consumer of wine. Collectively, we Americans swirled, sniffed and sipped 330 million cases of wine in 2010, beating the French by a full 10 million cases.

Our thirst for wine has grown at least one percent every year since 1993. Meanwhile, beer drinking has dropped 3.4 percent in the last two years.² If more Americans are choosing Merlot at Miller Time, does that mean we’re becoming a wine culture? Don’t pop that bubbly just yet.

Though wine is gaining ground, the amount of wine the average American drinks remains lackluster. As of 2009, we were 57th in the world for per capita consumption.³ In Ireland and Germany, nations packed with pubs and beer gardens, people are still quaffing more grape juice than we are. Even folks in New Caledonia, Equatorial Guinea and Gibraltar have us beat.

So what gives? For starters, a lot of us – about 36 percent – just don’t drink. Our country has a complicated relationship with alcohol: America was founded by Puritans, hampered by Prohibition, and today contains many teetotalers like Muslims and Mormons. Those of us who do drink mostly favor beer, chugging an annual 21 gallons to a measly 2.6 gallons of wine.⁴

We’re not alone – beer is king in most countries.⁵ But drinking is also changing across the world. Thanks to globalization, international drinking patterns are becoming more alike: beer-drinking nations are popping more corks, wine-drinking people are throwing back more beers, and emerging economies are drinking more of everything.⁶

This probably means yet more vino in our future. From Millennials to their retired Baby Boomer parents, we’re enjoying more wine more often.⁷ Though we have a long way to go, I look forward to a future where Cab is on tap at corner bars, “party size” barrels are the rage, and chilled Sauv Blancs are hawked in stadium stands. Watch out, beer – wine’s fighting for America’s taste buds.

(illustration by Julia Heffernan)

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ⁱ According to a report by wine industry consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates.

² Referring to our millions of gallons in shipments from domestic and international brewers

³ According to Wine Institute figures

⁴ According to the D.C.-based Beer Institute

⁵ By about 52 percent, according to an April report by the American Association of Wine Economists.

⁶ According to the AAWE’s study

⁷ The Millennial generation, estimated at 70 million, is firmly into adulthood with a strong and early adoption of wine, according to Wine Market Council studies

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