Pod 22 - New York state of wine

The younger generation is reshaping the wine world in America’s biggest city

It’s not new, or perhaps surprising (especially to those who know the market well), but urban Millennials are changing the way wine is sold and talked about. In 72 hours in New York last week, and in several visits to wine bars and restaurants (all for professional reasons, you understand) I was struck by the pervasive energy and enthusiasm of everyone concerned – consumers, retailers, sommeliers, restauranteurs, even hard-bitten wine writers.

Chatting it over with experts, they point to the increasing confidence with which the Millennials are delving into the category, and looking to shape it in their image. While there is an enduring respect for the elders and experts, this generation appear not to want to be slaves to Parker or other rating system. Instead they rely increasingly on the technology in their pocket, shaped by recognition / sharing apps such as Delectable and Vivino, to determine their own tastes and value perception.

To a certain extent this is – and perhaps has been for some time – a New York thing. No one who has spent time west of the Hudson would claim that New York is like anywhere else in the USA, especially when it comes to wine. The city’s concentration of earning power, the youthful and multicultural population bursting with energy and intellectual curiosity, combined with a lifestyle which discourages sitting in your (typically very small) home, makes for fertile ground for wine bars and wine-led restaurants. It also helps that local licensing laws confine wine retailing to independent wine shops, in other words prohibiting supermarkets from entering the category.

However it’s also apparent that the momentum generated by urban Millennials in the wine category is shifting perceptions and stocking policies in mainstream America. An excellent article recently in the Wall Street Journal by Lettie Teague, the paper’s wine critic, pointed to the increasing preponderance of decent wine selections, and sensible prices, at supermarkets near her sister’s home in Texas, and the enthusiasm of both retailers and shoppers to engage more actively with hitherto less visible styles or regions such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Spain’s Ribera del Duero and Portugal’s Douro.

Her hypothesis is that supermarkets are upping their game, but then so are independents, and mainstream American consumers are waking up to more of the diversity and value that wine can offer. If we assume that some of the fresh-faced and enthusiastic twenty-somethings engaged in a tasting on the next table to me last week at Corkbuzz in Chelsea Market (a great New York wine bar owned by star sommelier Laura Maniec, with another branch just off Union Square) become the suburban parents of the 2020s, it bodes well for the future dynamism and sustainability of the category in the American market.

Author: Richard Halstead

E-mail: Richard@wineintelligence.com