we learned from the Wine Market Council that men in their 20s aren't drinking much wine for two reasons: 1) they're broke, and 2) craft beer and cider are more interesting under $10.
The numbers reflected what most restaurant diners have realized for some time.
The night before I heard some of these stats for the first time, I was staying in Sacramento for the big Unified trade show. I didn't feel like a fancy meal so I went to Broderick Roadhouse for its pretty good burger. I'm a wine lover; I prefer a glass of red wine with my burger. Their wines by the glass, all for less than $10, were corporate and boring. Instead, I had a pint of a locally made apple-pomegranate cider that the server was enthusiastic about; the fruit is all organic and he had met the producers. And it cost $7.
You've had this experience, right? A glass of interesting wine costs $15 now, and might be from a country you've never visited, while you can get a quirky, artisanal beer made in your neighborhood for $8. It's not enough to make me a beer drinker, but I understand what 20-something men are thinking.
And it's not just in restaurants.
I'm sorry to write this, especially for my friend The Wine Curmudgeon, who specializes in reviewing wines under $10, but almost all of them suck now.
Let me define "sucks." For under $10, you can expect a bottle of wine that tastes like fruit not found in nature. It won't be spoiled or oxidized. There will be nothing wrong with it. But it will be so boring you could fall asleep and face-plant into the glass.
As recently as 2007 I wrote an every-other-week column about wines under $10. I found plenty of delicious wines in that category, though nearly all were exactly $9.99. I'm glad I don't have to write this column now.
The psychological barrier of $10 has not changed over time. But its value has. If you want to brag about how you bought great $10 wines in 2000, so did I; that's $13.75 now. Because of inflation, $10 in 2007 was $11.42 in 2014. Heck, even $10 in 2010 was $10.86 in 2014.
This is the problem with wines under $10: every supply -- bottles, corks, labels, ink, you name it -- goes up every year, but the psychological barrier remains in place. Producer margins are pretty tight for $10 wines; they can't easily absorb 86 cents in additional costs without bumping the retail price up a buck.
As I said, there's nothing wrong with the products for sale on the supermarket wine shelves for under $10. But they're products. You can buy some wine brand with a funny name made in giant tanker vats from machine-harvested grapes from wherever the economy is weakest. Or you can buy a cider fermented with Trappist yeast. For people who want something interesting, there's no contest.
The question is, should we care? Does it matter? It's not hurting Big Wine Business; Gallo is thriving, not suffering, in the new environment. And I'm not sure it hurts smaller producers to have more people recognize that they have to spend $15 or more for a bottle of wine.
I ran into one of my favorite Napa Valley producers, Dan Petroski, on Saturday at a place where people were spending $1000 a bottle for Cabernet without a second thought. He's a critical darling, not just from me, and makes some of the hippest wines in Napa Valley for his own label Massican. They're the types of wines you might think 20-somethings are drinking, like his Annia, a blend of Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Chardonnay. They're not super expensive: Annia can be had for under $30.
But he surveys his customer base, and his average customer is a 46-year-old man, he told me. People in their 20s might think his wines are interesting, but they don't yet buy a lot of $30 wines.
What happens in 20 years? When I lived in Japan, I read an essay about how Japanese youth just didn't respect work ethic like their elders, and it was going to lead to a societal breakdown. This essay was published in the early 1950s; all those 20-something rebels became the bowing, smoking, hobby-less salarymen that built Japan Inc. Maybe today's craft beer-loving young Americans will discover wine when they can pay for something good. But who knows how good and widely available craft beer will be in 2035? Maybe you'll be able to order a second bottle by drone.
I'd like to have your thoughts. Is this a situation the wine industry needs to address? Should wine lovers worry about the fact that wines under $10 suck?