The Young Winos, along with other twentysomething adults across America, are the new driving force in the wine market, says Patrick Merrill, a San Mateo-based wine market researcher. When it comes to wine, they drink more, know more, spend more and enjoy a broader international selection of wines, on average, than any generation before them.
FOR THE RECORD:
Alma mater: In a March 12 Food story about a wine tasting group ["They're Young —and Thirsty," by Corie Brown], Young Winos founder Jesse Porter was misidentified as a graduate of Syracuse University. He is an Ithaca College graduate.
And if this love affair continues, they will reshape wine in their open-minded, information-hungry, unpretentious image, according to a growing body of market research.
Jesse Porter was a 22-year-old Syracuse University graduate working long hours in L.A. as an assistant to a husband-wife filmmaking team when he stapled a few fliers on UCLA bulletin boards and posted an online invitation to other young Angelenos to form a wine-tasting group. He had plenty of takers.
Now, 2 1/2 years later, a core group of two dozen members makes it to most of the Young Winos' weekly tastings along with occasional attendees from among an additional 100 people on the group's e-mail list. Every other month a fresh posting on Craigslist brings in new blood.
The members are serious about improving their wine IQs, and the Wednesday night meetings rarely disintegrate into parties. But the conversation often wanders from what's in the glass.
At a recent meeting in Sherman Oaks, Porter ran a hand through his hair as he pushed the group to focus on the subject at hand, a 2005 Sutton Cellars Carignane from Mendocino County.
"We can talk about politics later when we pull out the cheese, but let's focus on the nose here. What do you smell?" he asked the 15 Young Winos gathered in his living room.
The group snapped its attention back to the wine. "Smoky," "smells like cherries" and "I get maple syrup," members said in turn before taking their first sips -- and collectively gagging.
"Oh, my God!" one member said. "Sour barbecue sauce that feels like burning embers all the way down your throat" was another's description of the wine. The cri de coeur of "the most disgusting wine I've ever drunk!" persuaded Porter to call for the dump bucket.
The theme of the tasting was "Old World Red Varieties Grown in the New World," with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah off-limits. The next wine was a Cabernet Franc from New York's Finger Lakes region. Then they opened a Petit Verdot from California's High Valley Vineyard. Neither was a winner. Their conclusion: There is a reason these are considered "blending" grapes on their home turf.
But when they pulled the cork on a Malbec-dominated blend from Argentina, the oohs and aahs began. South American wines score well with this group, whose members tend to buy wines priced $10 to $20 but will often stretch for a $30 wine.
"None of us has money to throw around," Porter says.
The Bordeaux and Burgundy wines they've tried in their price range have been disappointing enough that they avoid them now. "California," Porter says, "is hit or miss."
New -- and different
THESE new wine drinkers, often referred to as the Millennial generation, "believe all of the cool stuff from around the world was made for them, and that includes wine," says John Gillespie, director of the industry's Wine Market Council, who also researches wine-drinking habits through his firm, Wine Opinions.
Unlike baby boomers -- whose first wines were then-inexpensive California wines and who, in large part, continue to stick with the state's brands -- local loyalties mean nothing to this group. With quality wine no longer the exception worldwide but the rule, this new generation buys wines from anywhere and everywhere. They focus on the best value they can find within their limited budgets.