Beer or Wine?
Slate had an interesting article last week about the rapid growth in U.S. wine consumption, even as beer consumption holds steady. Apparently a majority of Americans told pollsters in 2005 that they prefer wine to beer.
Writer Field Moloney frames the question as “How did wine become so dominant?” and pontificates thus:
The shape of American aspiration—our sense of connoisseurship and the good life, the character of our nostalgias, even the thirst imperatives of a nation of office clerks rather than line workers—has changed radically over the last few decades in ways that have helped wine and hurt beer. . . .
Americans, who had traditionally looked to a French and upper-class English model of the good life, . . . began in the 1980s to look farther south, to the Mediterranean, and particularly to an Italian ideal of good living, one that emphasized passion, spontaneity, and bounty; in other words, we went from Julia Child to Mario Batali. . . . Our fundamental attitude about the ceremony of food and the pleasures of the table changed: What counted was passion, which anyone can have, not refinement, which you must be born into, or cultivate very deliberately.
Wine had a prominent place at this new Mediterranean table—it was now part of a “lifestyle,” while beer remained just a drink.
Yes, well. Look, I’m a wine guy; I relish a glass of German riesling or a Loire red with my dinner. But isn’t all this talk of wine’s “dominance” premature, not to say a bit Bobo-centric?
From reading Moloney’s article, you’d never know that the average American drinks ten times more beer than wine — about 20 gallons per year compared to two. That’s three and a half six-packs down the hatch for every bottle of vino. The foodie trends Moloney identifies are valid (anyway, they jibe with my taste and with what you see in food media), but it’s a question of scale. A whole lot of Americans go to the ball game or down the street for pizza or Mexican on any given Thursday evening, and if they’re not drinking a Diet Coke it’s probably beer. Wine is rising fast, but it’s still a river compared to the Lake Michigan of the Big Three breweries.