The Changing Demographics and Preferences of Wine Consumers

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GrapevineWhat are you drinking these days?

I’ve written about numerous wines, from innumerable regions, crafted from multitudinous grape varieties. I’ve focused on tried-and-true wines and fringe wines hoping to attain a mainstream recognition.

My mantra has always been to experiment. A regular practice of sampling new wines will invariably lead to consumers finding their “new favorite wine,” a phrase I frequently employ.

Of course, most of us have our go-to wines, the ones we consider our comfort wines, those wines that are consistently reliable palate-pleasers. But there are so many wines in the marketplace today that have the potential of replacing, or at least supplementing, your core cache of favorite wines.

For many of us, finding our current favorite wines was accidental, a result of experimenting with a wine recommended by our local wine merchant or a sommelier at a forward-thinking restaurant. Many of our current favorites replaced longstanding previous favorites.

I am intrigued by the divergent demographics of today’s wine consumer. In my travels, I’ve classified them into three very broad categories. With due credit to (two-time) former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, they are:

I-know-what-I-know consumers, with blinders full-on, who have been drinking the same wines since their first adult sip.

I-know-what-I-don’t-know tipplers, who are aware of the vast choices currently in the marketplace but feel no compulsion to venture outside their self-created boundaries.

And my favorite: the I-don’t-know-what-I-don’t-know adventurers. Rather than intentionally shunning the vast, unknown universe of wine choices, they approach each purchase decision-point with a clean slate (and clean palate).

Into which category do you fall?

The reality of the wine consumption landscape in the United States in 2022 is clear. There is a wide swath of the wine consuming public that views wine as a pleasurable companion to a meal, but not necessarily a vital component of it. A significant percentage of consumers (still) purchase Pinot Grigio without giving a second thought to the endless alternatives of light, aromatic and structured white wines. Anonymous red blends command a growing market share as a middle-of-the-road, middle-of-the-palate wine of choice.

The Nielsen group of statistical and demographic patterns and trends reports on the top-selling grape varietals by volume (not sales value). A recent survey identified the following rankings:

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. Chardonnay
  3. Red Blends (my note: a blend by definition is not a single varietal)
  4. Pinot Grigio
  5. Sauvignon Blanc

Rounding out the top 10 were Moscato, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Rose (my note: rose is a style, not a varietal) and Malbec.

Other statistics reported: 46 percent of all sales were for red wine while 44 percent were for white and 10 percent for rose.

Where do your preferences fall in this plethora of varietals? Are you a steadfast consumer of one of the top varietals? Did you identify one with which you’ve been thinking of experimenting?

When I read these rankings, I was reminded of a similar survey several years ago. At the time the rankings were quite different. The top-ranking varietal was Chardonnay, followed by Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. My how the public’s preferences have changed over the years.

What has caused this significant change? In part it’s due to the changing demographics of wine drinkers. Aging baby boomers are drinking less of their favorites. As millennials become dominant in the marketplace, their preferences are differing sharply from their predecessors.

The rise of the internet, and its outreach of peer-shared opinions of wine, has exposed consumers to a broader spectrum of available wines that suit their palate. Consumers increasingly approach wine from a knowledge base, supplanting a subjective, instinctive approach. More espouse the I-don’t-know-what-I-don’t-know approach to their purchasing decisions

Whether the subject is wine varietals or more esoteric topics such as your favorite cut of steak, music genre or political ideology, we can all find surveys that support our preferences. I know that I know that.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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