Wine With Food. Or (Increasingly) Not. (Should We Be Surprised That Millennials Don’t Drink & Chow?)

Vinted on April 20, 2011 binned in commentary, going pro, wine appreciation, wine news

Do you drink wine without eating food?  At the same time, I mean.  Of course you eat food. And of course you don’t actually drink wine at exactly the same time that you eat food, as that is physiologically impossible… ah, forget it, you know what I mean!



Anyway… Chances are, increasingly, that your answer to that question is “well…duh!” At least, that’s the story from a recent Wine Opinions market-research survey, which was the subject of a New York Times piece by my compadre Eric Asimov.

I was quoted in Eric’s write-up, mostly on the topic of whether or not this trend away from wine and food meal pairing consumption should surprise anyone, especially with the advent of the Millennial wine-buyers coming of age into the market for fine wine (to save you some reading time, my answer was basically “No, we shouldn’t be surprised”).

For some reason I seem to have been anointed as someone with a direct line into the Millennial wine-buying hive-brain, which seems strange to me because, while I’m very, very humbled and grateful that so many in the Millennial set seem to enjoy this blog, the first thing that anyone who knows Millennials will tell you is that you should ask them (the Millennials, that is) about their buying habits directly, because they are probably more willing to speak about them than any previous generation.  So if you’re in the wine marketing biz and you’re not talking directly with Millennial wine buyers, then you are not Charlie-Sheen-winning, my friends…

My surrogate representation of the Millennial set is also surprising because, well, I’m not a Millennial – I’ve got graying hair, a three-year—old daughter (graying hair thus explained) and I turned 39 a few weeks ago.  I know… I don’t get it, either.  But I do gladly count myself as highly influenced by their worldview, and for that I’m truly thankful and indebted to those crazy kids. And I certainly don’t speak for Italian Millennials – despite the surrogate representation of the U.S. contingent and coupled with the fact that I am of Italian ancestry – who (as reported by Decanter) are drinking less wine overall, with food or without.  In fact, that same Unicab market research found that 30% of young Italians “no longer consider wine to be a symbol of Italian gastronomy” which is alarmingly f*cked up in so many ways that even I’m not going to go into them in detail!

Anyway… back to the Wine Opinions Survey: the survey questioned approximately 800 members of the Wine Opinions consumer panel, which includes residents of all U.S. states with the exceptions of North Dakota and Montana (which apparently don’t count when it comes to buying wine?), and of the measly (a pitiful 38 percent) of us who actually drink wine in the U.S., only 41 percent of those folks imbibe their wine with a meal.

Is this a sign that wine’s mysterious hold on food is waning?

Not quite, methinks.

Wine still – and always will – RAWK IT when it comes to food, and finding a great match of place / people / wine / vittles elevates all four elements into experiences powerful enough to stay with you until you croak. I love pairing wine with food, personally – a task made a bit more daunting by the great home cooking here, where we favor healthy meals and rarely (read: never) cook the same thing twice… a scenario that therefore presents all manner of vinous pairing challenges (try picking out a great red to pair up when you’re not matching it up against a nice, fatty, marbled hunk of steak). You wanna know what to sip up with some grains?  I’m your dude (hint: pay close attention to the sauce!).

And the industry certainly still seems of the opinion that wine and food pairing matters, big-time (the March 2011 edition of Sommelier Journal is entirely devoted to the topic).  Of course, that’s kind of a major part of a somm’s job, so we’d expect the restaurant and beverage industry folks to say that wine and food pairing is important, and in the restaurant context it certainly is. So I think the pairing concept has much to strong of a pulse to be declared dead just yet, even if that pulse is mostly being generated by the blood of the diners on-premise.

In my view, the recent increase in imbibing of wine without food is not a sign that people don’t care about pairing wine with food, but is more a sign that people are busier than ever, and younger people (Millennials) feel the business pinch earlier in their lives thanks to our increasingly hectic and ultra-connected lifestyles, and thus find themselves in more social situations in which they drink wine when food isn’t around – or, at least, times when a sit-down meal just isn’t practical.  I mention social situations specifically because wine is the most social beverage in the Universe, and comes in packaging (a 750 ml bottle) that begs to be shared because polishing off one of those on your own in one sitting is going to get you very, very plastered (usually not a preferable outcome in a social context).

Of course, I welcome your comments about all of the above (Millennial wine buying habits, your take on wine + food, why the hell I keep getting asked about Millennials anyway) – before or after socializing yourself with that 750 ml bottle!






  • Denise

    I'm certainly not a Millennial either but must admit, I probably enjoy more wine alone than with food. I always order wine with dinner, but rarely have wine with dinner at home. I'd rather enjoy a glass after dinner, as part of my R&R at the end of the day.

    I guess, back in the day, cocktails were the beverage of choice after work, before dinner. (Think Mad Men).

    I think it's great that wine is something people enjoy to sip alone, as well as pair with their foods. Because I drink wine often "to sip" instead of "pair," it definitely impacts the wines I choose to buy.

    Great post!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Denise – Certainly the generation before mine has been called the Cocktail Generation for exactly that reason. It's interesting I think that the way you drink wine influences what you buy in terms of not having it often with food; I usually find myself in the similar but opposite position of buying wine specifically *for* food. :) Cheers!

  • 1WineDude

    @terrychristiani – My experience is very similar to yours, though my "everyday" bottle experiences are typically now subsumed into the sample tasting that I have to do, so the average price of those is likely higher than what I used to do before this whole wine blog thing began to dominate my life :). For the bigger events/dinners, I'm with you: I go nuts and have fun trying to pair the hell out of them!

  • el jefe

    Why limit wine pairings to just food? For example, I like to pair wine with sports. Maybe take in the Spanish Grand Prix with a nice Tempranillo. And a big Petite Sirah is perfect with a hockey game (especially when your team comes back from being down 4 to winning in OT ;)

    • 1WineDude


    • 1WineDude

      Ah, well, pairing whines with epic playoff victories is a situation that is no stranger to these virtual pages, Jefe! :)

  • Aaron

    A lot of affordable domestic wine simply doesn't play nice with food. This is not necessarily a knock on the wine. I love a martini but I don't want one with my pasta. Similarly, big fruit, high alcohol, low acid wines can be quite tasty, but overwhelm or otherwise don't compliment food. Whether that wine style is a cause or effect of people drinking wine without food is certainly up for debate, but I'd guess it's a little of both.

  • 1WineDude

    Great point, Aaron – I suspect the causes of the trend aren't simple (nothing these days is simple… :-).

  • Craig Camp

    I just don't believe this is an accurate report. I am sure it holds true for the under $15 dollar range of wines as that's what they're pouring in bars. However, if you looked at the over $15 range I'm confident you would get a different result and at over $20 an even more dramatic shift to consuming wine with food. Such reports are inevitably skewed do to the huge volume of cheap wine designed to be a cocktail rather than a food wine.

    • 1WineDude

      I’m sure you’re right, Craig. But it could be argued, I think, that the < $15 range is what most people are drinking, so the report is accurate (just maybe not accurate for the highest levels of fine wine).

  • Renee

    I found that study funny actually! I used to be in the drink wine alone catergory, but in the last year I really got into the whole pairing with food thing. As a food and wine lover it is only natural to want the best expirence from both, and I have found a new enjoyment with drinking a great glass of wine with something as simple as a casserole. To me it makes the whole expirence feel special, and why limit wine to only social or special situations. To me, wine is an everyday thing not some mystical wonder juice, but just another element to dinner, family, and friends, and enjoyment of life. I am never sure what generation I fit into, but I was a teen in the 90's and I think that says enough! Great post!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Renee!

      Interestingly, this comment is coming at the same time that I am getting tweets and emails from people saying “hey, I’m a Millennial and I always drink wine with food!” Further proof that generalizations rarely work in the wine world, I suppose! :)

  • Jerry

    I nearly always drink wine with a meal. Probably 98% of the time really. Although, I personally feel it's the best way to enoy wine (with food), there's certainly nothing wrong with imbibing wine on it's own. There's no wrong way to drink wine. Although, mixing it with ice cubes and sparkling water is kind of ghetto– just saying mom and dad.

  • carinne

    Does 25 count as a millennial? I'll say it's a bit of both but only about 25% of the time do I buy wine for the food. And then it's always I'll buy food and pair the wine with it – never buy the wine and then pair the food.

    But otherwise, yeah, I buy wine for the wine.

    • 1WineDude

      Carinne – you qualify!

      So I think what you’re saying is… you like wine, food, and wine + food? ;-)

  • Dana

    Not a millennial – I think my kids fit that demographic. As I responded in another forum, I drink wine with most dinners, rarely with lunch and never with breakfast. But I also drink it routinely without food. If I'm opening a new bottle for the meal, I'll actively think about matching the meal. Most dinners it's a case of going with whichever red or white is open from a prior day and goes reasonably with that night's meal. Dana

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Dana. I’m a BIG fan of the “let’s see if any open bottles might go with this…” dinner option pairing myself!

      Never had wine with breakfast? Ever? Not even *one*? ;-)

      • Dana

        never that I can think of. probably comes from being a cereal for breakfast guy. chardonnay with my Cherrios??? merlot with my Mini-wheats??? just isn't done.

        • 1WineDude

          Yeah but I can think of some wines I'd pair with omelets… :)

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