When Americans gathered for drinks in their homes in 1970s, beer and spirits were beverages of choice. In rough numbers, brews consumed half the family booze budget, spirits 35 percent, wine 15.
In the four decades since, beer held steady near 50 percent, but the wine-spirits numbers flipped.
This reflects a change from wine as a meal complement for the few into a stand-alone drink for the many, and it gave rise to the popularity of more powerful, higher alcohol, more assertive wines.
Many blame critic Robert Parker and his 100-point scale scores for big oak, big jammy, big alcohol wines. But Parker did not compel people to chase blowzy California hussies, he reinforced predilections.
Big wines work particularly well as stand-alone, cocktail-like pours when accompanied by unsalted crackers, cheese nibbles, and vacuous conversation. Some claim this trend is healthier and less prone to abuse, plus opening a blockbuster bottle is easier than employing a bartender or being one as host.
Wine as a spirits substitute appears here to stay, but its orbit is evolving. Parker monsters no longer are the only wines people pursue as solo-sipped party pours.
The lure of sauvignon blanc and its acidity and complementarity with food, of non-oaked chards, of demure aperitifs and the fainter flirts of pinot noir reflect tastes evolving from cocktail hour to dinner table and from blood-dribbling racks of red meat to heart-healthy fish and veggies. Once folks develop a taste refined and subtle, they return for more even at cocktail party time.
The whiskey-to-wine transition may have required kick-butt bottles in the beginning, but no more. America’s wine drinkers have come a long way since the Mad Men era.
• Gnarly Head Malbec 2012. Big, bold, concentrated, juicy; dark fruits, blueberry, plum, blackberry; soft tannin, smooth mouth, easy drinker. $12
• San Rustico Amarone della Valpolicalla Classico Gaso 2005. Deliciously smooth; prune, cranberry; fine tannin; balance, harmony, elegance. $60
• Château de Saint Cosme Gigondas Valbelle 2006. Clean purity prevails—cherry, blackberry, boysenberry, mint; rich, full body; sweet tannin; wine drinkers should experience this at least once. $65
Last round: Do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.