Monday, July 18, 2005

And now it’s … merlot time?

A Gallup poll released yesterday found that wine has surpassed beer and spirits as the stated drink of choice among those who imbibe.

Oh, it’s not by much: 39 percent of the respondents said they drank wine most often; 36 percent drank beer. Statistically, this is a mighty close race between the dueling beverages, as the poll has a margin of error of four percentage points.

“For the first time in Gallup’s measurement of Americans’ drinking preferences, there is a statistical tie between wine and beer as the alcoholic beverage that adult drinkers say they drink most often,” pollster Lydia Saad noted.

It is a cultural moment of sorts, pitting those who prefer brewskis to those who opt for a robust cabernet sauvignon. Such surveys get folks ferocious — as they do, say, when annual statistics reveal whether the nation prefers dogs to cats, or cats to dogs.

But beer lovers can relax. They win in the world of hard numbers.

The Commerce Department reports that Americans typically drank almost 22 gallons of beer per person but slightly more than 2 gallons of wine in 2004, although the trend is tipping slowly toward wine.

In 1990, for example, Americans quaffed 23.9 gallons of beer and 2 gallons of wine, Commerce figures show.

Gallup surveyed 658 alcoholic beverage drinkers from July 7 to July 10 as part of its annual poll of the nation’s various “consumption habits,” which the group has gauged for almost three decades.

It is important to note that the Gallup numbers measure stated preferences rather than sales or consumption figures. Based on Gallup records, however, wine is indeed edging out beer. For example, the pollster found that 46 percent of us preferred beer and 31 percent preferred wine in 2001 — a drop of 10 percentage points for beer and a rise of eight points for wine in the past four years.

Some have theories about Gallup’s findings.

“Well, baby boomers have always been the primary group which has consumed wine,” said Gladys Horiuchi, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

“We have found recently that the twentysomethings are getting interested in wine. Anecdotally, people say that these are the children who grew up with wine as a mealtime beverage. Their parents served it, now so do they,” she said.

Gallup confirms this to a point. In 1992, 13 percent of drinkers up to age 29 drank wine. Now the figure is 16 percent. But Gallup also has found that this group has a taste for the hard stuff.

“Young adults are trading in their beer mugs for martini glasses in droves,” the poll noted.

Beer drinking has dropped from a high of 71 percent of that age group in 1992 to 48 percent now, while a preference for hard liquor has risen from 13 percent to 32 percent in the same time period.

Gallup also has found a “gender gap” in drinking. More than half of the male respondents — 52 percent — prefer beer, while only 23 percent of women preferred it.

The survey also revealed that “minorities are switching to wine,” with 39 percent of nonwhites preferring wine and 38 percent beer. The figures stood at 22 percent and 53 percent, respectively, back in 1992.

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