Rain streaming outside, an open fire glistening inside. The chime of acoustics and bass drums sounding in the backdrop – jovial punters ordering glass after glass. Quaint, hectic, bustling. A certain charm of dining within one of Dublin’s chic restaurants.
I look around me. Old, young, and anywhere in between. A prism of colour adorns the tables of the diverse wines guests are drinking in the dining room. The rays of rosé, the bubbles of Champagne. An elderly couple is sitting in the corner, sipping their Bordeaux Claret.
A group of young millennials opposite, guzzling some screw top Prosecco. Almost akin to a chef going out for dinner assessing every aspect of the courses put in front of them, I, as a sommelier find myself side-tracked looking at restaurant diners wine preferences all around me.
I close the wine list, my preference affirmed. Something very different for tonight, I think. “The Hungarian Merlot please.” I say shrewdly to David, our waiter. He doesn’t even flinch and takes the menu away. A few minutes later, David returns, albeit a little flustered with no wine in his hands. Apologetically, he explains that the last four bottles were sold earlier in the evening offering me a ‘gorgeous Tempranillo from Spain’ as an alternative.
Was I naive in assuming Hungarian Merlot was a niche wine that no one would order? Possibly not anymore. The wine realm of grapes, regions, and who buys what is becoming more diverse than ever before. A generation game of the wine realm is glaring.
Within the economics of wine, the baby boomers (those born between the mid-1940’s and mid-1960’s) are the backbone. They ordinarily embody brand loyalty to a distinct grape, region, or producer – any sharp change in this would be venturing into the unknown. They are the careful connoisseurs, who have tried and tasted, the ones who can isolate the good juice from the bad.
The baby boomer generation totals 21% of Ireland’s population and accounts for a much higher spend per bottle than the millennials (those born between the early 1980’s and late 90’s).
Those within the Baby Boomer generation have distinguished the names of Sancerre and Chablis, Rhone and Burgundy prized on the labels of bottles, which has created familiarity and credence to the wines for them. It was all much simpler back then in the 70’s, and early 80’s when the boomers were growing up.
Suppose you wanted Cabernet, it would be Bordeaux, or something bubbly, Champagne. You didn’t have to decide between infinite regions and areas as we do now in more modern times. The famed introduction of the polarizing Blue Nun and Mateus Rosé into the commercial spectrum of wine granted a colourful twist to the familiar faces of Old World wine.
Snazzy labels, funky bottles, and the wine itself, super sweet. Alcohol levels of wines were much lower too. Table wine in the likes of Bordeaux and Burgundy, for instance, was ordinarily only 11% – 12.5% in the 1970’s, where today it’s rare to see it below 13%. If wine were lower in alcohol like 11%, it would be somewhat sweeter, which is what was savoured by the palates of the baby boomers at that time.
Sweet (creamed) Sherry was a wine that also had its fame. The luscious, honeyed Harveys Bristol Cream using the Pedro Ximenez grape was once the go-to drink of many, pre-dinner, post-dinner, or indeed just a cheeky tipple in the early afternoon. Sugary Sherry’s prosperity in the late 70’s was evenly comparable to Gin’s success in modern times today!
A recipe for disaster would arise though, (being rich, brown and sweet) – a victim of its success somewhat. Now, sales of Sherry in Ireland are fewer than 20% of what they once were at the climax of its prevalence in the baby boom times. What would your friends say now if they came over for a Friday night tipple and you offered them Harveys instead of Hendricks?
Individualism, variety and the predisposition to spend more roared into Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years of the mid 90’s – mid 00’s. Traditionalism began to take the back seat for the Generation X’ers (those born from the mid-60’s to mid-80’s).
Tastes were shifting, palates becoming discerning. The spectrum of diversity began to grow. Everything from high in alcohol, buttery ‘crème de la crème’ Puligny Montrachets to fresh, elegant Marlborough Sauvignons were on the menu.
Now fast forward to the wine drinking generation today, the most polarizing of all, of which I’m an honorary member, The Millennials.
The weirder the wine, the better, when it comes to us choosing that bottle. Bring on the Slovakian Chardonnay, Austrian Zweigelt, and Tasmanian Pinot Noir. The search for the unknown, the craft wine movement. The natural wines, the biodynamics, the orange wine from Georgia – we lap it up.
Drier, easy-drinking styles like Rosés from Provence and Pinot Grigios from Italy persist to be the on-trend, wine fashionistas of this modern generation.
Though quality and diversity of wine has its significance, so too does the price of wine. Those who have less to spend will veer more towards the wines around €10. Three cheers for the students’ staples Buckfast and Blossom Hill!
Millennials buy more wine by volume than the boomers but spend much less per bottle. Palates for the younger millennial can be readily indulged when inaugurating their journey into wine. As finances and tastes mature, their wine choice follows suit too.
Reputation is a stigma also attributed to workhorse wines like Port, with a decorated history. Port, the classic digestif of the older generation, is now frankly seen as antiquated, and uncool for our hip, wine-savvy millennials.
Regardless of what generation you’re in, wine is a tale of discovery. It has, and always will be an education, a social event, a love affair, a memory. Never taste the same wine twice, life is too short.
Trends and tastes always evolve and even sometimes, come back around again. Perhaps one day, in a generation or two to come, your grandchildren will ask you what was that whole Prosecco thing about back in the old days. They might even offer you a sherry…
Originally from Celbridge, Kildare, Philip Dunne has worked in the Irish hospitality industry since he was 15. After experiences in fine and casual dinning, he started to work at Ashford Castle in 2015 and after working his way up, he became Ashford Castle’s Head Sommelier at the age of 25.
Philip’s passion for wine goes beyond the service at the luxurious five star as he also writes about the topic and he’s an enthusiastic and active presence in the Irish wine scene.