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Survey finds most wine not drunk with meals

Survey finds most wine not drunk with meals

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Taking their clue perhaps from Robert Mondavi and the European tradition, Napa Valley wineries and other high-end wine suppliers have long preached the gospel of wine with food, but a new survey of top wine drinkers confirms suspicions that the majority of wine is drunk without food.

Even though most wine promotion emphasizes wine’s affinity for food, the popularity of wines containing perceptible sugar implies that many people like to drink wine at other times, too.

Among the most popular wines in America are white zinfandel, off-dry chardonnay, slightly sweet pinot prigio and even sweetish red wines and the fastest-growing wines in America are muscats and rieslings, almost all containing perceptible residual sugar.

High-alcohol wines like many Napa cabernets and chardonnays can also seem sweet even if they don’t have significant levels of residual sugar left after fermentation, too.

While certainly compatible with some food, these wines are also suitable as aperitifs, after dinner and as alternatives to beer and cocktails for parties.

In spite of this seeming dichotomy between winery talk and consumer action, little research seems to have been done to investigate the situation. The new study of high-frequency wine drinkers by local Wine Options sheds some light on the situation. 

The survey reports that 60 percent of wines is drunk without meals while only 40 percent is, by the avid wine drinkers surveyed.

The survey was of about 800 people from Wine Options’ 5,500 consumer panel members from the 29 million wine drinkers in the U.S. who drink wine daily or several-times-a-week (out of a total of 77 million wine drinkers). This group accounts for more than 82 percent of total wine sales in the U.S. and an even higher percentage of the volume of wines selling for $15 or more.

The average respondent reported that she (54 percent of respondents were women) or he drinks one-quarter of the wine they consume without food. They also drink a significant amount while preparing a meal (14 percent) or with appetizers or snacks (19 percent). Thus  the majority of wine is consumed away from the table.

Older respondents drink the largest proportion of their wine with a meal with each younger segment drinking a bit more without food.

As would be expected, more wine is drunk on weekends than during the week, with about half drunk on Friday and Saturday  and only one-third drunk Monday through Thursday. 

During the weekend, 42 percent was drunk with dinner. An additional quarter was, drunk both before dinner (24 percent) and after dinner (23 percent). 

The survey also asked the same questions about drinking at restaurants and bars. About 60 percent was with the meal,  20 percent when seated before a meal, followed by  about 10 percent each when waiting in the bar/lounge or after a meal.

And surprisingly, while white wine has been regarded as the preferred type for aperitif or “cocktail” purposes, only a quarter preferred white wine to red wine without food.

The report suggests an opportunity for wineries to sell more wine — emphasize other occasions than dinner, particularly for patrons out for dinner of drinks.

The report, Core Track Volume 6, presents the results of a survey of the Wine Opinions consumer panel and focuses on wine preferences and sales by price point and appellation in both the on and off-premise sectors.

The 44-page report is available for $495 on the Wine Opinions site at  


Ehlers Estate opens lounge for drivers

What do tour drivers do while their passengers taste wine at tasting rooms? The ones that take people to Ehlers Estate can enjoy a private lounge stocked with bottled water, snacks and magazines, TV and     Wi-Fi.

The lounge is open during tasting room hours. Ehlers Estate is at 3222 Ehlers Lane, just north of St. Helena. 

E-mail Paul Franson at

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