Kulers Uncorked: We're No. 1!

Gil Kulers, CWE

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Gil Kulers, CWE

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  • Aromas of ripe pear, lemon, citrus rind and apricots. It has refreshing flavors of tart citrus, juicy pineapple, a touch of mint, pine nettles and a raw almond note.

We’re no. 1!

No, not the New York University Men’s Basketball Team (the fightin’ Violets of my alma mater), which finished fourth this year behind Washington University, Emory and University of Chicago. The United States is tops when it comes to wine consumption, finally bumping France out of the top spot.

As a country, we drank nearly 4 billion bottles of wine in 2013, up one percent over 2012, two independent market data companies announced in May. France consumed a mere 3.8 billion bottles, a seven percent slide. Out of the 31.2 billion bottles of wine sold in the world this past year, we popped the cork (or, increasingly, unscrewed the top) on 12.5 percent of them. Way to go, American wine lovers!

But are we really special? Yes and no.

Let’s consider the “no” first.

Per capita, we're not doing so good. The average French citizen drinks a little more than 1 bottle per week, or just about 62 bottles per year, according to the International Wine and Vine (OIV), the respected wine  trade organization. In the U.S., we don't quite get through a quarter bottle per person on a weekly basis. That's a tad over 10 bottles per year, which puts us at 61st on the per capita list, just edging out the Bahamas and Bulgaria.

That takes the shine off the apple just a bit. But it is clear we like wine here, and increasingly so. Out of the top five total consumers—which include heavy hitters such as France, Italy and Germany—only the U.S. has seen increased consumption every year since 2000. We’re up 18 percent, or 612 million bottles, over 2005 consumption levels.

We like wine, but do we love wine? France’s Senate recently declared wine a part of its national heritage. Symbolic to be sure, but I haven’t heard of any similar gestures in the U.S. Senate. The OIV and the Impact Databank both report that lifestyle changes in Europe (shorter lunches, longer work days and more disjointed, less family-oriented evening meals) are the main causes for dips in their consumption. They may be drinking a bit less, but most Italians still don’t consider a table set unless it has a bottle of wine on it.

“A bottle on every table!” I don’t think that’s going to be any American politician’s campaign slogan this fall. But being no. 1 does come with perks. When you are the most important customer in the world, you get what you want. We like to see the grape variety on the label. Several European countries—which generally prefer to highlight the region rather than the grape type—have changed their rules ostensibly for us. Burgundian winemakers, for example, can now print “chardonnay” and “pinot noir” on their labels.

And we like chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc…a lot. And that is what the world’s vineyards are churning out for us to the demise of auxerrois, furmint, gamay and other lovely varieties that are either too hard for us to pronounce or may take time to appreciate.

This is frightening. Among the most fascinating, attractive, joyous aspects of wine is its amazing diversity. The OIV and Impact Databank reports both see no end to the rise in U.S. wine consumption. The American wine palate is becoming the world’s palate. My hope is that as our consumption continues to grow, so too will our interest in grapes like sylvaner and feteasca alba.

America, you’re the no. 1 wine consumer in the world. What’s in your wine glass tonight?

Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at gil.kulers@winekulers.com.

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