It's no secret that Americans have entered a long-term relationship with wine, but according to a new Gallup poll, that's starting to take a toll on beer: This year, 35 percent of alcohol-consuming respondents drank more wine than any other alcoholic beverage, with 36 percent reaching for beer more often, a statistical tie (the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points). That's quite a shift over the course of 20 years, as 47 percent chose beer and only 27 percent wine in 1992. Wine has only matched or surpassed beer twice before, in 2005 and 2011, with beer regaining primacy during the recession. Spirits are the first choice for the remaining 23 percent of drinkers.
"U.S. drinkers' preferences have shifted to the point that drinkers are now just as likely to say they drink wine most often as to say beer," read a statement from Gallup. The poll was conducted July 10–14 and published Aug. 1. "Most key subgroups have shifted away from beer as their favorite alcoholic beverage, but this trend is particularly pronounced among younger Americans and minorities. These demographic patterns, should they persist, suggest that beer may not return to its position from two decades ago as the dominant preferred alcoholic beverage."
The most noticeable gains for wine—and losses for beer—come at the hands of 18- to 29-year-olds and non-whites, with women and drinkers over 50 also chipping in. While drinkers under 30 still prefer beer, it has slid 30 percentage points in favorability over the last two decades, from 71 percent to 41 percent, while wine has gained 10 points. According to a recent Wine Market Council (WMC) survey, a similar demographic, 21- to 34-year-olds, now accounts for 28 percent of "core" wine drinkers—those who imbibe at least once a week and consume 93 percent of wine sold in the country. This generation is more likely than any other to see wine as a match for casual occasions, according to the WMC.
While white Americans are shifting their preferences toward wine, with 7 percent more choosing wine now than 20 years ago, minority Americans have shifted much more markedly: 19 percent fewer choose beer most, while 12 percent more go for wine. These shuffles leave beer and wine statistically tied as the favorite beverage for both whites (38 percent for beer to 36 percent for wine) and minorities (34 percent even).
Finally, while both men and women are trading beer for wine, women prefer it most heavily, at 52 percent, up from 43 percent two decades ago. Beer remains the go-to beverage for men, with 53 percent drinking it most often, but wine has grown 5 percent, with 20 percent of men now consuming it most.
With the U.S. consuming 324 million cases of wine in 2012, according to Impact Databank, a sister publication of Wine Spectator, a 7.7 percent increase from five years ago and a trend that shows no signs of fizzing out, wine may be the undisputed drink of choice in America in the years ahead.