Remember those squat, straw-encased bottles of Chianti you drank in the 1960s and ’70s – the ones you turned into candles in your dorm room?
Chianti certainly was a step above the Boone’s Farm that some people consumed back then, but it’s been a long, long time since this dry, red Italian table wine has been in vogue. Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Grigio are popular choices today, and not because of the bottle they come in.
Dennis Bailey of Portland, a wine drinker even when everyone was drinking beer in the 1970s, has tasted many varieties.
“Pinot Noir is my go-to wine,” Bailey said, “but I like a good Cabernet or a Merlot. I know a good wine when I taste it. I try to be more of a California wine drinker.”
According to winebusiness.com, an online site for the wine industry, in 2011, wine consumption in the U.S. had grown every year for 17 consecutive years. The site reported that 30 percent of baby boomers say they drink wine several times a week, compared to just 17 percent in 2005.
And, just as others of his generation have gone from Budweiser to Sam Adams, Bailey, 60, has progressed from the days when price dictated what a college student purchased. For him, that meant Beaujolais. Cheap Beaujolais.
“It was just one step above Boone’s Farm,” Bailey said. “I drank Beaujolais for a long time.”
But then, Bailey’s twin brother Doug took a job as a wine columnist for the Boston Globe. Au revoir, Beaujolais.
“Then I started getting a more sophisticated palate, I guess,” Bailey said. “I’m a red wine drinker, and I know what I like.”
To Bailey and to most who drink it, wine is made for food.
“It’s hard for me to have a plate of pasta without a wine, or a steak without a nice Burgundy,” he said.
Bailey, who owns a public relations firm in Portland, has visited vineyards in California, where his uncle owns one. He occasionally goes to wineries, and likes one in Camden. He also favors the Conundrum Wine Bistro in Freeport.
“They have a fantastic wine list, and they change it frequently,” he said.
While wine prices have remained somewhat stable, Bailey said he noticed a spike in the cost of Pino Noir when it became fashionable.
“But you can buy a really good wine for 20 bucks, or even less sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes, you can find a really good wine without breaking the bank.”
Greg Boulos, 57, of Cape Elizabeth has been a wine drinker about 25 years. He remembers simpler times, as well.
“Most people just knew one was white and one was red,” Boulos said.
Today, Boulos prefers Malbec, a red variety.
“It’s smooth,” he said. “It goes great with steak or chicken. It’s kind of versatile.”
Boulos also notes that wine prices have been stable.
“You can get a decent bottle of wine at a Maine supermarket for $10 or $15,” he said.
Boulos said that most of his contemporaries drink wine, though, he added, “I have a friend who owns Shipyard Brewery. He drinks mostly beer.”
One thing some baby boomers do now that they never did back in the day is go to wine-tasting events, such as the one held twice monthly in Browne Trading Co., at 262 Commercial St. in Portland. And you don’t need to be a connoisseur to take part. Browne Trading showcases an array of wines, including a sparkling white and a progression from lightest to deepest at these events. Wine tastings at Browne Trading are generally on Saturday afternoons.
Thomas Daley, the Browne Trading wine buyer, says he has noticed no solid “go-to” wine choice among boomers.
“The big varietals, like the Merlots and the Cabernets, are still the best known,” Daley said.
When boomers were younger, Maine wineries didn’t exist. Now, they’re becoming a staple – even in less populated towns. For a list of Maine wineries, go to mainewines.com.
Larry Grard is a staff writer at Current Publishing.
July 2014The wine room at Browne Trading Co. at 262 Commercial St. in Portland hosts frequent wine tastings. According to a wine industry trade report, in 2011, 30 percent of baby boomers say they drink wine several times a week, compared to 17 percent in 2005.