Time:2016-12-31 09:42wine - Red wine life health Click:

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A FEW years back, serious observers of the American cultural scene hailed what they perceived as a new social phenomenon across the land: the widespread acceptance of wine as a part of our way of life. America, we were told, was becoming a wine-drinking nation.

Those were heady days. Between 1960 and 1980, the consumption of table wine - the kind usually drunk with meals - increased more than sixfold. Between 1975 and 1983, the golden years of the wine boom, total wine consumption in the United States went from 368 million gallons to 529 million gallons. New wineries were, it seemed, opening every other day, wine clubs were proliferating, and wine books were tumbling off the presses. Wine finally had become, to all intents and purposes, a respectable, even desirable part of the American scene.

Then, suddenly, the euphoria was gone. Wine consumption continued to increase, but the rate slowed to a snail's pace. Two recessions, in 1980 and 1981 and '82, took their toll; so did a heightened concern over health, fitness and driving while intoxicated, all of which resulted in a strong reaction to drinking alcohol.

But these were not the only reasons for the tapering off of the wine boom. More important, perhaps, was what appears now to have been a basic misunderstanding of the wine market. Wine drinking, in the traditional way, with meals, was apparently not what it was all about in the

WINE TALK first place. A lot of the wine involved - and this is still the case - can be considered wine only by a genuine effort of the will. The fact is that serious wine drinking, traditional wine drinking - and by that I mean good red wine - has been on the decline in this country for at least five years. And this in spite of tumbling prices both for domestic wines and and imports.

Fine table wines, wines with elegance and breeding and complexity, are almost always red. As with great music or literature, it takes effort and patience to learn to appreciate them. But even simple red wines are more of a challenge than similar whites. They have body and tannin, and if they're any good at all, are probably dry, which means not sweet. In other words, they, too, take a little getting used to. A lot of us don't want to make the effort.

In its annual American Wine Market Review and Forecast for 1984, Impact, a wine and spirits industry newsletter, expressed it succinctly: ''The numbers from 1983,'' it reported, ''once more refuted the claims that an increasingly sophisticated American wine-consuming public would soon turn back to red table wine.'' If white wine was excluded from the table-wine category, Impact said, ''you find that table wine actually lost nine million gallons last year (1983) and 16 million gallons since 1980.''

Based on these figures, and on interviews with wine-industry leaders and restaurateurs, I would venture to say that the reports of our wine acculturation were not only premature, they were mostly groundless. I would suggest further that we have never been and are not now a wine-drinking nation and that the jury is still out on whether we ever will be. One of the first signs that gave credence to the idea of our transformation into a country of wine drinkers was the dramatic switch from dessert wine to table wine in the 1960's and 70's. Domestic sherry and port, which had once been the staples of the American wine market, dropped off the charts, as they say, during the years when wine was becoming fashionable with the middle class. In 1960, according to Impact, 53 million gallons of table wine entered American distribution channels. Ten years later, the figure was 133 million gallons. By 1975 it had climbed to 213 million and by 1980 to 362 million. In 1983, the last year for which figures were available, the total was 405 million, up a meager 1.5 percent over the previous year. During the same period dessert wines dropped from 87 million gallons in 1960 to 38.5 million gallons in 1983. Dessert wines, a solid 54 percent of the market in 1960, plunged to a thin 7 percent in 1983.

The inevitable conclusion? America had switched to table wines. But what do we mean by table wine? Basically, it is still wine - not bubbly or fortified with additional alcohol. It has 12 percent alcohol by volume, more or less, and it is wine meant to be consumed with food.

If, in fact, we were consuming it all with food, the wine-drinking-nation theory might stand up. Unfortunately, most table wine is white wine, and white wine is, in this country, more of a substitute for liquor than it is a companion to food.

Our consumption of white wine is three times that of red, and anyone who has been around people who drink wine knows that the most white wine is drunk as an aperitif. It is a substitute for stronger forms of alcohol. It is tied in to nationwide call for moderate drinking, to the health and fitness trend and to the lightness fad. On the average, a three-ounce glass of wine, white or red and containing about 12 percent alcohol, will have about 90 calories.


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