Dreadlocks in his mane and a chain saw as the tool of his trade, 27-year-old backpacker Mathew Langeliers fits neither the "Frasier" nor the Sideways profile of a wine snob.

But when Langeliers globe-hops to build horse jumps for international competitions, his precious few provisions include a corkscrew and a "nifty device made of aircraft-grade aluminum" that reseals bottles he buys when he touches foot on grape-growing ground.

A 20-something guy who would rather savor than swig?

Langeliers has plenty of like-palated peers.

Putting a cork in more than one myth, they’re thumbing their noses at the stereotypical patterns of alcohol consumption, which would have them recovering from a night of Brand X beer or booze right about now.

Instead, they’re forming a habit of sipping wine before conventional wisdom says it’s their time.

"Most people in their 20s, they drink whatever they can. If you drink wine (at all), you get a box and you drink all of it," Langeliers said, summing up one cliché during a recent stay in Chicago, which coincided with a Lincoln Park Wine Club tasting at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Langeliers’ Chicago friend, Katherine Craig, 28, who works in marketing for Starwood Hotels, knew he would be game for attending.

They both worked in 2001 for a wealthy rancher in Jackson Hole, Wyo., who opened the wonders of his wine cellars to them. "Once you get introduced to nicer wines, it’s tough to go back," said Langeliers, an Oregon native who’s partial to his state’s pinot noirs.

Other friends, some from Craig’s book club ("we basically drink wine," Craig said), signed up for the same tasting when they heard that one of their favorite wineries, Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, would have a table.

"New Zealand sauvignon blancs are my favorite," said Jennifer McKinney, 29, who sells software. She and her husband recruited her sister to baby-sit their 2-month-old so they could steal away for it.

Their bunch alone brought several trends from the Wine Marketing Council to full-bodied life.

During the last decade, while wine consumption has declined in Europe, it has risen in the U.S., said John Gillespie, president of the Wine Marketing Council. From 2000 through 2003, the population of core wine drinkers in this country – those who drink it weekly or more often – increased 32 percent.

"Which is huge," Gillespie said. "But the one factor that is perhaps the most surprising and most important is that millennial-generation young adults – people who in 2005 are 28 or younger – 39 percent of them are already core wine consumers."

That’s greater than the current figure for the older Generation X – 37 percent – a difference that may not be statistically significant, Gillespie allows. But precedent would suggest the percentage would increase steadily with age, as young adults graduate from swill and student loans to disposable income and discriminating taste, he said.

Furthermore, 20-somethings are bridging a gender split that preceded them. Among Baby Boomers, only 40 percent of core wine consumers are men. For millennials, it’s 51 percent.

"Baby Boomers normally associated wine drinking with the women in their lives," Gillespie said. For millennials, "it doesn’t seem to be ‘a chick thing,’" he said, with apologies for slang.

In a third departure, research shows that most millennials, like Langeliers, have a strong preference for reds (though whites spike in popularity in warmer months).

"It’s not the traditional (track of) starting with white zinfandel or chardonnay," Gillespie said of 20-somethings’ initiation. "They’re coming to it as what they see as the most authentic wine, which is red."


One explanation for the early, broader blooming is the emergence of respectable and affordable wine, marketed colorfully to young men as well as women.

Consider that about 10 bucks will buy a Rex Goliath 47 Pound Rooster pinot noir or a bottle of Cline’s Red Truck at Binny’s stores. Five bucks will buy them a decent bottle of King Fish shiraz.

"They’re not interested in the Lafite and Mouton Rothschild – they want something more hip that’s still good," said Doug Jeffirs, director of wine sales for the Binny’s Beverage Depot chain.

"There are a lot of wineries capitalizing on that with suggestive labels or names, like Twin Fin, a new winery out of California that markets around surfboards and beach volleyball.

"A catchy label will get them that customer once," Jeffirs said, "but they’re getting them back for the wine."


A little bit of exposure goes a long way toward building that confidence, said Alpana Singh, sommelier for Everest restaurant and the youngest American to attain master sommelier status, about two years ago.

Now 28, Singh, who also is host of Chicago dining show "Check, Please!" began learning about wine when she worked in a restaurant in Monterey, Calif.

She didn’t like it at first.

"It was OK, but it tasted sour and vinegary," she said. "It’s a developed taste. Like radicchio, the first time I had it, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’"

She credits increased travel and ethnic diversity for opening the minds and mouths of her peers, she said.

"What I’ve found fascinating is they’ll order wine and say, ‘Oh, I backpacked through that part of France.’"

As a member of his own target market, Don Sritong, 30, opened his wine shop Just Grapes in Chicago last fall with partner Sharon Tulloch.

"Numbers tell you 80 percent of wine is purchased by females, but right now, there are three men in line to buy wine," Sritong said.

To satisfy the curiosity of his customers, whose average age is 25 to 35, Just Grapes installed the city’s only enoround, a vending-machine-like carousel that dispenses tastings of 16 featured wines with a prepaid card. The store issues Savvy Sippers cards that track purchases, in case customers forget the name of a bottle they bought and enjoyed--or don’t want to botch its pronunciation. Classes are ongoing.


"Younger drinkers are much more willing to be adventurous," Sritong said. "They’re not hung up on what Mom drank or what they’ve been drinking for years. They get things like Avila from Sicily, Argentinian malbec or viognier from Australia."

Experimentation and nuances of each bottle aside, the Wine Marketing Council’s Gillespie said the new generation’s attraction to wine is what’s old about it.

"With beers and other spirits, it’s like there’s a flavor of the month," Gillespie said. "Wine isn’t something that gets reinvented every three days.

"And there aren’t a lot of things you can say that about anymore."

© 2005, Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.