Word on the street is the newest generation of legal drinkers, a.k.a Gen Z, is swapping budget spirits and shots for the world of fine wine—no boxed libations or mysterious canned cocktails in sight.
Seeing this trend, sommeliers and wine enthusiasts worldwide are eagerly embracing their youngest consumers, who are actively immersing themselves in wine education and finding continuous inspiration through travel, social media, and popular Netflix shows like Somm. So, what is Gen Z drinking, and how is its palate changing the landscape of the business of wine?
“What Gen Z is really seeking is connection, and the wine experience is an offering to put our phones down, live in the moment, and connect with someone or ourselves,” says Jess Druey, 26, founder of Whiny Baby, a Gen Z California wine brand based on moods. (Each bottle has a beerlike bottle cap and a charm bracelet at the neck.) “Gen Z is the most curious generation—[we] are open and excited to explore, and not afraid to splurge if [we] resonate to the product and it feels personalized.” Three years into her wine journey, Druey introduced a collection of high-quality, approachable, and easily chilled wines for enthusiasts of all expertise levels in 2022.
The modern wine drinker has much more access to global wine education than the generations before them and is comfortable being curious and doing the research. Plus, with social media, young consumers are more likely to connect with producers and vineyards, as well as read peer reviews before purchasing their next bottle. “What this means for our sommelier team is that they get to have fun,” says Nicolas Corrao, 29, beverage director at New York City restaurant Fasano. “The younger generations have not spent the past 30 years drinking the same wine or collecting, so they are the most open to hearing what the somm team is excited about.”
While travel has opened many doors for the appreciation of overseas wine—young consumers can return to their local wine bars from vacation with far more knowledge of the world’s wines—Generation Z is currently leaning big into regional, often sustainable wines. “There’s been a notable rise in the consumption of local products, with a heightened interest in their origin,” says Francisco San Miguel, marketing manager at Norton winery in Mendoza, Argentina. “Consumers are increasingly drawn to brands that demonstrate a commitment to environmental care and sustainability.”
“The younger generations, particularly Gen Z, have a bigger focus on living a higher-quality life as they focus on quality over quantity,” explains Joe Wagner, fifth-generation winemaker and owner of Copper Cane Wines & Provisions, in Napa Valley, California. Also known as @joethewinemaker on TikTok, with 412,800 followers, Wagner believes humans are naturally aspirational, and that Gen Z is no exception. This is good news for winemakers, who can expect their wines to continue being appreciated and valued in the coming years, as this generation and its tastes mature.
New York wine bars also offer hard evidence of Gen Z’s growing interest in—and knowledge of—fine wine. Hot spots like the Ten Bells, the Four Horsemen, and Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels have a very young early-20s demographic as their clientele. And fine dining establishments like Eleven Madison Park, Atomix, Café Carmellini, Le Pavillon, and Fasano employ wine and beverage directors who are among the youngest (between 25 and 35 years old) the city has ever seen. Naturally, they are introducing their friends, clients, and other younger restaurant-goers to the world of fine wine.
“I think wine resonates with our generation because more than other alcoholic beverages, wine is so evocative of a specific time and place, and the people that raise the grapes and take risks to make the wine,” says Alexya Brown, 25, a front-of-house employee at wine-centric Washington, D.C. restaurant Tail Up Goat. “We talk about ‘vibes’ and how much Gen Z overuses that word, but I think the energy present in an agricultural product like wine speaks to a vibrancy that defines what Gen Z is after in our everyday living.” Brown, who holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, began her wine journey in 2021 and recently launched Softshell, a catering and wine curation company, to connect with her peers, a mix of millennials and Gen Z—which she describes as “a zillenial crossover.” She engages on Instagram, hosts dinners and tea parties and wine tastings, arranges pop-ups, and curates wine lists for intimate events.
What is Gen Z drinking?
There is an overall consensus among winemakers that the entry-level Gen Z wine palate is actually quite elevated. “Young people are drinking lighter white wines like sauvignon blanc, dry rosé, sparkling wines, and champagne,” says Wagner. After getting comfortable with those, he says, they’re “starting to explore lighter red wines like pinot noir, to continue to develop their palates.”
Wineries like Alta Vista in Mendoza have seen a surge in sparkling wines. In fact, Argentine sparkling wines across the board have increasingly garnered acclaim, driven by a favorable quality-to-value ratio. “Wines from Rioja, Etna, Alto Adige, and South America provide incredible value for the quality of the winemaking,” Corrao says. “That being said, a small demographic of the younger generation is making strides to enter the world of fine wine and announce themselves as the next generation of top collectors. With these guests, we get to introduce them to the cult wines of the world, including Chave, Rinaldi, Conterno, Gaja, DRC, and beyond.”
Whiny Baby provides a unique and novel wine experience. Choose a bottle based on your mood or occasion. (Offerings include a white blend called Unwind, red blend Obsessed, and fizzy rosé OMG?!?) Pour a glass, connect with the winemaker using your phone, and document your memories on the special back label, which can be saved. For those just starting their wine journey, this makes wine accessible in a very Gen Z manner.
What does Gen Z care about?
“Millennials and the Gen Z demographic are the most empathetic generations. They want to know how the winemaker’s outlook on climate change is. They want to know their better business practices and how they see winemaking evolving,” Corrao says.
Each sip of wine reflects our human experience on Earth, and Gen Z—the generation championing gender expression, body positivity, feminism, and constitutional rights—truly gets it. Climate change, sociopolitical issues, and world news can all influence whether and how Gen Z chooses to support a wine brand, and members of this generation often lean toward wines from boutique producers, wineries led by women, winemakers with regenerative practices, and beyond.
“Other people’s passions move them and cause them to want to experience those same feelings, moments and wines that drove these professionals to fall in love with wine. Their aptness to listening and being open to trying new wines is the key to entering the world of fine wine,” Corrao says.
Chrissy Wittmann, head winemaker for California’s Unshackled Wines, agrees. “Gen Z consumers are very open about their morals, and are more willing to choose the brands they engage with based on shared values,” she says. “Not only will they switch the brands they’re buying, but they’re even willing to pay a premium if aspects such as sustainability, diversity, and more are met.”
While traditional wine labels primarily convey essential information for the winemaker and sommelier, today’s winemakers and growers are using the labels to emphasize the broader context in which their wines are crafted.
“To resonate with younger consumers, we’ve undergone a design refresh for the majority of our labels,” says Pia Toro, marketing manager for Montes Wines, in Chile. “This process aims to maintain the essence, elegance, and premium quality that defines Montes while injecting a sense of modernity. Even our iconic line, Montes Alpha, has undergone this transformation with excellent results.”
While vineyards like Montes are editing their bottle presentations, Napa’s Copper Cane Wines has taken to TikTok, and Argentina’s Alta Vista is leaning into the fine bubbly trend. However vineyards choose to appeal to Gen Z’s elevated taste, one thing they can all agree on is that this generation cares about the real deal—from their politics to their human rights to their happy hours.