Wine and cheese parties used to be affairs for the wealthy, but such high-class soirees are now seeing crowds that were hitting keggers just a few years ago.
The popularity of wine has grown as a younger generation becomes accustomed to the variety of flavors and styles.
"The twentysomethings who grew up with wine in the household are starting to drink wine because that's what they saw at the dinner table," said Gladys Horiuchi, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.
According to the Wine Market Council, wine drinking increased 41 percent from 1995 to 2003, when 232 million cases were consumed in the United States. Estimates for 2004 put the figure at 278 million cases.
At the same time, beer sales have flattened, said Benj Steinman, the editor of the trade publication Beer Marketers Insight.
"The whole low-carb craze dampened beer consumption overall," Mr. Steinman said, adding that it is too early to tell when the beer market will rebound.
The wine industry is benefiting from low prices caused by overplanting in California, which produces about 90 percent of all domestic wine, and new vineyards sprouting up worldwide.
California vineyards are still working to clear out wines from the banner 2000 growing season that caused inventory to soar above normal levels, Ms. Horiuchi said.
The U.S. market was also expanded by the introduction of several low-priced imports from Chile, New Zealand and Australia.
The lower prices have allowed younger drinkers with smaller budgets to begin consuming wine more often.
"There's more young people ... The days of the old wine snob are over." said Brett Wahl, the manager of Vineyard of Evans Wine Market, a wine store opening on Evans to Locks Road later this month.
The cheap-wine phenomenon is best personified by Charles Shaw wines, the producer of $1.99 wines often referred to as "Two-buck Chuck."
The Californian wine has received national attention for beating $40 bottles in blind taste tests.
"Upscale wine for $1.99 - that's pretty good," Ms. Horiuchi said.
Charles Shaw wines are sold exclusively in Trader Joe's stores, which have no locations in Georgia or South Carolina.
Mr. Wahl said younger wine aficionados often spend less than older connoisseurs because they generally earn less. Still, he expects them to spend more as their earnings grow.
"They're a good market to invest in," he said.
Reach James Gallagher at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Varietal wines: Wines named after the grapes from which they are made, such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon or merlot
Generic wines: Wines with less than 75 percent of their content coming from one grape varietal, often referred to as "table wine"
White: Style of light wine in shades of yellow to greenish or golden
Red: Style of wine made from black grapes and fermented with the skins; colors range from bright cherry to bluish-black
Blush wine: A pink wine from which the grape skins have been removed before fermentation is complete
Dry: Refers to the sugar content: the less sugar in a wine, the drier it is
Sparkling wine: Wines containing carbon dioxide bubbles
Vintage: The year the grapes were picked, often printed on the bottle
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