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RX for American Society - Wine and Water

Ranking world wine consumption by country, the US is certainly no leader. Although the USA ranks fourth in production and third in consumption by total volume, a very small part of the population drinks almost all of the wine. On a per capita basis, Americans don't even make it into the 1Top 50. A comparison with Europe shows some wide disparity in beverage choices...

BEVERAGE (serving size)
Monthly Servings per Capita

Carbonated Soda Pop (12 oz.)


Coffee (6 oz.)


Tap Water (12 oz.)


Beer (12 oz.)


Milk (12 oz.)


Fruit & Vegetable Juices (8 oz.)


Bottled Water (12 oz.)


Hot or Iced Tea (8 oz.)


Liquor (2 0z.)


Powdered or "Sports" Drinks (12 oz.)

less than 1

WINE (8 oz.)


statistics from the Wine Institute

Although many categories are similar (coffee, milk, juice, bottled water, liquor), Americans drink five times as much soda pop and nearly twice as much beer. Europeans drink three times as much tea (which, like wine, contains tannins), three times as much wine and four times as much tap water. The "French Paradox" which was exposed by televison's "60 Minutes", and led to a virtual overnight boost in wine sales, failed to even mention the tea and water disparities.

In fact, ranking #57 overall and behind most countries of the Western Hemisphere, American wine consumption, to use the rude parlance of fashion, just plain sucks. The situation is even more disparate, when factoring in that the vast majority of Americans drink only two or three glasses of wine each year, and that occurs usually during the Fall Holiday Season between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Several factors are responsible for American consumer hesitancy in wine consumption. Oppressive post-Prohibition laws have kept the American wine industry timid in asserting both the health benefits and the economic importance of wine. Soft drink and beer brands have been the dominant and relentless beverage advertisers on American television for decades. The culture of sweet beverages susequently developed by Americans is anathema to the wine illuminati who generally express disdain even for sweet wines.

The American wine industry has generally followed a voluntary ban on television advertising and has primarily promoted itself among the already converted; at public wine tastings to support charities, for example. Wine labels and types are complex and daunting to the novice, yet industry marketing groups ignore education of a general nature, instead concentrating on promoting features that define and differentiate their individual segments while attempting to throw and educational cloak over this propaganda.

Many popular notions about wine are misleading or just plain wrong (see Three Wine Myths). Americans have little idea where to get reliable information about wine and have their questions answered. There is a lingering notion that wine is either unaffordable and elitist, or unpalatable and derelict, and that wine is not the beverage of "regular people". This impression has been bolstered by both sensation-starved mass media and puritanical pulpits that dwell on the relatively few who abuse alcohol. The vast majority of wine drinkers who consume wine with meals avoid crossing the line into alcohol abuse.

On the other hand, if we want to look at where do Americans excel, we are world leaders in obesity, heart disease, and alcoholism. (Subjects already addressed in the PfW article on Wine & Health.)

We have a national Driving While Intoxicated problem that is far worse than any other industrialized country and it is entirely of our own making. We hand out driver's licenses to 16 year olds, granting them a privilege that greatly increases their freedom, mobility, and responsibility. At the same time, we intensify the attraction of alcohol to youth, by denying them the privilege of using it, yet we give them little or no instruction or guidance ... ever ... to its proper use.

Abraham Lincoln observed that, "problems with alcohol relate not to the use of a bad thing, but to the abuse of a good thing."

I suggest a socially uplifting change: let's lower the age of legal consumption of alcohol in private homes only to 16 and, concurrently raise the common age of licensed driving to 21. Sales of alcohol would still be limited to over age 21. Exceptions permitting younger drivers could be allowed in agriculture, military, or special hardship cases.

This is not to say we should encourage teenage drinking. Curiosity, however, is aroused by ignorance. What is needed is decriminalization and education. Mothers Against Drunk Driving should thoughtfully and happily adopt this platform.

Can you imagine the other potential benefits, besides reducing highway carnage?

  • Keeping young adults at home to teach them responsible drinking.

  • Giving society 5 more years per candidate to sort problem drinkers out of the driving pool.

  • Boosting ridership and therefore efficiency on public transportation.

  • Boosting bicycle ridership and physical health in young adults.

  • Easing highway crowding.

Getting those cars off the road might even extend the global warming window. Heck, if wine was offered to teens in more houses at the evening meal, it might cause more families to break bread together, relax, and even share conversation. It could be the dawn of a new era of social grace and gentility.

Why will this never happen? The primary reason is economic: the huge political machine that combines automobile manufacturing with oil and gasoline distribution would never allow a reduction in demand for their products.

Another reason is cultural: Puritanical practices and paranoia have American priorities completely skewed. Many parents would rather avoid sensitive subjects and/or make the assumption that the issue is dealt with in church or school, rather than take the responsibility to educate and inform their own children. This is not the same as using authority to forbid dangerous activity. Such denial most often results in increasing, rather than preventing, curiosity, temptation, and unsupervised experimentation.

In addition, a general morality which promotes greed and convenience and condones denial of any personal responsibility for social fabric will probably protect those priorities to the extinction of the species. As cartoonist Walt Kelly's character Pogo told us decades ago, "I have seen the enemy and he is us."

Moral: To improve personal health and American social fabric, drink more water, tea and wine, while cutting back on soda, coffee and beer, but mostly, Teach Your Children Well...

by Jim LaMar

1Although the statistics cited (below) in World Wine Consumption Figures are outdated (2008 data, unless preceded by *= updated 2013), the essence and message of this article remain true and contemporary.
in order of descending Consumption Per Capita ... and
Total Annual Volume in descending order.

Keep in mind the obvious anomolies before trying to form any conclusions. For example, The Vatican has a very small population of residents, but thousands of tourists take communion there and thus skew the Per Capita figure, whereas the Total Annual Volume in the Vatican is less than 100 bottles per year! Conversely, China's huge population renders their Per Capita rank very low, but their Total Annual Volume puts them near the top. BACK

Substance Abuse in College is a comprehensive presentation of this insidiously pervasive problem, including defining and understanding the problem, recognizing signs of its presence, and offering suggestions for behaviors to avoid its trap. On the Affordable Colleges Online site, it is essential reading for both students and student parents.

Over concerns that Baby Boomers in particular over-estimate safe alcohol consumption levels, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) has published a page called Rethinking Drinking with some easy online tools to evaluate the fitness of your alcohol use.

Because of commercial interdependence (liquor manufacturers that own many wine brands and control distribution in many states), there is an unfortunate reluctance on the part of wine producers to morally separate themselves from the abuses of the beer and spirits interests. Read Alcohol and Advertising on the public interest group Commercial Alert's web site. 




Article written June, 2000, last updated May 18, 2016
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