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Who Buys Wine Over $20?

Frequency of purchase by price point (weekly or monthly purchase by segment and price point)
© Wine Market Council | Frequency of purchase by price point (weekly or monthly purchase by segment and price point)
And what are they drinking?

Want to identify a high-end wine drinker in the United States? Look for the guy drinking the bottle of assyrtiko.

While wines from most countries are purchased both by high-end and value-conscious Americans alike, Greek wines are the preserve of the first group – which is mysterious, because most Greek wines aren't that expensive.

"We talked to sommeliers and high-end buyers in New York and there's definitely something there," said John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, during the release of its annual report last week.

"There's a large number of sommeliers and bloggers who are interested in wines from Greece. That's how these things happen. Now there's interest in indigenous varieties from Turkey. Any successful wine starts this way now: from the blogs and sommeliers."

The Wine Market Council studies U.S. wine consumers and has begun to focus on the differences between people who buy high-end wines – defined as wines on sale for more than $20 – and those who don't. Gillespie says $20 is the true demarcation line for high-end buyers, because "the same people who are buying wines over $20 are the people buying wines over $30, over $50, over $100."

Gillespie also sees them as a bellwether. "We know that the high-end wine buyers are much more sophisticated, and have tried and tasted many more wines than others," he said. "They are sort of in the middle between the level of sophistication of the trade and the level of sophistication of average consumers. But it is my feeling and observation that they are a great 'leading indicator' of where tastes and trends are going, so I personally think this is very good news for the people selling wines from Greece."

Only about 5 percent of the U.S. population ever buys wine over $20. In fact, the low number of everyday wine consumers is surprising given that this is the world's largest wine market. About 35 percent of American adults don't drink at all; another 21 percent drink beer or spirits, but not wine. Only 15 percent of the U.S. adult population drinks wine more than once a week.

The 30 percent of those who sometimes spend $20 for a bottle of wine will be of interest to the world's wine producers.

Here are a few facts about the 5 percent who drink wines over $20 and beyond:

  • They are equally likely to be male or female.
  • They are most happy with the quality of imported wine from France, Italy and New Zealand, and least happy with the quality of wine from South Africa.
  • However, they rate French wine lowest for "value" of any major wine-exporting country. Wine from Austria, Argentina and New Zealand is rated highest for value.
  • They are twice as likely as non-high-end buyers to purchase wines from France or Spain, and 60 percent more likely to buy wines from Italy.
  • They purchase domestic wine from Oregon, Washington and New York more often and believe that these wine-producing states provide as much value as any imported wine.

Percentage of high-end vs. non-high-end buyers purchasing domestic wine from California and beyond in the past three months
© Wine Market Council | Percentage of high-end vs. non-high-end buyers purchasing domestic wine from California and beyond in the past three months

  • As a group, they believe California wine is just behind French and Italian wine in quality – and above every other country – but not particularly close on value.
  • Opinions of California wine differ greatly on different sides of the Sierra Mountains. Californians are more likely than not to say California wine is of "excellent" quality, while Americans in other states are more likely to stop at "very good."
  • Wine reviews are still crucial: 70 percent of high-end buyers say reviews are very important for purchase decisions. The anti-critic movement has found greater sympathy from non-high-end buyers: only 19 percent of them say reviews are very important.
  • Fully 67 percent of high-frequency wine drinkers report drinking beer at least several times a week. Unsurprisingly, high-end buyers are more likely to drink craft beer.
  • High-end wine buyers are the main readers of wine information on the internet, with 56 percent reading wine blogs and 46 percent visiting Wine-Searcher. Only 11 percent of non-high-end buyers read wine blogs, and only 7 percent visit Wine-Searcher. (The other 93 percent don't know what they're missing.)


Related story:

Price Becoming "No. 1. Weapon" in U.S. Wine Market

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Write Comment

  • Comments

    Daniel wrote:
    21-Jul-2014 at 14:27:51 (GMT)

    WOW! I recognized myself here! Did not know you know so much about me ;) I am from Germany and I drink 99 % red wines - so most wines I buy are from France, Italy and Spain. I was very surprised that most people who buy high end wines don't like SA wines that much - It's the same for me! Especially Merlot is very bad from SA even if critics say it's good. Before I buy wines, I always look for tasting notes an ratings (what mostly leads me to wine-searcher ;). Californian Cabernet Sauv. can be outstanding. I recently had an blind tasting (Bordeaux vs California) and if you grad the right wines, you sometimes can't barely tell if they are from the old or new world (but not for all wines). I personally drink wines from 10 $ - 150 $ max. Most of them are in the region of 30 -40 $, but I am always happy when I find a cheap one that tastes good and hate it when I buy and drink a bad expensive one. When buying wines, you should always see the quality / performance and you should not buy too early vintages if you want to know how a certain grape should taste. That for you will need to invest more than 5 $ in a bottle of wines. Very good mature wines are already found from up to 12 $

  • GoodWine4less wrote:
    21-Mar-2014 at 21:46:17 (GMT)

    California certainly has pockets of very good quality wines but not my first choice for Value as they are overpriced in most cases. I would would easily select Washington State when picking up something from the US. For excellence in quality and price point value I pick Spain and Chile wines as top choice.

  • Obscured steake wrote:
    20-Mar-2014 at 23:02:21 (GMT)

    These so called"experts"don't have the slightest idea what they're talking about.French and Italian wines are FAR and away the best in the world.For value as well as high end.You just have to know what you're doing.This is the perfect example of knowledge is power.I will put up most Cote du Rhones to any California wines for price/quality ratio.California wines are over priced and half as good in any price range.Same goes for Italian wines.Far and away better than California wines in value and high end.Not even close.They should not even be mentioned in the same breath.

  • melikewine wrote:
    10-Feb-2014 at 16:49:03 (GMT)

    "Any successful wine starts this way now: from the blogs and sommeliers." This is the biggest outright fallacy which I see time and again. To continue using Greek wines as an example, some importer went and explored the wine growing regions there, had enough confidence in his or her tasting and marketing abilities to plop down a huge chunk of his or her own change and go through the logistics of getting a pallet or more over here, before any somm or blogger had even heard of something like Xinomavro. Fast forward 3 or so months, and some somm plops down some money that isn't even theirs for two or three cases, puts it one their list, and now they've "discovered" this wine.

  • Granada Food Co. wrote:
    07-Feb-2014 at 23:14:46 (GMT)

    When production is 1,5 kilos PER VINE as it is in most demanding wineries here in Spain how is it possible to buy quality in the US at less than $20? …and remembering that to enter wine in any state with the importer-distributor-retail structure directly triples prices? …and remembering that the wine may have 6-12 months of barrel storage and a year or two in the bottle? The wineries don't create the pricing problems.

  • Higgins wrote:
    07-Feb-2014 at 16:36:18 (GMT)

    Yes, I'd imagine that finding "great" bottles at $10 in these times would be a challenge indeed. Many wines to be enjoyed there undoubtedly - however these mass-produced bottles usually fail to ignite the imagination - or, if they do, it's the bleaker imaginings of how they were made and from what bleak, commercial monoculture the grapes were sourced. There is one time-honored way for the "cultured" wine-consumer to find value in wine however and that is to buck wine trends, those great stampedes all-too-often prompted by the flatulent musings of some expert du jour or worse, a coven of bloodless sommeliers. Let the herd ramble to it's latest geography of choice and enjoy the brilliant wines they've left behind while you can. Oh no - the herd approaches, it's time to move again. See you in ???

  • Bill Eyer wrote:
    07-Feb-2014 at 01:47:58 (GMT)

    Hey Rollo, FYI, the word great and $10 bottles of wine don't usually appear in the same sentence. But please keep on enjoying those wines $10 and under; someone has to drink them cheers!

  • Wine-Searcher wrote:
    06-Feb-2014 at 20:55:05 (GMT)

    Dear Arnold, The numbers come from the Wine Market Council's annual report, as indicated in paragraph three of the article. For more information, visit

  • Rollo Tomasi wrote:
    06-Feb-2014 at 16:49:19 (GMT)

    They buy to follow the herd, giving much credence to wine scores. Look for a Freakonomics podcast about selecting wine. It shows that reviews distort views of wines; and a NYC sommelier taste tested low to high wines with cultured wine critics who all failed to select the high-end bottles. Still, since I bank high-end wineries, buy the pricey stuff. Me, I enjoy the challenge of finding a great $10 bottle, and spend the savings on pizza.

  • Arnold Waldstein wrote:
    06-Feb-2014 at 10:55:39 (GMT)

    Great numbers putting some facts to what I already knew by gut. Couple of questions: -where did the numbers come from. -if only 5% of the US population drinks wine over $20 what percent of the $40B US wine market is this? And one comment: -the biggest change in the artisanal wine shops in NY over the last year is the $15-20 range. With so many more artisanal producers, it is now really possible to buy interesting quality 'natural' wine for sub $20. And I bet if they bring in those buyers they will up the chain. A great read.

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