By ATALIE GIMMEL

red-white-wine-120111Summer Betzel says that after a long day of alternating between part-time jobs and applications for full-time employment— she just graduated from Arizona State University, summa cum laude mind you — there is nothing more rewarding than a great glass of wine. Having collegiate experience with alcohol prior to her newly refined interest in wine, the 21-year-old would now rather sip than chug, a revelation that came firsthand with experience. “Wine is my go-to alcohol,” she relayed via text message, “[it’s] something I drink after long days of work, while watching Netflix, on dates, or socializing with friends.” For Betzel, not only is wine her go-to spirit for relaxation, but she’s also taken to using it for partying — wine helps her avoid exceeding her “limit.”

It turns out that Betzel is really just part of a bigger picture — a growing example of the largest generation cultivating its drinking habits. Whether it’s because of the maturity growth of the collective generation, or its health benefits, it’s a fact: millennials, America’s largest generation, drink the most wine.

In 2015, U.S. persons aged 21 to 38 consumed 159.6 million cases of wine last year — that’s an average of two cases per millennial and more than any other generation, according to a study conducted by the Wine Market Council. Even though we can assume that not every person consumes wine, or even just alcohol, the number is staggering (read: impressive) in itself. Although it’s true that not much has changed in terms of wine’s relation to gender — the study points out that women still drink more wine than men by about seven percent — the small difference between them makes one thing quite clear: millennials are drinking wine, boys and girls alike.

So how did millennials manage to dethrone the baby boomer generation? From beer-games to outlawed alcholic-energy-drinks, how is it that the generation which bred “binge-drinking” has adopted one of the most refined habits in the culture of drinking?

A significant characteristic about wine which might have a part to play in this trend, and that is its quality of being gluten free. Astor Wines Consultant Tammie Teclemariam wasn’t surprised at millennials’ willingness to pay, in fact, she attributed it as her best guess as to why millennials drink the most wine. “I stopped drinking beer three years ago,” the about 25-year-old said while on-duty at the downtown wine shop, “…because of just being over it. I drank a lot of beer before that. So the fact that wine is gluten free is definitely why I, and probably a lot of other people my age prefer it.” Aside from being vegan-friendly and rich with antioxidants, the very fact that wine comes sans gluten is a definite pull for millennials, who make up the largest percent of gluten-free dieters for reasons including those which are not based on health concerns. Ranked second behind “generation z” respondents, a Nielsen report found that 31 percent of millenialls would be willing to pay a premium price for gluten free goods — only 22 percent of baby boomer respondents were willing to do the same.

Astor Wines still sees a normally diverse crowd of customers — Teclemariam made it clear that wine shoppers weren’t exclusively millenialls. At the end of the day, though, there was no disputing the surge of young peoples’ interest in this year’s Prosecco. “I mean hello,” Teclemariam finished as she turned to attend to a customer, “it is a fruit serving!”

Melissa B., 22, a senior at a private college in Pennsylvania, says that she enjoys wine as opposed to other types of alcohol, especially when she’s getting ready to head to a party which still usually serve beer and mysterious cocktails in coolers. “…when I’m pre-gaming at our house we definitely split bottles of wine. It tastes better.” Her brand of choice? Barefoot — it’s cheap, tastes bearable, and most importantly: does the trick. Average price of that particular brand can be as low as $5.99 per bottle.

So, millennials might also be attracted to wine for another simple reason: they are no longer the babies in ‘the room.’ The U.S. Census Bureau puts millenialls between the ages of 22 and 34, but in this specific study, millennials are defined as being aged 21 to 38. That small difference leads to one cohesive, possible explanation: as the generation has collectively gotten older and wiser, the same could be said about their taste in alcohol — the taste actually becoming a deciding factor, regardless of price tags that tend to be higher than say, a cheap bottle of Russian vodka.

For a generation that has already been proven to drink more alcohol than young adults before them, it seems that millennials purposefully make room in their financial budgets for alcohol, and that wine, because of its taste and classic reputation, has made it onto their priority lists regardless of its price. We’ve already seen that trend exist with millennials’ preference for craft beverages. A 2014 Nielsen report found that millennials — while some still hadn’t graduated college — had spent 15 percent of their beer money on craft brews while baby boomers only spent 10 percent on craft, expensive brands. What does this prove? This points a convincing finger toward the high willingness-to-spend of millennials when it comes to alcohol. It’s a mentality like that one which would then explain why a millennial might choose an $8 bottle of wine over an $8 six-pack of beer. The WMC found the price of a bottle of wine in 2015 to average around $8, but they interestingly found that 17 percent of millennials had shelled out over $20 for a bottle in the past month — in other age groups, that percentage didn’t exceed past 10 percent.

With financial flexibility comes recreational flexibility, like being able to eat out at restaurants and attending and hosting dinner-parties. Even for those restaurants which do not allow B.Y.O.B., the thought of mixing vodka cocktails with fine dining just doesn’t add up, and could be enough to explain a millennial choosing to buy a glass (or bottle) while they dine out.

Socially, healthily, and financially: wine just might be the best answer.