Until the last year or so, the USA has been a market eager to embrace all wines, particularly wines of international reputation, and price has rarely been the chief obstacle to sales. But the numbers are clear that change is coming. Those halcyon days are done and, following on the Great Recession of 2008, a new consumer mindset has become ascendant; many of them are much more price conscious. This hurts no region more than Napa Valley, unless it is Bordeaux, which has mortgaged its relevance away to its Chinese customers and now struggles to remind American consumers that it is worthy of their attention.
That said; the much talked about American style of wine (ripe, powerful, often lofty of alcohol) remains relevant to most monied American wine consumers. Yet those buyers seem older and older, and the younger consumers seem to have a completely different mindset. Perhaps that should be of no surprise; it has ever been thus. But these younger consumers show little interest in the famous names, at least partly due to their aversion to spending lofty sums on a single bottle.
It is also that many consumers, especially younger ones, are not as enamored of the fat and ripe styles that have been celebrated by my generation (associated as the style is with certain writers at the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator). Recently I tasted a customer on a California Cabernet Franc and the table was rather disappointed that it didn't show much of the floral and herbal character they had heard that the grape exhibited. They weren’t seeking ripe and lush characteristics; instead they wanted something unique, in this case the herbal, even green notes typical of Cabernet Franc. "Greenness" is indeed increasingly accepted, I believe, as some consumers simply want to taste something different than the usual plump New World wines.
Certainly many if not most traditional wine consumers will react against a red wine that is only tart and herbal; they expect intensity of fruit and at least some richness of palate. But my youngest wine drinkers are not only seeking wines of a fresher style; they are extremely curious about so-called “natural” wines. In the U.S. that is taken to mean wines with no added sulfite. Some of these wines exhibit off aromas; but the best do not. And even those with excess volatile acidity are accepted by these consumers, trained as they are by the onslaught of Brettanomyces infected beers that are popular throughout the country.
In short, the ground is shifting. What was previously viewed as flawed is now seen by many as authentic or at least distinct and interesting.