The latest trend on TikTok has users mixing wine with what seems its least likely partner: milk. I caught wind of this phenomenon on Grapeloop, a message board for wine professionals, and my first instinct was horror. Who would denigrate wine in such a way? On second thought, however, a surprising rationale set in—maybe wine could use all the help it can get.
A State of the Wine Industry report by Silicon Valley Bank found that wine sales by volume were down 2% to 4% for 2023, and that planted acreage exceeds demand in places like California and Washington State. With the exception of sparkling wine, wine sales have been on the decline for the past several years, in part due to Gen Z’s lackluster drinking habits and the rise of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages and no- and low-ABV culture.
For the wine industry, it would follow that all wine sales are good wine sales, even if borne of a potentially off-putting TikTok trend.
There are other factors that, when you really think about it, make the combination seem less offensive than it does upon first glance. Other dairy products such as cheese pair exceptionally well with wine. And if I were to encounter, say, a Merlot ice cream on a dessert menu, I’d be intrigued—not disgusted.
There’s also wine’s role as a component in various cocktails. It’s combined with brandy and fruit as the basis of sangria, with sparkling water and other accoutrement for a wine spritzer, with various liqueurs in drinks like the Kir Royale, and even with Coca Cola, as is the case with Spain’s popular Kalimotxo cocktail.
Is it possible that the seemingly odd trend is not only good for wine sales, but good to drink as well?
A (Very) Brief History of the Wine-and-Milk TikTok Trend
The trend seems to have started in April 2023 with TikTok user Sunny Vasconcelos, but it picked up speed in the past week following the participation of music producer and actor Benny Blanco. TikTok creators have since mixed, re-mixed and reacted to the idea, combining wine not only with regular milk, but with sweetened condensed milk (a combo likened to Brazil’s Espanhola cocktail) and non-dairy milks like almond milk. One user even mixed milk with Port.
Most of the wine used in these internet variations tends to be from mass-market labels, though one creator appeared to have tried it with Far Niente. Red wine is strongly favored over white, and there is little talk of specific ratios. The vast majority, especially those using sweetened condensed milk, begin with a “this can’t be good” sentiment and conclude with some variation of “Oh my god, it’s great!”
Mixed Feelings from Wine Pros
Wine professionals fall on both sides of the spectrum when it comes to this trend. On one end, there’s acceptance—on the other, a fear it somehow disrespects wine.
“I am nervous about the future of wine, especially with the younger demographic,” says Jeff Gillis, CEO of Winelikes. “I want people to discover wine, but this isn’t a way wine novices should get into it.” That being said, he’s moved by the notion that it could bring more people to the wine table. “If more people now go get wine and try this, maybe that’s good?” he allows.
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Surprisingly, however, a significant number of wine professionals I surveyed for this story actually green-lit the trend, citing a culture of inclusivity over gate-keeping. “I would be slightly offended if someone took an aged Barolo and did something like that, but if you want to take some mainstream bulk wine and mess around with it, by all means, go for it,” says Shannon Cole, an aspiring winemaker and WSET level 3 student in Temecula, California.
Emily Rutan, sommelier and founder of online retailer Emily the Somm agrees. “Does it sound good to me? Not at all, so I won’t be trying it, but I have absolutely no problem with other people jumping on a TikTok trend,” she says. “There are countless things to be appreciated about wine, from the winemaking to the winemaker, but that doesn’t mean everyone must find appreciation in it.”
I Tried It. The Verdict?
Curiosity ruled, and in the spirit of investigative journalism, I chucked some milk and wine together in a glass. I won’t reveal what wine was sacrificed for the occasion, but I leaned toward a fruit-forward red selection, thinking it presented the best possibility of success.
The resulting beverage’s color and texture were appealing, like a grown-up strawberry Nesquik. Like most of the TikTokers who participated in the trend, I didn’t want to like it. But, dear reader—I actually did.
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I attribute my reaction in part to my identity as a Midwesterner, which predisposes me to consider milk a major food group of equal importance to wine. But even those from elsewhere would surely appreciate this libation, which essentially amounts to a boozy, grapey milkshake reminiscent of something from a TGI Fridays cocktail menu in the 1990s.
I may not be serving milk and wine at my next dinner party. But I have to say, I’m into it.
Published: February 7, 2024