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Tag Archives: sweet red wine

Sweet red wine to merlot: Drop dead

winetrends

sweet red wineGrocery store merlot’s reason for being is that consumers like its fruity taste and that it seems sweet even though it’s dry. That combination, plus the fact that these wines have little in the way of tannins, translates to “smooth,” the ordinary wine drinker’s favorite descriptor.

So what are we to make of the news that grocery store merlot sales tanked in 2014, while those for sweet red wine went in the opposite direction?

Call it a sign that we may be seeing the beginning of a seminal change in the U.S. wine business.

One year’s sales figures do not necessarily make it panic time for merlot. But it is worth noting that sales of sweet red, which is grocery store merlot without the hypocrisy — truly sweet, very fruity, and no pretense of tannins — rose seven percent last year, according to Nielsen, while merlot (from a much larger base) fell six percent. Zinfandel, meanwhile, which mimics merlot’s sweet fruitiness, also suffered last year, with sales falling two percent.

This should give the wine wise guys something to ponder, no?

A couple of caveats: Sweet red is included in the red blend category, so some dry wines are part of that seven percent growth. But most of the analysts I’ve talked to say it’s safe to say that sweet red is behind the increase. Second, though supermarkets account for 42 percent of all the wine sold in the U.S., it doesn’t include two key states, New York and Pennsylvania, where grocery stores aren’t allowed to sell wine.

Third, people have been predicting the end of merlot since “Sideways” in 2004, and merlot has always proved them wrong. The difference this time is that sweet red offers much that pinot noir, the “Sideways” merlot-killer, didn’t. It’s less expensive and it’s much easier to make, since it’s a blend and the grapes in it don’t matter to most wine drinkers. Plus, it’s easier to market and sell; witness the success of E&J Gallo’s Apothic Red and The Wine Group’s Cupcake Red Velvet, which didn’t exist until a couple of years ago and today are brands that everyone else seems to be copying.

My guess? This may well be the beginning of the end of merlot, at least as it’s sold as a varietal in supermarkets. Merlot certainly isn’t going away, and will certainly be used to make sweet red. And, as the wine business continues to evolve into two parts — a huge, Big Wine-dominated mass market, and a smaller, independent retailer-driven market — merlot will remain important to the latter. But at some point in grocery stores, there may be little difference between a wine like Apothic and Charles Smith’s Velvet Devil merlot, which is sweet red in everything but name.

 

Winebits 376: Apothic, restaurant wine, wine consumption

winenews

apothicA revolutionary product? Gallo’s Apothic, which revolutionized sweet red wine when it was introduced in 2007, may be doing it again. The company has released Apothic Crush, a slightly sweet red wine with 14.5 percent alcohol. In this, it appears to be the first sweet high alcohol wine that actually admits to being sweet and high in alcohol. For most of wine’s history, sweet table wines had less alcohol than dry wines not only because that’s how fermentation worked, but because no one thought consumers would drink a high alcohol sweet wine. But that has changed, first with the trend toward riper, more alcoholic wines, and second, with improvements in winemaking technology. In this, who knew Robert Parker, who has championed riper, higher alcohol wines, would pave the way for a Gallo product? Or, as the noted philosopher Mick Jagger has said more than once, “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometime you find/You get what you need.”

Less hope for wine lists? Is the end coming for the independent restaurant? That may be one of the conclusions from a recent study, which found that the number of independents fell by two percent in the U.S. in 2014, and that the number of full-service independents dropped three percent. Chains, meanwhile, continued to grow in the low single digits. Why does this matter to wine drinkers? Because those independents, and especially the full-serves, are the last best hope for improved restaurant wine lists. Chains usually don’t care about wine and make decisions in a corporate office based on price, which means they have the crummiest and most overpriced wine lists. Independents, for all their problems with wine, generally do a better job than chains. So any drop in the number of chains should be worrisome for wine drinkers who want choices that aren’t from Big Wine.

Beer, wine, or spirits? This chart, from Ghost in the Data, should answer all questions about whether the U.S. (or any other country in the world) is a wine drinking country. We’re not — it’s still beer. In fact, save for part of western Europe, the world is mostly indifferent to wine. This is something my colleagues in the Winestream Media should pay more attention to, instead of patting themselves on the back because we drink more wine than any other country in because we have more people than France and Italy.

Winebits 369: Cheap wine, sweet red wine, wine lawsuits

winenews

wine lawsuitsAlmost correct: The Wine Curmudgeon is always happy to see other wine sites hop on the cheap wine bandwagon, and this recent piece from Wine Folly. a qualiity site, offers several fine pointers: Beware the back label, watch out for private label brands, and double check pricing. My concern is its passive-aggressive style, which comes out in the headline. “Good cheap wine is lying to you.” The piece makes it seem as if only cheap wine does these things, when the entire wine business is full of half-truths, misconceptions, and obfuscations. Which is my reason for being, after all. I was also confused by the post’s fixation on U.S. wine — what’s wrong with buying cheap wine from Spain, France, and Italy?

Bring on the sweet stuff: You know sweet red wine is firmly established in the market when one of the wine trade newsletters talks about its popularity without one nasty comment. “While ‘sweet’ drinkers may be gravitating toward certain blends and varietals, and ‘dry’ drinkers supporting others, consumers clearly are exploring a variety of options.” That’s quite shocking, that Shanken News Daily (owned by the same company that owns the Wine Spectator), suggests that wine drinkers have minds of their own. But the numbers make believers: sweet red wine is growing at 4 1/2 percent a year, ahead of wine’s overall growth, says the report. And this is where I mention that I was writing about this stuff when the Winestream Media was dismissing it.

One more lawsuit: Regular visitors know that the Wine Curmudgeon loves lawsuits, when wine companies throw money at their attorneys for no other reason than they can. Though, this suit, about two wines with the same name, does seem to have some merit (with the caveat that I’m not a lawyer and could be completely wrong). I also thought I’d throw this in, two companies named Cipriani suing each other. I mention it for two reasons — first, that it shows wine doesn’t have a monopoly on this sort of thing, and second, that the smaller company, based ion a Chicago suburb, makes some of the best noodles I’ve ever had, and I hope it wins. Update: The two wineries settled out of court a couple of days after this posted. Chalk it up to common sense

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