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The revolution in cheap pinot noir

The moscato and sweet red wine trends have received more attention, but the revolution in cheap pinot noir may eventually be just as important to the wine business and to consumers.

That’s the gist of a story I wrote for the Beverage Media trade magazine. Pinot, traditionally the province of oenophiles with deep pockets, has long been considered fine wine more than mass wine for two reasons: The grape was always difficult to grow and difficult to turn into wine. Neither is especially true any more, and these changes have allowed winemakers to produce millions of cases of pinot that costs less than $15 a bottle and is clean and professional – if sometimes not very pinot-ish in taste.

In addition, the popularity of these wines is another indication that U.S. wine drinkers are looking for fruitier, less tannic, and less alcoholic options than merlot and cabernet sauvignon, and this ties into the moscato and sweet red trends. The tremendous growth in the popularity of these three wines hints at larger changes in what wine drinkers want, though it’s probably too soon to know more than that.

The story’s highlights and a few other thoughts, after the jump:

• Cheap pinot is being blended with almost every possible red grape, including grenache, syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah, refosco, tannat, and dornfelder (yet another reason to be grateful for the Winegrape Glossary). These combinations give the wines their fruity character and keep the cost down.

• The catalyst in all this was Mark West, the $10 pinot started by California’s Purple Wine Co. and bought by Big Six producer Constellation Brands for $160 million in 2012. Constellation’s goal is to sell 1 million cases of Mark West annually, almost double sales when it bought the brand.

• Under $15 pinot accounted for almost three-quarters of pinot’s sales in dollar volume in the 52 weeks ending May 19. That’s an amazing statistic, given how little attention the Winestream Media pays to these brands and how much attention it does pay to pricier pinots from California, Oregon, and the Burgundy region of France.

• There may be two markets for under-$15 pinot – those that cost less than $10, where consumers buy by brand, and $10 and up, where they buy by varietal. In the first group, wine drinkers buy Barefoot pinot after buying Barefoot cabernet or merlot because they want something different. In the second, they’ll look for brands marketed as pinot, like Mark West, and buy pinot because they want pinot.

• Women and younger consumers are powering sales in under-$15 pinot, while men and Baby Boomers are buying the traditional and more expensive wines.

More about the revolution in cheap pinot noir:

Mark West and the revolution in pinot noir
26 bottles of pinot noir on the wall, 26 bottles. …
The French pinot noir scandal

  • gdfo

    This would explain why a pinot noir I tasted at a wine bar was dark and tasted like Petit Syrah. LOL.

  • Rusty Gaffney

    The 2011 J. Lohr Falcon’s Perch Monterey County Pinot Noir doesn’t quite sneak under your $15 limit (retail is $17), but is worth a mention for its uniqueness. It is 76% Pinot Noir and 24% Valdiguié and I must say, it is not only professionally vinified but good tasting.

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