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What’s next for sweet red wine?

Sweet red enters the new year as the next big thing for U.S. wine – up 62 percent in retail outlets in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 8. That’s twice the growth of moscato, last year’s next big thing, reports Nielsen, and sweet red has a 1.1 percent share of the domestic wine market.

That growth is nothing short of unimaginable. Just a couple of years ago, for all practical purposes, sweet red didn’t exist. What little there was was the province of regional wine, and mostly mocked at. Today, it’s such a big deal that seminars are held about the subject at major industry trade shows.

And sweet red is only to get bigger. Sweet table wines, including sweet red, moscato and white zindandel, account for 11 percent of the U.S. retail market, reports Nielsen – a bigger share than pinot grigio, pinot noir, or merlot. Given that white zinfandel sales are about half of what they used to be, and that there isn’t enough moscato for increasingly spectacular growth (and its growth was half in 2012 of 2011), wine drinkers will turn to sweet red.

Yet it doesn’t seem, as so many in the industry have hoped, that sweet red is the Holy Grail – the introductory wine that brings new drinkers to wine. Nielsen’s Danny Brager says “only a small amount of volume has been gained by folks new to the category.” Instead, according to Nielsen, most of the growth seems to be from non-sweet drinkers shifting to sweet and sweet drinkers drinking more sweet wine.

Also worth noting: Sweet red drinkers skew younger and more Hispanic, though the Nielsen numbers aren’t definitive, says Chari. The category is just too new for anyone to know anything for certain.

Having said that (which is why I reserve the right to be wrong), it looks like sweet red – as incredible as its growth has been – won’t transform the wine business. It will make a lot of companies a lot of money, but could, in the end, do nothing more than what white zinfandel did during its heyday – give wine drinkers who want something smoother and sweeter than cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and merlot an inexpensive option. What it won’t do is convince people who prefer beer or soft drinks that wine has something to offer them.

  • John Dorminey

    Do you know if red Sangria is included in the Sweet Red category? I realize it is not 100% grapes, but it is all fruit. FYI — I do not consider the six-pack malt version to be Sangria no matter how they incorrectly label it.

  • David Razouz

    Speaking of sweet reds (2% RS). I had a MOSELLA, Black Riesling last week in Orlando, Florida that was fantastic.
    The American/German wine producer was there to explain the wine. I did not know that the German’s could make such a lovely red wine. The color, bouquet, taste and finish was unbelievable…

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jeffsiegel Jeff Siegel

    Nielsen would know for sure about sangria, but I don’t think it is part of what’s counted as sweet red wine, John.
    And my argument, David, when I tasted all the wines in the picture (http://www.winecurmudgeon.com/my_weblog/2012/06/the-ultimate-internet-guide-to-sweet-red-wine.html), was that the wine business was going to have to pay attention to quality, as with your German wine, or alienate sweet red drinkers.

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