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Wine trends 2012: What we’re drinking

wine trends 2012

Does this woman know that the wine she's drinking is inferior because it's cheap and popular?

There are two wine communities in the U.S. — the regular, ordinary wine drinker, who buys almost all of the wine sold in the U.S., and the elite wine drinker, who represents a tiny, tiny fraction of the wine drinking community but who is catered to by the wine business and, especially, by its allies in the Winestream Media.

Read the latter, and one would assume that wine has to cost a lot of money, that one needs a PhD in wine geek to appreciate wine, and that anyone who dares to argue with them is a crude boor.

We know where the Wine Curmudgeon fits, no?

Nothing demonstrates this better than sales figures. I have a copy of a report from an important U.S. distributor, detailing sales from March 2011 to March 2012 in the Dallas market. It was given to me by someone who asked to remain anonymous; hence, I can't reproduce it or link to it. And, though, it's not a perfect fit for what's going on nationally, it's still a revealing look at what the real wine market — and not the Winestream Media's wine market — is like. More, after the jump:


• The top five brands were Barefoot, Franzia, Yellow Tail, Kendall-Jackson and Sutter Home. Only the Kendall-Jackson cost more than $10 a bottle, and the Franzia (which comes in a five-liter box) was about $2 a bottle.

• Only eight of the 89 brands in the report cost more than $15 a bottle, and only one cost more than $20 a bottle.

• The top 150 brands accounted for 82 1/2 percent of the wine sold, as measured by dollars, in the Dallas market. Given that there are thousands of wine brands available here, that is an amazing consolidation of sales.

• There are two Texas brands in the top 30 — Ste. Genevieve, at 11, and Llano Estacado, at 27, and three overall. The first two regional wines are more popular than Rex Goliath, one of the several Beringers on the list, and Smoking Loon.

• The average price for the top 89 brands was about $7 a bottle, more or less the average price of a bottle of wine sold in the U.S.

• The top 10 brands were not natural or boutique or artisan, but made by the biggest multi-national companies in the world, including E&J Gallo (Barefoot and Gallo Family) and Constellation (Woodbridge and Clos du Bois).

How different is this from the Winestream Media? In the Wine Spectator's top 100 wines of 2011, only nine cost less than $20, only one cost less than $10, and only two were regional wines. In other words, almost the exact opposite of the real world.

Yes, this may not be an exact comparison, since the Spectator list measures "quality." But that itself is significant, since it says that the wine that most of us drink is inferior and doesn't cost enough. That's a stunning assumption to make, and exists almost nowhere but wine.

Because, frankly, there are more than adequate brands on the Texas sales list, including $10 Hall of Famer Bogle; Freixenet and its sub-$10 cavas; Washington state's 14 Hands and Columbia Crest; and even Layer Cake.

Is it any wonder, then, that 40 percent of the country doesn't drink wine? And that so many others are afraid when they do drink wine?

Photo courtesy of minotaurus via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license

13 Responses to Wine trends 2012: What we’re drinking

  1. relaxeau@earthlink.net' Kurt Burris says:

    But having lunch at the Gallo plant (it is kind of hard to call it a winery since they do so much there besides make wine) is no where near as fun to write about as your lunch with a celebrity at his or her trophy Napa estate.

  2. patc@immediatag.com' Paco Weldon says:

    I wonder if one did the same analysis with cars or watches if it would be any different. More people buy Fords than BMWs and more people buy Citizens than Rolexes.
    I’m not sure what this means — just wondering.

  3. westfal1@yahoo.com' T Bone says:

    I sell wine for a living, so am predisposed to give people what they want (or I dont make noney), but if you are honestly suggesting that wine made in 500,000+ gallon tanks to formulas for taste consistency is of equal value to a hand crafted wine aged in small oak barrels, I would love some of what you are smoking!

  4. catie@wallawallawinewoman.com' Catie says:

    To those drinking the “inferior” wines, I say leave them alone. The point is they are at least drinking wine and we can only hope that their palate will some day lead them to more interesting and quality wines and a little wine education. It’s really no different than someone calling a hamburger from McDonald’s a “hamburger.”
    And as far as Columbia Crest. I hate to see it get lumped with the not-so-quality wines. There are several tiers of wine with the Columbia Crest label and even the more affordable tier are pretty varietal correct and won out in Challenge International du Vin, in Bordeaux, France.
    If anything it would be great to see that those drinking the high volume California plonk switch such as boxed white zin to Columbia Crest to get an understanding of what a varietal correct wine should taste like. It’s a great springboard to better wines.

  5. taiphoon@sbcglobal.net' OWD (ordinary wine drinker) says:

    I’m the prior, the ordinary wine drinker. And why yes I’ve tasted a few of the higher end wines that were great in my opinion (my palate did develop over time) and a few of higher end wines that were… well to be polite Marinade. So there it is, I had spent more than I’d like on Marinade, something I couldn’t drink instead of buying 3 or so of something that I’d actually enjoy even it did come out of a box. One could call it “ordinary” economics.

  6. himichael@post.harvard.edu' michael christian says:

    The sweet spot is between popular and elite wines. Popular wines are industrially produced and boring. Elite wines are overpriced and boring (because they are produced to please a small number of prominent critics with certain tastes).
    Look to craft beer for inspiration. Sure, they are a little more expensive, but they can be delicious, interesting, and more varied than commercial beer, and they are not outrageously priced. The equivalent in wine comes from small wineries that march to the beat of a different drum. The problem is that they don’t have shelf space in your supermarket, and they aren’t written up by the critics. You have to find them.

  7. jeff@thelonelyvine.com' Jeff Eckles says:

    By this logic then I guess food critics and ratings of best restaurants should be focused on the likes of McDonalds, Subway, and Burger King since they sell the most food.

  8. Jeff Siegel says:

    Thanks to everyone for the comments, and for keeping the discussion intelligent and sensible. A couple of thoughts:
    1. I pondered about the car thing, just as Paco Weldon did. What struck me is the difference between auto writing and wine writing, in that there is intelligent writing about mass production cars in a way there isn’t about cheap wine.
    2. The craft beer insight from Michael Christian is spot on. I’ve argued this before, in regards to regional wine, that craft beer succeeds where regional wine doesn’t for just those reasons.
    3. Jeff Eckles asks if food writers write about fast food. The good ones, like Mark Bittman,do.
    4. The point of this piece, since it seems some were confused, is not that cheap wine is better than expensive wine or that’s all anyone should pay attention to. It’s what Catie’s comment noted so eloquently: The wine business should respect the ordinary wine drinker, and that doesn’t happen enough. And she is correct about Columbia-Crest, as anyone who has read what I have written about the brand.

  9. cmiller@noblewines.com' Chris Miller says:

    Well done on both the article and your responses. I feel that OWD hit the nail on the head though. The risk/reward for drinking pricier wines is heavy without substantial knowledge or input from someone with that knowledge.
    Those readers that are drinkers of Burgundy understand only too well. Spend $25, $35, $45 or $105 on Burgundy and the pleasure can range anywhere on all of them from: wow, I got royally screwed, to this is the nectar of the gods.

  10. gdfo@excite.com' gdfo says:

    Frankly, I do not see any problem with folks drinking what they like. Most folks cannot budget for expensive wines and even if they did they might not think that it is worth the extra money. People who drink wine do it for different reasons. What does bother me is that lots of popular wine writers/critics/bloggers ignore commenting on these popular wines. Are they made well?
    Do they taste and smell like they are supposed to? Are they made where the label says they are made? Are the labels deceiving? Are they worth the $ or are they just glorified jugs wines?

  11. rba05@sbcglobal.net' Wine Guy says:

    Memo to the upper end of the wine trade: customers like somewhat fruit forward, sweeter, ready to drink wines. A lot of their experience with expensive wines are: not ready to drink and too dry. Expose a wine skeptic to a mature, balanced $25+ Bordeaux grapes type red for the first time (in a decent glass) and see what happens. Unfortunately this almost never happens as most restaurants, shops, wine bars and winery tasting rooms are hustling overpriced wines made and released ‘recently’ (say, try our 2010 cab!) and only an idiot or a wine critic would call them ‘drinkable’. Hot and nasty usually. 99% of the public is not going to cellar wines. Sorry.

  12. ptroilo@nicholasrobertsltd.com' Peter Troilo says:

    If you’re suggesting that the wine business doesn’t respect the “ordinary” wine drinker you’re wrong. The “ordinary” wine drinker can walk into 95% of the wine and liquor stores in this country and find a familiar brand they have purchased and enjoyed in the past. Big discount stores have made that easy and now the internet has made that even easier.
    Furthermore, the amount of advertising dollars spent on promoting these big market brands is staggering. These brands do not need help from the media to sell their products. If I were a serious blogger, or published a wine publication, why would I write about “ordinary wines”?

  13. Curm,agreed! I am a wine columnist, former sommeliere and wine instructor at UC-Irvine. On Sat. I went to a benefit where I donated a bottle of Washington State Merlot (single vineyard, low production, great stuff…) As we were auctioning off the bottle, folks wanted to pay MORE than the $25-30 bucks that it cost. Why? I had a tech sheet and the list of medals the wine won. I told them I would explain a little about the wine to the winner. They were falling all over themselves to bid/overbid. No other auction gift elicited such excitement
    The woman who won the wine was so excited to learn about a GOOD bottle, what to drink it with, how to give it a bit of air, etc. I explained that it would be somewhat different from what she may have been used to–it is not a “cocktail” wine or an aperitif, but a food wine. My point? Wine is not brain science and people are SO intimidated by wines they don’t know about. I told her to just enjoy it and grill a nice steak with it!

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