How much were we drinking less expensive wine in 2009? A lot, according to a report from IRI, which tracks wine sales in the U.S. in grocery, drug and convenience stores (but not liquor stores). Its 2009 Momentum Report identified what the company called the 30 hottest wine brands in the U.S. last year. And the big surprise? Only four of the labels cost more than $10, and 12 cost $5 or less a bottle.
A couple of caveats: These are not the best-selling brands in 2009; rather, says IRI, these are the top performers, as measured by dollar and volume sales, sales growth, market share and a couple of things. Also, IRI data doesn't include sales from Walmart and its affiliated stores, which might skew the information given Walmart's position as the largest retailer in the world. Still, the report effectively outlines what's going on in the wine marketplace.
The study's highlights, the list, and what it means, after the jump:
The top hot brand was Menage a Trois, which does a $10 red, white, and rose (and which aren't bad). Barefoot, part of Gallo, was second, and Rex Goliath, part of Constellation, was third. In all, 20 of the 30 labels came from huge companies like Gallo and Constellation, including seven from The Wine Group, a California company that specializes in sub-$10 wine like Inglenook and Franzia.
Also important: the study tracked 98 wine brands in the U.S. that sell more than 100,000 cases a year. That's one reason why so many of the wines on the list are made by the biggest companies. They're the only ones who have the sales clout to get their wines in enough stores to sell 100,000 cases.
Are these good wines or just cheap wines? Some are just cheap, but I was surprised to see Bogle, which is in the $10 Hall of Fame; and Rodney Strong, which makes some of the best $15 wine the country, on the list. Consumers may want cheap, but they also want quality.
And yes, not only are we drinking cheap wine, but we're drinking more of it, as noted by the increase in wines on the list that cost $5 or less a bottle. There were only three of those brands on the 2008 list. Meanwhile, the wines on the list grew in sales in 2009, while the rest of the U.S. wine business didn't.
What intrigued me, in reading the industry commentary on the report, was the the idea that the success of the $10 wines on the list showed that maybe things weren't so bad after all. I'm not sure about that. That only three or four of the brands cost more than $10 says a lot more about what we're buying than that $10 wines did well.
Finally, it helps to have a clever name (no matter how many of us roll our eyes at those things), as Menage a Trois' success points out. It also helps to be a famous Hollywood movie director, no matter how ordinary the wines. The Francis Coppola $10 wines were at No. 17.