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.