Tag Archives: moscato

Sweet red wine, part I

sweet red wine

Today’s sweet red wines are much different from sweet reds like Manischewitz.

This is the first of two parts looking at sweet red wine, which could become as important to the wine business as white zinfandel once was. Today, a sweet red overview. Part II, which looks at sweet reds and what they taste like, posted Feb. 20.

Moscato is getting all of the attention, and no one — not even the Wine Curmudgeon — would argue that it ?s not the latest wine craze. It ?s difficult to argue with those sales numbers, even if there are a lot of caveats.

But that doesn ?t mean moscato is the next big thing, like white zinfandel used to be. Dig deeper, though, past the moment, and you ?ll see the trend that has the potential to not only turn into the next fad, but to significantly change the wine business in the United States. It ?s sweet red wine, something that even the most dollar-grubbing producers have always been a little ashamed of.

But be ashamed no more. Sweet red wines are racking up sales, and producers big and small are launching sweet reds. E&J Gallo ?s Apothic was one of the best sellers in the $8-$11 category last year, while Beringer — which knows a thing or two about sweet wine — expects to sell one-half million cases of its red moscato this year.

?Sweet red wine is very relevant to the marketplace, ? says Shawn Bavaresco, who directs brand development for the company that makes Pacific Rim riesling and which sells Sweet Bliss, which has a sweet red. ?We ?ve seen the demand, so we ?re going to be very responsive. We want to be out front on this. ?

Sweet red Sweet red wine has been such a pariah in the U.S. wine business that white zinfandel seems like a first-growth Bordeaux in comparison. I asked one respected winemaker, hardly a traditionalist himself, about sweet red wine, and he just rolled his eyes.

Sweet red was traditionally the province of Kosher wines like Manischewitz and Mogen David (insert joke here). Even today, when Constellation Brands is the second biggest wine company in the world, people still make cracks about its beginnings as an upstate New York winery called Canandaigua that did sweet red wine.

Real wine drinkers don ?t drink sweet red wine, as any number of real wine drinkers will tell you.

That perspective is changing quickly. Sweet red sales, says Nielsen, grew 172 1/2 percent in the 13 weeks ending Jan. 7, which was even faster than moscato’s increase. Yes, some of the same caveats that apply to moscato apply here, like big growth from a small base. But there is more going on than that.

Sweet red wine is relatively easy to make and can be made with almost any red grapes (or white grapes, for that matter). This is in contrast to a varietal wine like moscato, which needs a grape that is in short supply. And the people buying sweet red are women and the other demographic that marketers crave — the Millennials, who will soon replace the Baby Boomers as the most important consumer demographic in the country. (If they haven ?t already.) And they seem be part of the group that continues to elude the wine business — beginning wine drinkers.

?Why is everyone so surprised that Millennials, who drink Coke for breakfast, would want to drink sweet wine says Barry Sheridan, vice president of marketing for Treasury Wine Estates, which owns Beringer.

So how did sweet red go from pariah to favorite in just a couple of years? Talk to different people, and you ?ll get different explanations. But the one consistent seems to be the recession, which knocked so many producers down (and even a couple out). Sweet red wine doesn ?t require expensive grapes, because the wine ?s sweetness masks any flaws that cheaper, bulk grapes might have. So sweet red can be sold for the lower prices that consumers embraced during the recession.

Meanwhile, restoring margins and revenue that went away during the recession will go a long toward placating anyone still embarrassed about making and selling sweet red.

And, as Sheridan, noted, it ?s not a difficult sell to a demographic that likes sweets. It ?s also telling that Pacific Rim ?s sweetest wine accounted for 70 percent of riesling sales over the last two vintages — an amazing figure given that much of the wine business seems to go out of its way to convince consumers that sweet wine isn ?t something they want to buy. Imagine how much sweet red the business can sell if it makes an effort and produces professionally made wine.

Winebits 215: Moscato, natural wine, wine trends

? Love that sweet wine: Moscato sales increased by what one trade magazine called "a staggering 73 percent" in the 52 weeks that ended Jan. 7, 2012, and the wine business wise guys are trying to put all sorts of spin on that news. The report in the link credits pop music stars like Kanye West, who sing about moscato, but the Wine Curmudgeon has another, more likely, theory. Americans like sweet wine. Which, of course, none of the wise guys want to admit. My electrician, who wouldn't know Kanye West from Cornel West, has become a big wine drinker. His favorites: Pinot grigio and moscato, and his wife likes sweet red wine. Not coincidentally, buried at the bottom of the story in the link, was this: "… small but growing categories included unoaked Chardonnay and sweet reds."

? Natural wine backlash: Renowned Rhone producer Michel Chapoutier has denounced natural winemakers as out-of-touch hippies making defective wines, reports Decanter magazine. Chapoutier told the magazine that natural winemaking ? which doesn't allow techniques like adding sulphur dioxide to stabilize the wines ? "…is a connerie. It is rubbish. It ?s like making vinegar, bad vinegar. How can anyone allow toxic yeasts to develop so that these inhabit the wine?" This should make for an interesting back and forth, since proponents of natural wine are equally as shy as Chapoutier about advancing their cause.

? Annoying restaurant wine practices: Two of the most annoying restaurant trends in the Zagat Survey's 2011 list were wine related, which should come as no surprise to regular visitors here. Overzealous wine pouring, when the waiter or waitress won't let you sip wine before they show up for a refill was No. 3, while No. 5 was wine glasses that are too big. Interestingly, inflated restaurant wine prices didn't make the list. Perhaps, like death and taxes, we've just accepted those something we can't do anything about.

Winebits 205: Pay a blogger, moscato, wine labels

? Blogger payday? Today, says Swedish micropayment startup Flattr, is Pay a Blogger day. The Wine Curmudgeon appreciates the sentiment, even if it is being used to promote Flattr’s services. Think of Flattr as PayPal for small amounts sent to specific people, who are rewarded for the good work — or, in this case, blogging — that they have done. Still, you won’t see a Flattr widget on the site. Groveling for money, though it has its advantages (as one of my oldest and best friends often reminds me), isn’t part of the business plan here. How curmudgeonly could I be if I had to ask readers for money?

? Mostcato sales take off: Like a rocket, actually, says Eileen Fredrikson of Gomberg-Fredrikson, which knows more about this stuff than almost anyone else in the U.S. She predicts that the sweet white wine, along with sweet reds, will lure novice wine drinkers, in much the same white zinfandel did two decades ago. Nielsen numbers through September show that Moscato purchases climbed by 800,000 cases, up 73 percent in 2011. The catch, of course, is that there isn’t a lot of moscato. It accounts for just two percent of U.S. sales, and by the time producers in California and elsewhere plant enough grapes to catch up with demand (which will take three or four years), the boom may well be over. Or, as the Italian Wine Guy so succinctly put it: “The moscato phenomenon is just that — it is white zinfandel in a mini skirt and high leather boots. It will pass. Just like Blue Nun, Thunderbird and Yago Sangria passed.”

? Better wine labels: An English design firm, seeing how badly wine brands sell themselves, has offered to work for free for any producer willing to try something different. The Stranger & Stranger firm will do 30,000 worth of design per month for anyone, it says, that wants to address younger wine drinkers seriously, do something more than pay lip service to eco-friendly wine, and treat consumer with respect instead of an “occasional hazard.” Sounds like the Wine Curmudgeon’s kind of guy, no? And certainly worth following up.

Mini-reviews 28: Two Buck Chuck, White Knight, Pacific Rim, Crios

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. Again this month, in honor of record-setting temperatures across Dallas, heat wave wines:

? Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($3, purchased): What happens when $3 wine sits in a warehouse too long. Is there so much Two-buck Chuck left that Trader Joe's is still selling the previous vintage? Oily, but not in a good way, without much fruit and a bitter finish.

? White Knight Moscato 2010 ($13, sample): Moscato is supposed to be the next big thing (ignoring for a moment that there isn't enough of it to be the next big thing), mostly because it's sweet and it's not white zinfandel. This one has some orange moscato-like aroma, but other than that, it's just sweet.

? Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling 2010 ($10, sample): A touch of petrol on the nose, and though it's sweet (just 8 1/2 percent alcohol), it has almost enough acid to balance the sweetness. In this, it's sweet enough to appeal to people who want sweet wine, but well-made enough for the rest of us.

? Crios Rose of Malbec 2010 ($12, purchased): Flabby and dull, without much fruit or acid and very disappointing. A rose that I actually didn't want to drink. Crios used to make much better wine.