This is the second of two parts looking at sweet red wine, which could become as important to the wine business as white zinfandel once was. Today, a look at sweet reds and what they taste like. Part I on Feb. 17 explored the whys and wherefores of sweet red’s growth.
Talk to any wine drinker — even experienced ones — and one of the adjectives they always use is smooth. “That’s a smooth wine.” “I want to buy a smooth red wine.” And that, in one word, is what sweet red wine delivers — and what the seemingly infinite number of new sweet reds is trying to capitalize on.
Because the red wine that most of us drink isn’t smooth. It’s tannic, sometimes bitterly so. It can be harshly acidic. And some of it, despite the advances in wine technology, can be unpleasantly green — tasting of unripe fruit or smelling of bell pepper. We can argue whether smooth is a legitimate quality for a wine (I think balance is a better term), but that’s what consumers are looking for.
And what happens when sugar is added to red wine? The bitter tannins get covered up. The harsh acidity is blended away. And that unpleasant green disappears. It becomes, as one blurb for Apothic Red calls the wine, “smooth.”
After the jump, tasting notes for six sweet reds and a few thoughts about how these wines are made and how to tell how sweet they are.
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.
?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.
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.
Forget points and stars and thumbs up. Forget controversy. Forget Parker. Never again will we have to argue about whether a 90-point wine is any good.
Welcome to the Cajun wine scoring system, based on years of extensive research eating and drinking in south Louisiana; my tenure as the sports editor at the Houma, La., Daily Courier; and the wit and wisdom of the inestimable L. Kleinpeter, a native of Thiboduax, La., and a descendant of Rousseaus and Boudreauxs.
Why Cajun? Because few cultures understand food and drink as well. It’s not about pretension or celebrity chefs, but about the freshest possible ingredients and what tastes good. I’ve had dinners at someone’s home in Acadiana that would put pricey restaurant meals to shame. In addition, it’s a culture that has little patience for foolishness, and what’s more foolish than the 100-point scoring system?
Plus, Cajuns understand that you don’t put tomatoes in gumbo.
As much fun as these were, they pale in comparison to what could be the next big trademark and tradedress lawsuit in the wine business — if E&J Gallo and the Wine Group square off over two fabulously successful brands, Gallo’s Barefoot and Wine Group’s flipflop. More, after the jump:
Consumers have been able to walk into wine stores over the past four years and find terrific bargains — displays of 2 for $10 and 3 for $20 wines that were well made and worth drinking, bins of marked down and discounted wines, and $40 wines that cost $20. Sadly, though, that all may be about to end.
Wine prices look like they're finally firming after four years of recession-induced declines. The changes are still tentative, they don't necessairly hold true for all parts of the business, and they may not be as noticeable in some parts of the country as in others. In this, it doesn't look like prices will be higher as much as the obvious discounting will end. But, after interviews with retailers, wholesalers, wineries and analysts, it doesn't look like $10 wine is the new $100 wine any more. Instead, there's a new paradigm: The search for value.
"Wine drinkers are going to have to look harder and wider to find deep deals on known items," says Christian Miller of California's Full Glass Research, who tracks wine prices and consumption. "There will still be values, but they won't be as easy to find. They're going to be in undiscovered wines."
After the jump, why this is happening and what it means:
It's not that easy finding blogs and websites that do cheap wine. There aren't many to begin with, and those that do exist are usually shilling for on-line wine retailers or are abandoned or infrequently updated. Here are three, though, that do cheap wine well in the run-up to the 2012 $10 Hall of Fame:
? GoodCheapWines.com: Not sure where this one comes from or how the wines on it were selected, but it seems reasonably legitimate for a site apparently designed to drive traffic to an on-line retailer. Most of the wines are $12 or less, and include some regulars here — Cristalino, Evodia and La Vielle Ferme among them. The commentary isn't bad, either. Consider this description of Pennywise Pinot Noir (which sounds like I wrote it and is spot on): "As long as you ?re not uptight about what a Pinot Noir should be, you will enjoy this very fruity, almost poppy wine. A great wine for non wine drinkers."
? Good wine under $20: This review site has won a variety of awards for its content, including two prestigious American Wine Blog awards. The format is tight and concise, it isn't afraid to review grocery store brands, and the wines hit the price points as they should (though I'd argue that it's not that hard to find good wine for $20). One surprise, though: The blog has not been updated since the end of October, which may mean its creator, Deb Harkness, has moved on to other things.
? The Reverse Wine Snob: This Minneapolis-based blog, which focuses on reviews, believes that "Wine doesn't have to be expensive to be good!" Which, other than the exclamation point, is a fine sentiment. The upper level is $20, but there are plenty of $10 and grocery store wines on the blog, including Smoking Loon, Woodbrige and Flip Flop, a Barefoot knockoff. Jon Thorsen, who runs the blog, makes a serious effort to find inexpensive wine (which I know isn't easy).
The wine business is eagerly looking forward to 2012, if only because it sees prices recovering (and more about that on Thursday). But the New Year will also bring other changes, not all of which will be good for the business — or for consumers. After the jump, a few thoughts about those changes and what they will mean.