Wine trends: What we’re drinking and why, Part II

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This is the second of a three-part series about wine consumption in the United States. Part I is here; part III is here.

The Wine Curmudgeon does not like livestock wine. This has nothing to do with its quality. Some of it can be quite good, despite the cuddly creature on the label. My objection is the label itself, which influences people to buy the wine not because it tastes good, but because it is cute.

Livestock wine ( a term invented by the incredibly palate-talented Lynne Kleinpeter) refers to wine which has some sort of animal, cartoon or other clever picture on the label has made huge strides in the U.S. According to the Nielsen survey, the various animals, cartoons and characters accounted for 11.5 percent of the wine sold in the U.S. in 2007 in dollar terms.

Livestock wine is, apparently, here to stay.

Yes, I can hear the objections now. What difference does it make if there is a wallaby on or a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the label? It’s a free market, etc., etc.

The difference it makes is that if people buy wine based on label, they’re less likely to buy wine that doesn’t have a cute label. Which, as anyone who has heard the Wine Curmudgeon rant for more than 10 seconds knows, defeats the entire purpose of wine. Wine is about experimentation, about trying new and different wines. But I digress.

To quote Nielsen, in explaining the continued popularity of livestock wines: They have “fun labels, [are] often entertaining, edgy, conversation starters, and drive differentiation and recall.”

Consider these numbers:

? 705 wine brands were introduced in 2007, which is almost half the number of brands that existed in 2001. This is mind-boggling number all its own, and speaks to the degree to which marketing has taken hold of the wine business. Nielsen didn’t break out which were livestock wines, but I’m willing to bet they were a close to a majority, and certainly more than one-third.

? No one knows for sure how many livestock wines exist,. Nielsen tracked 143 in its 2007 survey. Wine writer Peter May, who runs a site called winelabels.org, has identified at least 230, but that total hasn’t changed in a couple of years. My best guess is 300 to 400, based on the labels I see during my visits to stores and from the samples I get.

? These are mostly inexpensive wines, averaging less than $10 a bottle. And why not, since they’re aimed at 21- 35-year-old women, who tend to be less interested in higher priced wines?

And finally this, from a retailer I know whose very large chain sells a private label wine called Yellow Bird. It retails for about 2 1/2 percent less than Yellow Tail, the wine that started the livestock trend in 1998. And yes, the idea is to borrow from Yellow Tail’s cachet while saving the consumer a buck or two.

Next: Wine drinking patterns across the country.

The label that appears with this story is from winelabels.org. It was on a red Quebec wine called Cochon Mignon, or sweet pigs.

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