Much-Maligned Merlot Makes a Comeback

    New research by The Nielsen Company into consumer wine consumption patterns and attitudes reveals surprising facts about a wine both loved and maligned in the United States: Merlot.

     Commissioned by Blackstone Winery and utilizing multiple Nielsen data sources, the research finds that Merlot has the single largest consumer base of any varietal wine in the U.S. and, of the major wine varietals, is the one most closely associated with high quality at an affordable price.

     Complete results of the research are detailed in a report entitled, “Merlot Today: The State of the U.S. Merlot Market, Consumer Attitudes and Trends.” Its key findings show:

     * More American households purchase Merlot than any other wine variety, red or white.

     * Consumer affinity for Merlot is based on the key factors of taste and value.

     * Merlot has the highest repeat purchase rate of any wine variety in the U.S.

     * Merlot drinkers strongly agree that Merlot is a good, versatile and food-friendly everyday wine.

     Merlot remains the second best-selling red wine variety in the U.S. behind Cabernet Sauvignon, and the third most popular varietal overall.

     However, Nielsen’s analysis reveals that Merlot enjoys higher household penetration than any other wine variety, with 9.5 percent of U.S. households purchasing at least one bottle of Merlot in 2008 compared to 9.3 percent for Chardonnay and 8.8 percent for Cabernet Sauvignon.

     Merlot also boasts the highest repeat purchase rate of any variety, with 49 percent of Merlot consumers making multiple purchases year over year.

     Nielsen’s research also challenges conventional wisdom within the wine trade that consumer perception and purchases of Merlot declined as a result of the 2004 movie “Sideways.” According to Nielsen’s findings:

     * Merlot sales, measured in both dollars and volume, have grown steadily since “Sideways” was released in 2004.

     * The number of U.S. households purchasing Merlot is more than double those purchasing Pinot Noir.

     * Over 50 percent of current U.S. Merlot drinkers are consuming more Merlot than they did five years ago.

     Despite rumors of a “Sideways effect,” 45 percent of participants in Nielsen’s custom survey of Merlot drinkers never saw the movie, and 93 percent of those that saw the movie say it had no effect on their opinion of Merlot.

     “Contrary to what people may think, Merlot never died,” says Danny Brager, Nielsen vice president and group client director of Beverage Alcohol. “Even post-‘Sideways,’ Merlot sales continued to grow and it is the third most popular wine variety behind Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in sales, while having the largest consumer base of the three. The bottom line: Merlot is a large and healthy category.”

Posted in Wine in the Glass
Members-only Wine sampler specials delivered straight to your inbox via our Cyber Circle newsletter.