Why Americans Are Drinking More Red Blends

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Americans are drinking about the same amount of wine as in the past, but they’re drinking “better.”

That was one of the trends recognized in recent research released by the Wine Institute.

Another fascinating piece of information: While Cabernet Sauvignon remains No. 1 among all wines sold, the No. 2 slot now is occupied not by another varietal, but rather by red blends.

To be clear, a vast majority of wines are blends in one way or another. For instance, they may be single-variety blends comprised of juice from grapes grown in several different vineyards… often in far-apart appellations.

Or they may be wines that are labeled as a varietal, but by law may also include a relatively small percentage of another variety or varieties that need not be named.

In this case, however, the statistics refer specifically to wines that are marketed as red blends, often with a proprietary name attached.

There’s no way to know for sure without getting inside the heads of all the winemakers and winery marketing teams, but here’s my theory on why this category has ascended in popularity.

The vast majority of people who enjoy drinking a glass of wine each day to unwind after work, or perhaps for perceived health benefits, are seeking something “smooth.” For them, Cabernet Sauvignon may be perceived as more of a special occasion red, or a wine to uncork when eating a steak.

For most of the late 20th century, the “smooth red” slot was filled by Merlot.

But in 2004, the movie “Sideways” changed everything. One of the main characters loved Pinot Noir and hated Merlot, and before long, Pinot Noir could not be found on supermarket shelves, while Merlot sales dropped.

Whether the movie was directly responsible for those trends has never been proven, but the timeline suggests that the film, in combination with reporting on the film, certainly did not help the perception of Merlot — a variety I loved then and continue to love now.

But back to the news of the ascent of red blends: The feeling here is that those wines now have supplanted Merlot as the “mellow red” of choice.

And just as was (and is) the case with Merlot, there’s a red blend available at every price point. That means you can drink it for everyday enjoyment, or save it for a special occasion — while your “big Cabs” continue to evolve.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Wine Buzz

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