Friday, July 20, 2012

Sweet Red - Bad For Our Country?

Sweet red wine.

This is a trend that has reached an order of magnitude that is no longer possible to ignore.  Surely the pathology of it predates the millennium, but only in the last year or so has it gone fully mainstream - in a stealth sort of way.

Sweet red wine probably existed long before dry red wine.  Back in Roman times they likely just called it vino (hazarding a guess that they didn't get too hung up on brix or percentages of Sangiovese versus Canaiolo).  Fast forward a couple of thousand years and we've become much more specific about what we're drinking.  And that's why this trend is so puzzling. 

There's a new breed of red wine that is unmistakably far from dry, yet it is being marketed as "red blends".  For this consumer, that creates confusion and frustration.  That frustration bubbled over recently after ordering a glass 14 Hands 'Hot To Trot'.  14 Hands is a Washington winery that's produced some respectable values in the past, so "red blend" was mistakenly assumed to mean "Bordeaux blend without the pretentiousness or price tag".


And this is hardly an isolated example.  Apothic Red has been critically acclaimed and appears to be selling like umbrellas on a rainy New York City sidewalk.  Cupcake's Red Velvet, Bridlewood's 175, Meage a Trois' Red, Gnarley Head's Authentic Red...the list of expanding lineage goes on.  Yet  mysteriously absent from the marketing of (most of) these wines is any reference to residual sugar, lack of dryness, or the incredible hangover they promise.  Instead, the words "plush", "velvety", and "soft" are used to describe what are absolutely awful experiences in imbalance to anyone with a palate for dry wines. 

Designed by a focused group, concocted in a laboratory.

As tempting as it is to decry this as a scourge plaguing our nation, there's a pretty good chance that these sweet red wines are bringing more people to wine who otherwise would be drinking Red Bull and Krapov vodka. Yes, purists (including this one) will be challenged to repress their gag reflex with these wines, but hopefully we can all agree that a society that drinks more wine - even if it is this stuff - is a more enlightened society.

So, why won't the marketers of these wines come clean and just tell us what we're getting?  Because their focus groups probably also told them that while they want to drink sweet red wine, they don't want to be seen drinking red wine.  Just a guess.

For a more enlightened perspective and round up of sweet red wines, check out Jeff Siegel's (aka The Wine Curmodgeon) series on these wine


  1. Totally agree. Especially on the point that sweet wines, white zin, etc. are important, in fact the backbone of the wine biz. I love fine wine, but I recognize that I can love it because that portion of the market floats on a sea of money provided by sweet wine sales!

  2. Great point, Joe! As always, a good, positive perspective. Thanks!

  3. Yes, these volume brands are what fuel the bottom line for some wineries wanting to make high-end wines, as Joe pointed out. I used to work at Woodbridge pre-Constellation, and the running joke was that we were buying the expensive new oak barrels for Mondavi Oakville, then getting them all back, used. All the shiney new equipment came back creaky.

  4. Ha! Thanks for chiming in, Jon. You're right. But based on what I know about the Robert Mondavi Winery, I'd be surprised if they aren't running cash flow positive. Either way, the point I tried to make isn't "gotta have the cheap stuff to be able to produce good stuff", but how, as tough as it is to swallow that White Zin Joe loves so much, that's exactly what gets beer drinkers off the sidelines and into wine. Definitely a good thing for all of us...


  5. Great commentary. What do they say though: "people talk dry but drink sweet".

  6. AnonymousMay 21, 2013

    just had this abomination (17 hands)...I don't think anyone not looking for a gateway wine would tolerate it...that said people in china are pouring coke into Napa and Bordeaux reds. So it's hardly an issue regarding pimping/tainting the industry


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