I know what wine you’re drinking.
Oh, I hear you trying to convince me of a particular varietal or style you’re drinking, but I know what you’re buying – and enjoying.
And I have the facts and stats to prove it.
Last week, I reviewed a report on the wine drinking habits of Americans. I decided to compare the data with anecdotal inputs. And I was surprised at the results. Well, maybe not. Nevertheless, I now know what you are drinking.
I encounter many wine consumers who, when asked their favorite style of wine, will emphatically reply, “I only drink dry wine.”
Whether they prefer white or red, I often receive a response such as “I don’t like sweet wines, the drier the wine the better.”
Here are the facts I’ve culled, based on an independent poll of consumer preferences. (The format offered specific choices; respondents were requested to check all that apply.)
Semi-sweet: 45 percent
Smooth: 44 percent
Fruity: 40 percent
Sweet: 38 percent
Dry: 36 percent
Savory (less fruit): 18 percent
Tannic: 6 percent
Clearly, a dry style is not the dominant preference of consumers. My conclusion? American wine consumers have a sweeter tooth than I believed.
It has been extensively reported that Americans consume alarming amounts of sugar. We’ve all read of the epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the United States. Soft drinks, chocolate, other candies and breakfast cereals continue to be consumed at alarming rates, albeit abating lately.
Why should our preference for wines be different?
The generally accepted definition of sweet wine is one with residual sugar of 30 grams per liter. This includes Sauternes and Ice Wine. Wines with nine grams or less are generally considered to be dry, that is, all of the sugars in the fermented grapes have been converted to alcohol. That leaves a significant range for semisweet wines.
I define sweet-style as fruit forward with a hint (or more) of sugar, either in the mouth or in the finish, and low in acidity. (The higher the acidity the lower the perception of sweetness.)
I tend to write about drier styles and varietals of wines. I’ve expounded on dry white wines I prefer, from Sauvignon Blanc to Burgundian Chablis to Brut Champagne to bone-dry Riesling. I’ve espoused the virtues of drinking dry red wines such as Chianti Classico, red Burgundy, Aglianico and Sagrantino.
I rarely write about sweet-style wines. Past columns have fleetingly touched on sweet Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Moscato, Prosecco, even White Zinfandel, each with equal disdain. I have treated certain reds with similar snootiness, from the current rage of fruity red blends to fruit-forward Merlot.
Perhaps I should change my focus.
The wine companies that dominate the American wine market understand the American consumer better than I. Americans participating in their focus groups have let down their guard, expressing their preference for sweeter-style wines. These elite 2 percent of wine companies account for more than 80 percent of wine sold in the United States; their marketing focus is spot-on.
On a smaller scale, a number of wineries with tasting rooms typically produce a sweet white and/or red wine, to meet consumer demand. And sales justify these decisions. This is especially so in New York State regions. Finger Lakes wineries cater to consumer demand with multiple offerings of Rieslings and Gewürztraminers. Some consider these to be the finest in the country. Even I prefer several to pair with Asian dishes.
The Italians have also capitalized on the American sweet tooth. Prosecco, a typically sweet style of sparkling wine, has enjoyed skyrocketing sales in the last 10 years. Several producers supplement their wines with doses of sugar to meet the American preference. For a portion of Americans, Prosecco is the sparkling version of White Zinfandel.
Everyone’s palate is different. My sensory receptors may conclude a particular wine is a dry style, while you may consider it a sweeter style. My palate’s physiology may detect dryness before sweetness in a wine.
Drink as your palate dictates, not as a wine writer suggests.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.