Tom's blog

Bulk wines sadly driving the market

Even though the U.S. ranks 57th in world wine consumption per capita, its numbers are increasing as Americans become more comfortable opening a bottle of wine for dinner. You can see wine gaining popularity in bars and restaurants where it has overtaken beer as the alcoholic beverage of choice. Especially among millennials, wine is associated with health and success. 

What this popularity is driving isn't fine wine, though. Mass-produced wines that come in boxes, cans and 1.5-liter bottles are easily outselling better made wines. They are cheap -- less than $10 a bottle -- easy to find and easy to drink. Labels like Barefoot, Sutter Home, Woodbridge, Franzia and Yellowtail are as common to weddings as they are to backyard barbecues.

But buyers should be aware of what they are getting and by any definition it isn't "good" wine. 

The large conglomerates that own these brands cut corners to produce bulk wines. Oak barrels are too expensive, so there's little complexity or texture in the wines. No one else wants the grapes, so their sold in bulk to these producers and from high-yielding vineyards. Flavoring and other chemicals are added to enhance the wine or produce in the lab what wasn't produced i the vineyard. Any step that is high in maintenance and cost is eliminated -- the bottom line is not quality but quantity of a lab-produced wine that doesn't deserve the name.

These wines taste the same year after year when the producer lands on a successful recipe. Apothic Red and White, made by E&J Gallo is a good example. The wine is bursting with sweet, jammy fruit flavor that hits a delicious button for countless consumers. But you can find the same profile in other generic wines. Clever labels like Marilyn Merlot, Melange a Trois, Cheap Wine, Old Fart, Fat Bastard and worse grab people's wallet even if it won't grab their attention. Does anyone buy a second bottle of these cheap wines?

There is a lot of good wine under $15 that deliver more bang for your buck. Don't get suckered into a name.