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January 19, 2014

GRAPE SENSE: Moscato, red wine blends and a movement toward digital

The only good thing about looking forward at the start of the year is no one remembers your predictions a week or so later. That said, there are lots of trends and movement in the wine world which will have an impact on the average wine drinker.

As we enter 2014, it makes sense to look ahead a bit.

Moscato — That sweet white wine that seems to be everywhere, is exploding. But that’ s not news since it all started in 2012. Sales increased by a third in 2012 with little sign of letting up in 2013. The light alcohol and light fizz has proven wildly popular with younger consumers.

From hip-hop artists to long-time sweet wine lovers, Moscato has become the go-to beverage. California is providing most of the sweet white but look for other labels to join the band wagon. Furthermore, check out your local grocery, wine shop or liquor store shelves and you’ll find major labels offering a variety of sweet wines.

Red wine blends are another area continuing to expand and grow. A good red wine blend can go from the inoffensive to nuanced and satisfying to even the most discerning wine drinker. Better yet, you can often get big bold flavors from a good California or Washington blend at a fraction of the cost of single variety wines. Red wine blends offer some of the best value options for better wine.

The biggest sales growth areas are Moscato, sweet red blends and Malbec.  Malbec is a great intro point for those trying to expand beyond Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Noir. It’s a great food wine and a wonderful way to start exploring beyond your normal tastes.

Millenials and apps have been the talking points for much of the wine media over the last few years. Younger people are the fastest growing segment of the wine-buying population. They do drink sweeter wines but they are also very willing to try something new.

The younger section of the market is also driving wineries, marketers and everyone else in the wine business to go more digital. There are smart-phone applications to find wine, rate wine, and journal your own wine drinking.

Packaging is another area where innovation continues to push the market. Wine is turning up on shelves, particularly value wine, in single servings, all shapes of paper and glass containers, and other new ways to supplant the 750ml bottle.

The other states continue to improve wine quality. It’s hard for Illinois, Michigan and Indiana to get the world’s attention with its small production of wine. But the quality of the “other states’” wines continues to improve. Each year I visit quite a few Indiana wineries, and a few in surrounding states; the quality continues to show considerable improvement. It’s not just the top producers but some of the smaller state wineries have learned to focus on quality.

Wine travel is a great vacation and another industry that just grows and grows. I will be joining that trend in 2014 by leading a boutique-type experience in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in June. Whether it’s a trip you plan yourself or an organized wine adventure, the Internet has really made it easy to plan a great wine vacation. Write me at the email address below if you’d like information on the Oregon trip I’m hosting or simply to add your name to my mailing list for future trips.

Happy New Year to all. Thank you for reading Grape Sense!

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about value wine every other week for 23 Midwestern newspapers. You can write Howard at: hewitthoward@gmail.com.

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