Surging Sales for Red Blend Wines

Red blends overtake Merlot; all other industry metrics stay positive

by Andrew Adams
San Rafael, Calif.—The U.S. wine industry continues to thrive overall, and red blends are growing more and more popular with consumers.

In the latest Wine Industry Metrics, all of the key wine metrics tracked by Wines Vines Analytics enjoyed strong growth in October. Direct-to-consumer (DtC) shipments reached more than $288 million, which is the highest point since Wines & Vines first partnered with ShipCompliant to track DtC sales in 2010.

Red blends are hot
The off-premise wine channel observed a milestone in early October, when red blend wines passed Merlot in sales for the first time, making red blends second only to Cabernet Sauvignon among red wines sold in U.S. retail stores. Overall off-premise sales for the month grew 6% over last year to reach $604 million in October.

Buoyed by fast-growing brands including Apothic, Ménage a Trois, Cupcake and 14 Hands, the category of red blends and Meritage wines tallied $6 million more than Merlot in the 52-week period ending Oct. 4, according to IRI. The Chicago, Ill.-based market-research firm’s report, based on sales from multiple-outlet and convenience stores, said red blends were up 14% in value during that period, while Merlot dropped 3%.

Merlot continued to lead in terms of volume, however, selling 9.9 million cases versus 6.5 million for red blends in the stores tracked by IRI. The volume gain for red blends was 12% over the previous period, while Merlot dipped 4%.

Merlot’s low average bottle price ($5.62) compared to red blends’ average of $8.64 explains the difference between value and volume performance. Red blends gained 13 cents per bottle during the period, while the average Merlot price went up by 10 cents.

IRI’s red blends/Meritage category is a broad one that includes both dry and sweet red table wines as well as more traditional Bordeaux-style red blends often called Meritage, as well as the newer breed of blends that are often made by combining Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel. The sales data quoted here combine domestic and imported wines.

The hot brands in the category typically contain 1% or more residual sugar, which is enough to soften the mouthfeel and moderate the drying effect of tannins. But the category also includes sweet reds on the one hand and traditional, bone-dry Bordeaux-style, Rhone-style and Italian-style blends on the other.

DtC set new record
October is one of the strongest months for DtC sales, and this past month was no exception. In addition to reaching a record high point, DtC sales rose above $1.9 billion for the past 12 months. DtC shipment volume increased 2% to 533,270 cases.

Many wine clubs ship to members in October and November, which has helped boost those months to the highest value of shipments each year since 2011. In 2011 and 2012, November had higher totals, but in 2013 and 2014 October was a bigger month for sales.

Red blends account for the third largest share of all DtC shipments in the past 12 months behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Total shipments of the most popular varietals reached $1.34 billion through October, and of that Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for $583 million; Pinot Noir had $316 million, and red blends were at $304 million.

The growing popularity of red blends can also be seen in the increasing number of offers of that wine type by flash websites. There were 650 offers for red blends in 2012 and 951 offers for them in 2015. Red blends’ share of total offers also has grown from 12% in 2012 to 14% in 2015.

Just as in the DtC channel, red blends now have the third-largest share of all flash offers behind Cabernet Sauvignon, which accounts for a quarter and Pinot Noir that stands at 19%. Most of the red blends offered by flash websites are from California.

As the number of red blends offered by flash websites grows, the offers for other varietals drop or stay the same. From 2012 to this year, Syrah offers fell from 6% to just 2% of all offers, and Merlot slipped from 4% to 3%. Cabernet Sauvignon’s dominance also declined slightly with the rise of red blends. In 2012, Cab’s share was 27%, and now it is 25%.

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