Malbec and viognier may not have the name recognition of chardonnay, but these and other lesser-known wines are among the fastest growing in the nation, and they're presenting retailers with new pricing and assortment opportunities.
“Customers are getting more educated, and are looking beyond cabernet and chardonnay,” said Dave Schmerr, beer and wine director, Jingle Jim's International Market, Fairfield, Ohio.
Such exploration is introducing wine drinkers to new tastes, wine-producing regions and prices, he said.
Malbec, a red-wine grape that originated in Bordeaux but is now the premier grape of Argentina, is the fastest-growing varietal in terms of volume case sales, which are up 64% for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 8, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Malbec is the main reason why Argentina's volume wine sales have grown about 12%in the last year, according to IRI.
Malbec is not the only up-and-coming wine. Rounding out the top five fastest growing are red burgundy, up 39% in volume sales; viognier, 30%; pinot grigio, 30%; and pinot noir, 29%, according to IRI.
These and other wines are giving regions other than California a significant boost in wine volume sales. South Africa is up 134%; New Zealand, 79%; and Spain, 35%.
Malbec sales are up in the double digits at Dorothy Lane Markets, Dayton, Ohio, according to Todd Templin, beer and wine director.
“It's a great niche for us,” he said.
Part of its appeal is that it's a rich wine, though not as tannic as cabernet, Templin said. Its price tag is equally as applause-worthy. Altos Las Hormigas malbec from Argentina, one of Dorothy Lane's favorites, sells for $12.
“It's nice and fruity with a full-bodied taste and a little extra spice. It tastes like it should be more pricey,” Templin said.
Demand for malbec is so strong that over the last year Dorothy Lane has doubled the amount of malbec producers it carries to 25.
A ShopRite Liquor Store in Lincoln Park, N.J., is having success with malbec, according to store manager Keith Johnson. One of the store's best sellers is the Catena brand from Argentina.
“Malbec is on fire,” he said.
That's not surprising given its affordability, great taste and quality, Johnson noted.
“It has the fruit of merlot, and the backbone of cabernet,” Johnson said. “It's a fantastic wine.”
He started appreciating malbec on a visit to Argentina and Chile two years ago. Johnson was so impressed that he began stocking and promoting it.
Customers, too, are getting more educated about the wine.
“People will ask what malbec is, and where it's from,” he said. “They say they want to try it because they're tired of merlot and cabernet.”
They're also tired of paying steep prices for wine. Malbec has formed a following among many budget-conscious wine drinkers because it's about one-third the price of California wines, Johnson said. Many malbecs from South America with ratings in the 87 to 93 range sell for between $8 and $14.
“People come in every day and say, ‘I don't want to spend $30 on a bottle of wine. I heard about malbec. What do you think about it?’” Johnson said.
The store is carrying about one-third more South American wines now than it did last year.
“It's the best value for the money,” he said.
Several factors are increasing consumer awareness of malbec and other lesser-known wines. One is that press coverage on the health benefits of responsible consumption of wine is increasing, according to Dan Wandel, vice president of IRI's beer, wine and spirits practice. Supply and innovation have also improved.
“This makes for increased opportunity for consumers to try unique, smaller brands that are of excellent quality and value,” Wandel said.
Supermarkets can benefit from smaller wine producers in several ways. For one, they enable retailers to set their stores apart from the competition.
“Lesser-known brands can penetrate in some markets because retailers want to have a varied selection to differentiate themselves from other retailers,” Wandel said.
Jungle Jim's prides itself on offering both the popular and up-and-coming brands.
The retailer has had strong success with Old Vine Garnacha de Fuego, a Spanish wine made with 60- to 80-year old vines. Vines this old are said to produce a much finer wine.
“It's a great wine that has an 89 rating,” Schmerr said.
Better yet, it sells for just $7.99.
“We blow through it,” said Schmerr, noting that Jungle Jim's recently sold more than 50 cases in just three weeks.
Spanish wines in general do well at Jungle Jim's, which has about 25 different selections on display, and more than 100 in inventory. It frequently promotes them through tastings and other in-store events.
Along with Spain, other wine-making regions are also showing promise at Jungle Jim's, including Australia, South America and Italy.
“These and other regions have great wines under $10,” Schmerr said.
Meanwhile, as wine produced in other countries are gaining steam, there are plenty of up-and-coming domestic wines.
One of them is viognier, a white grape that originated in Condrieu, a small appellation in the Northern Rhône Valley of France.
“It has a different mouth-feel than chardonnay,” said John Hawley, owner of Hawley Wines in Sonoma, Calif., which specializes in viognier and merlot. “It's lighter bodied, and much more food-friendly.”
Viognier has special significance in France, where it's often the wine men choose to bring to their sweethearts, said Hawley, a former Kendall-Jackson winemaker who started making wines for himself several years ago.
Hawley viognier wines sell from $12 to $25, with most in the $21 range. They are available in California, including several Safeway stores.
“Once people taste viognier, they love it,” Hawley said.
Chardonnay remains the category leader, generating $1.1 billion in dollar sales at food and drug stores, a strong 9.3% increase. But malbec and other lesser-known varietals, although working from a much smaller base, are posting even faster growth.
|WINE||VOLUME SALES (CASES)*||% CHANGE||DOLLAR SALES*||% CHANGE|
|Source: Information Resources Inc. |
*Based on the 52 weeks ending Oct. 8 in food and drug stores.
Previous bottled water leader Aquafina is drowned out by sales of private-label brands.
|CATEGORY||SALES*||SALES % CHANGE VS. YEAR AGO||DOLLAR SHARE OF TYPE/CATEGORY||CHANGE IN SHARE VS. YEAR AGO|
| Whole Milk |
| Beer |
| Refrigerated O.J. |
TROPICANA PURE PREMIUM
| PET Bottled Water |
| Table Wine |
|Source: Information Resources Inc. |
*Sales in food, drug and mass, excluding Wal-Mart for the four weeks that ended Nov. 5.