Is wine going flat?

A lineup of Merlot samples at a recent wine tasting. After being eclipsed nearly 15 years ago by Pinot Noir, Merlot still hasn’t returned to is former status as America’s most-popular wine.



A Gallup poll released in July said beer continues to be the leading beverage among Americans who drink (40 percent preferred beer) followed by wine (30 percent) and spirits (26 percent).

That doesn’t surprise, since Gallup consumption polls dating to 1990 show similar results, with 2006 being the only year in which wine out-polled beer as the beverage of choice. The 2016 rating of 30 percent is the lowest wine has rated since 2002 and closing in on the historic lows of the early 1990s.

The most worrisome statistic, at least from the wine-lovers side of the poll, is that since 2006 beer has generally increased in popularity while wine has stayed flat or taken a dip.

Which sparked colleague Jeff Siegel (winecurmudgeon.com) to wonder if Americans were turning against wine. Siegel offered a few options for the drop-off, including higher costs for lesser-quality; competition from the craft beer movement (itself currently running with one flat tire after a decade of boom); cheaper prices for big-name beer after craft beer’s popularity; and the decline of wine sales in restaurants.

During a conversation among several judges at the recent Colorado Governor’s Cup Wine Competition, the consensus was it’s not only “all of the above” but also the increasingly restrictive blood-alcohol level laws.

Consumers simply are reluctant to have a glass or two of wine with dinner, and that is reflected in wine sales.

It’s curious to note that since the November election, both beer and wine have dropped a bit, while spirits, which normally contain a higher alcohol content, have shot up from 20 percent to about 26 percent.

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Aging wine — most Americans seem to accept that aging wine can be a good thing. But most Americans only age their wine for the time it takes to drive from the liquor store to home.

Now, according to a story from The Spoon, a website about kitchen and food technology, a California company has come up with a way to put years on a bottle of wine in less than a minute.

According to a PR sheet from Cavitation Technologies of Chatsworth, California, their “method and device” produces “desirable changes” in wine, including “altering the composition” to get “a superior homogeny, an extended shelf life and a mouth feel, flavor, bouquet, color and body resembling those of wine that was subjected to a traditional oak barrel maturation.”

And you thought such gibberish was limited to wine blogs.

One report says the method even reduces hangovers, which may be its biggest selling point.

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Finally, maybe you remember me mentioning the Colorado Cellars 1986 Merlot the judges tasted during the Governor’s Cup? Two notable surprises: One, that anyone still had a 1986 Colorado-made merlot and second, that the wine was in great shape (i.e. drinkable) after 31 years.

Prior to 2002 and the pinot noir-praising movie “Sideways,” it is fair to say merlot was America’s favorite wine. That ended after the movie’s protagonist and pinot-phile Paul Giamatti uttered his famous line, “If anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any (expletive) merlot.”

Soon, wineries were tearing out their merlot and planting pinot noir to meet the demand.

Today, merlot fans can rejoice. Merlot still hasn’t reached its former level of popularity in spite of some pretty good juice available.

A recent article by Julie R. Thomson in the HuffPost quotes Jessica Brady, a wine importer for Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, as saying, “When I go to a restaurant the first thing I do is look at the wine list and if I see Napa and I see a merlot, boom that’s what I’m getting. It’s the best value because of what pinot noir did.”

Brady also mentioned that a wine’s popularity “ebbs and flows.”

“Five years ago, it was shiraz from Australia, 10 years ago it was malbec from Argentina. I think 12 years ago it was pinot noir because of ‘Sideways,’” Brady told Thomson. “And now, not a lot of people are drinking merlot because it’s not trendy or fashionable.”

Which means that a decent or better merlot can still be a value, at least until it’s “discovered” again.

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