December 04, 2007

Yellow Tail For All

Wine trivia pops up in the oddest places. Lying around the office was a copy of The Milken Institute Review, which appears to be the in-house publication of the Milken Institute—as in Michael Milken, of junk bond fame. Who knew? Inside, among other things, was a fun essay on the wine industry, by Philip Martin of UC Davis:
There have been three important changes in American wine drinkers over the past two decades. First, Americans upgraded their palates, moving from inexpensive jug wines with retail prices of less than $3 a bottle to popular-premium wines costing $3 to $7, super-premium wines at $7 to $14 a bottle and ultra-premiums, which cost more than $14.

Second, preferences are shifting toward reds, both because palates have become more sophisticated and because red wines may have health benefits that whites do not.

Third, Americans increasingly prefer the consistent taste of fruity (high-acid, high-sugar) wines produced in California, Argentina, Australia, Chile and New Zealand to the "mystery in every bottle" (typically drier) wines from Old World Europe. This trend has been accelerated (or, skeptics maintain, created) by the independent critic Robert Parker, who changed the global wine-rating business by setting a high ethical standard in his wine reviews that was missing before he vaulted to prominence in the 1980s.
That's interesting about Parker (as is his Wikipedia page, which notes that some chateau owners are so desperate to curry favor with the guy that they've done everything from send death threats to offer up their daughters). Meanwhile, I assume U.S. demand is going to keep growing rapidly—especially if we keep getting bombarded with 60 Minutes specials on how those accursed French oenophiles never get heart disease. And that could make things interesting.

After all, Americans seem to prefer the California/New Zealand/Australia style of winemaking, which strives for consistency across vintages, has an the alcohol level around 13-14 percent, and does away with some of the musty old European techniques like using wooden casks. So we''d expect European winemakers to adopt some of these methods in response, no? Surely someone's noticed that Yellow Tail is doing very, very well (by Martin's estimate, it now accounts for about a fifth of all U.S. wine imports, and Australia has surpassed Italy in U.S. sales). Then again, maybe it's just the cute 'critter' label, which can make any wine a hot seller here in the U.S.A.
-- Brad Plumer 8:20 PM || ||