What do Zinfandel, Riesling, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc all have in common? Well, for a start, none of them even make the top 10 of America's favorite wine grapes.
That's quite a reversal for some of the most popular and well considered grapes ever to be turned into wine. Just 15 years ago, Merlot was a byword for red wine, while Riesling made some of the most revered wines in the world, Sauvignon was charming consumers by the million and Zinfandel was an American icon; the turnaround has been remarkable.
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The top three wines will come as no surprise to anyone and anyone with even the vaguest passing interest in wine would be able to predict that Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the thinking of US wine drinkers. It is, after all, the world's favorite wine grape, so why should Americans be any different? However, a closer look at the data surrounding wine searches by grape variety does throw up some unusual results.
First among those is that Cabernet isn't necessarily the popular grape, despite its massive influence on searches. What do I mean? Well, it's like this: we classify wines by grape variety here at Wine-Searcher, which means that blends tend to get treated as varieties in their own right. So the second-favorite grape is, it turns out, a blend – the Bordeaux blend, to be specific. However, farther down the list is a separate entry for Cabernet-Merlot blends; add that figure to the Bordeaux blend one and straight Cabernet drops to second place.
Overall, the top 10 grape varieties (or blends) among US users are:
Those 10 varieties account for 62 percent of all US searches on Wine-Searcher, which shows something of a disconnect between what consumers are interested in and what they are being offered. The list for offers – that is, the wines that are actually being offered for sale by US retailers – is quite different.
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Riesling are significantly overrepresented, while Sangiovese and Nebbiolo don't figure at all.
It's a picture that is repeated when you break the data down by state and, for a country made up of 50 disparate states, the level of homogeneity among searchers is quite remarkable. In all but two states the most popular search is either for Cabernet or a Bordeaux blend.
However, there seems to be a lot of Chardonnay sloshing around in retail salerooms – it is the most-offered wine in four state (Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Maine and Wyoming) and the second most-offered in a further 18. That's despite never being the most searched-for variety in any state.
Disparities between varieties wanted and varieties available are relatively minor in most states, however, a special mention must go to Nebraska, where 9.6 percent of wines on offer are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, while that grape accounts for 19.2 percent of all searches in the state. The most-stocked wine is what we class as the rare red blend category (basically all the unusual red blends; Syrah-Nerello Mascalese, Tempranillo-Aglianico blends and the like), which makes up 13.4 percent of all offers, even though it attracts only 4.5 percent of searches.
The two states where Cabernet/Bordeaux blends aren't top of the heap, by the way, are Oregon and Vermont. Both states are full of Pinot-philes, which is entirely understandable in Oregon's case, given its Pinot production. Some 17.4 percent of all searches there are for Pinot, reflecting the importance of the grape to the state's wine industry. That importance is magnified when you look at the offered wines – Pinot makes up almost a quarter of all wines for sale in Oregon, at 23.9 percent of offers.
Vermont is not quite as emphatic about its tastes. Pinot accounted for 11.3 percent of all searches there and it also topped the offers, making up 16.5 percent of the total wines on offer.
And back to the nation's favorite, Cabernet Sauvignon for a moment – who loves it the best? You'd think that it would be California, the home of rich, ripe, shamelessly overpriced Cabernet, right? Or even New York, a city of sophisticates gorging themselves on the finest of what Bordeaux has to offer?
Nope. The most Cabernet-crazy state in the US is Hawaii, of all places, where Cabernet searches account for 20.6 percent of all searches, the highest proportion in the country. Living on an island paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean must be thirsty work.