Imported Wine Category Shows Growth After Three-Year Slump

The U.S. market’s imported still wine category grew in 2011 for the first time in three years, due to strong growth from Old World and New World producers. Key factors contributing to the rebound include growing interest overseas in the long-term growth potential of the U.S. wine market, the willingness of younger adults to experiment with new varietals and a reduction in the California wine grape crush. Total (bottled and bulk) imported wine volume in the U.S. increased 7.3% to approximately 98.6 million cases in 2011, according to Impact Databank. The volume of imported bottled still wine advanced 2.7% to approximately 75.3 million cases, while imported bulk still wine surged 25.1% to the equivalent of approximately 23.4 million cases.

David Kent, CEO of The Wine Group, notes that California wine grape plantings have failed to keep pace with the growth of domestic consumption. Kent anticipates that imported wine growth will strengthen throughout the decade. “The two key factors driving current import demand—the relative shortage of California wine and the tendency to explore by millennial consumers—will not likely change in the near-term. And if the U.S. dollar grows stronger, the import party will likely kick into high gear,” he says.

Our thoughts: We believe the sales increase of imported wines may not be so much related to the shortage of California wines, but rather to the interest of wine consumers to explore new international wine regions. The quality/price ratios of some premium imported wines have an advantage over U.S. wines, giving consumers more varied options. In addition, Millennials are, and will continue to be, a major force shaping the wine trends in the U.S. It is wise to gain their loyalty early on, and keep introducing other wines offerings at different price points as Millennials buying power increases.

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Rioja CorksRioja in The Chicago Tribune!
Bill St. John's "Uncorked" column featured Rioja in The Chicago Tribune! Titled, "Red wines of Rioja, Spain, are the world's best value in aged wine," Bill explains how Rioja wines are set apart from any other wine region of the world, using aging techniques and grape blends. Here is a quick highlight from the article:

Chicago TribuneMuch that's nice occurs to red wine as it ages, but not its escalating price (unless you're selling). That's why the red wines of Rioja, Spain, are the world's best value in aged wine... All of which means that Rioja, for its singularity of mission to be the most becoming pre-aged wine on the market, is also very miscellaneous of flavor and approach. But isn't that great? Sometimes you'd rather wear silk; another, denim. One night, it's salmon; the next, grilled lamb. Today, it's Rioja with food; tomorrow, by itself. – Bill St. John.

Read the full article.

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Tyler Field Interview with Tylor Field, III of Morton's/Oceanaire
We recently spoke with Tylor Field, III, divisional VP/Wine and Spirits for Morton's The Steakhouse/ Oceanaire Seafood Room about wine education, trends and Riojas at Morton’s.

Tell us a bit about the wine list at Morton's Steakhouse. How is it special?
The wine list at Morton’s is set up with a heavy bent to American red wines. Red wines make up 80% of our sales of which 90% of that are American. However, we populate our list with the best red and white wine regions of the world to create balance. We also realize that there may be “regionalized” guest preferences. For example, in Oregon there is a heavier bend on home town Pinot Noirs. In Miami, the sale of Spanish wines is three times higher than other parts of the country, so we modify. Our lists are generally 250 bottle selections with 28 wines by the glass. The largest trend over the last five years has been the growth of the wine by the glass sector. Guests want to experience a few different wines when they are with us versus splurging on one wine. Wines by the glass are a chance to have affordable luxury and the chance to compare and contrast with different menu items.

Are guests a bit more adventurous in wine selection than a few years ago? Is value still playing a part in wine selection as it was a couple of years ago?
Value is the name of the game and the most important factor for our guests. The days of the expense account “splurge” is over. Over the last five years the amount of wine that our guests have consumed has increased but the amount they spend has decreased per person. The trick for a business is to keep that in balance. As long as you can still offer great value, you will sell as much as you did before. It’s the old mantra “It’s better to make three nickels than one dime.”

Why do you think the wines of Rioja would have appeal with consumers? What are great food pairings for Rioja wine?
Rioja is an Old World name but has marketed itself to the New World in the right way. There are old school Tempranillos as well as new and exciting flavors coming from the region. The prices have also remained reasonable versus their other European neighbors. It may sound strange, but the fact that in Rioja the ageing of great Rioja wine is mandated for longer periods due to law, it is also a way for our guests to explore older wines. Most of the world now drinks wine the day it comes out. Being able to try a Gran Reserva with 5-8 years of bottle age for the same price is extremely appealing to our guests.

With so many restaurants and so many sommeliers on the floor every night, wine education must be an important component at Morton's. Will you talk to this a bit?
All of our assistant managers, who run the local wine programs, are required to attend and pass the entry-level course for the Court of Master Sommeliers. We then complement that training with our own in-house training. Training is constant and you have to get the wine in the mouths of the staff, so we spend a lot of time tasting. Telling a 22-year old that a wine has the aroma of cow pasture and rose petals is a waste of time. Let them experience it and create their own point of view. You will sell more wine.

What is the biggest challenge of selling Rioja wines? How would a sommelier work around this challenge?
It’s not that challenging. However, in an “American” themed restaurant, if you are a wine from another part of the world you will need to fight a little harder. I think Rioja wines, due to Spanish cuisine culture, will enjoy more success. The “small plate tapas” boom is happening in our country now. Rioja will be at the forefront.

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West Coast PartyRioja Kicks Off on the West Coast
In May, the Rioja team held a spring kick-off event at Campanile restaurant in Los Angeles. The trade tasting showcased more than 140 diverse Riojas, from elegantly aged Blancos and Gran Reservas to modern Alta Expresion wines, and features tapas food pairings by Campanile executive chef and owner Mark Peel. More than 30 importers were represented. Thank you to those who attended!

Aspen LogoRioja in Aspen
Will you be there? We will! Stop by the Wines From Spain tent at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic (June 15-17) to taste more than 15 Rioja wines and chat with Rioja experts. During the festival, you can also catch Rioja pouring some of our premium wines at the VIP Jose Andres party. We hope to see you there! For more information about the festival, click here.

To view all our upcoming events around the country, click here.

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Buying RiojaInterested in creating a rich Rioja program to offer the clientele at your store, restaurant or bar? Vibrant Rioja resources are vast and attractive and can generate a dynamic and prosperous program for your establishment with a wine category on the rise.

Please contact for further information.

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