Merlot: The Red Delicious Apple of the Wine World
As I was perusing the produce section of my local Safeway this weekend I was trying to decide which fruit to get for the week. I love apples so I decided to go that direction. For the first time in quite a while I did not reach for the Pink Ladies or the Galas. I went back to my old staple. The apple that started my love affair with apples; the Red Delicious. I found myself being momentarily self conscious. I know I have friends that would be appalled that I chose the old standard rather than searching out a “more flavorful” or “less mainstream” variety. Now I usually love my Galas in CA, Empires in NY, and love of all loves the King apple that I’ve only found in Hendersonville, NC but something about that shiny, dark crimson flesh with the white spots spoke to me. There’s nothing wrong with the Red Delicious, it’s usually the sterlingly beautiful example of what a theoretical apple should be, absent of defects but also lacking in any really distinguishing factor outside of it’s color. It’s moderately sweet, moderately acidic, and moderately crunchy which appeals to the mass majority of apple consumers. I was instantly struck by how similar the Red Delicious apple variety is to Merlot.
Merlot is one of those varieties that people who are really geeky about wine love to disparage. It doesn’t have the power of Cabernet or the delicacy and finesse of Pinot Noir. It lacks the spiciness of Syrah and the depth of Malbec. Merlot has been turned into, in so many people’s minds, the standard red wine just like the Red Delicious is the standard red apple. However because Merlot possesses so many qualities that are widely appealing to the wine consuming masses it has some how been deemed uncool.
Go ahead, blame the movie “Sideways”. No one can dispute that it helped push Pinot Noir from relative obscurity to mainstream obsession but did it really hit Merlot as hard as everyone said it did? I was working in upstate NY when the movie came out and if I had a dollar for every customer who asked me if I had seen the movie I would be a wealthy woman right now. All these people tended to stay away from Merlot in favor of Pinot. But what about the regular average consumer? The people who are casual wine drinkers? The “Mr and Mrs Cul-de-sac” as one of my marketing people loves to say? What do they think of Merlot? Signs point to mainstream America loving Merlot.
Consider the data that started me off on this apple/grape comparison put forth so eloquently by Steve Heimoff in a recent post.
Here’s the direct quote from his Nielson Data breakdown that really got me thinking.
“Despite rumors of a “Sideways effect,” 45 percent of participants in Nielsen’s custom survey of Merlot drinkers never saw the movie, and 93 percent of those that saw the movie say it had no effect on their opinion of Merlot”
It is very easy, as avid wine drinkers, to assume that your tastes are the tastes of the rest of country. On the contrary, avid wine drinkers (and if you’re reading this blog that probably includes you) really only make up around 20% of the wine drinking population, which in turn, is only 30% of the population of the country as a whole. (Sources: Constellation’s Home and Habitat study in 2008 and the economics portion of the Mastering Wine Seminar at UC Davis a few weeks ago)
Now who feels like they are in the minority?
Turns out that like the Red Delicious apple, Merlot is hugely popular. More so, it never really lost popularity with the core group of people who were consuming it. So instead of looking down on Merlot, maybe we should rediscover it? If you haven’t had a Merlot in a while, try one this week! Maybe you’ll even try an Emma Pearl Merlot (SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY OWN WINE). While you’re at it if you’re one of those Foodie types that thinks the Red Delicious is a dull flavorless variety that is not to be consumed by educated palates, go buy yourself one of those too! Let’s all branch out and try something that we haven’t in a while just to see if we had the wrong notion in the first place.
Let me know what you find!