Every few years at Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute we launch a survey of the American wine consumer in order to understand their wine drinking preferences and shopping behavior. This year we surveyed a representative sample of 1,191 American wine consumers living in all 50 states. The results of the survey – some quite surprising and others similar to previous years – have been reported in an article with WineBusiness.com entitled “Snapshot of the American Wine Consumer in 2018.” To read the article, CLICK HERE.
But What Varietals Do Americans Prefer?
However, one item we left out of this year’s survey was a question asking Americans about the wine varietals they prefer. Instead we asked them about preferred style of wine. The reason we left out the varietal question was because every year we received the same exact response as that reported by Nielsen Scan Data in Wine Business Monthly. Therefore in order not to duplicate questions, we refer people to this great magazine. Despite this, I still receive numerous emails from people around the world asking me about the varietals that Americans prefer. So, here is the answer to the question based on the Nielsen Table Wine Category Segments for 52 weeks ending Sept. 9, 2018. This information was published in table format in the most recent issue of WBM January 2019 on pages 216-217.
Most Popular Wine Varietals in the US by Volume
From this chart, we can see that chardonnay is still number one in terms of volume, followed by cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris, red blends, and merlot. Volume is reported here in 1’000s of 9-liter cases. The most growth in terms of volume in the past 52 weeks was sauvignon blanc at 4.3%. The biggest losses were syrah at -7.4%, white zinfandel at -7.4%, and malbec at -6.3%.
Most Popular Wine Varietals in the US by Dollar Sales
Figure 2, illustrating sales volume during the past 52 weeks in the US market, reported in US$ millions, shows that cabernet sauvignon edged out chardonnay by $26 million to assume first place. This is followed by reds blends, pinot gris, and pinot noir. Predictions that cabernet sauvignon may soon replace chardonnay as America’s favorite wine varietal appear to be coming true in terms of sales revenues, because chardonnay showed zero growth in sales in the past 52 weeks, whereas cabernet sauvignon showed a sales growth rate of 3.7%. The other winner here was sauvignon blanc that grew at 5.7%. Biggest losers were white zinfandel and malbec that both lost -7% in sales during the past 52 weeks.
Top 5 Best Selling Wine Varietals in US Market by Volume and Sales
In combining these two graphs, keeping sales in US$ millions and converting volume to 10,000s 9-liter cases, it becomes clear that currently the top 5 best selling wine varietals in the US market for the past year are: 1) Cabernet Sauvignon, 2) Chardonnay, 3) Red Blends, 4) Pinot Grigio/Gris, and 5) Pinot Noir.
One caveat about the Nielsen wine scan data is that it primarily reflects off-premise wine purchases, and doesn’t include direct to consumer wine sales from wineries or restaurant/bar wine sales. However, since more than 80% of wine in America is sold via off-premise (grocery stories, wine shops, etc.) this is still a good reflection of wine sales in the US. Furthermore, the Nielsen scan data has always reflected the same preferences as we receive on our surveys.