Wine Imports, Sales By The Numbers

I just received a copy of the Gomberg Report, which details wine sales and imports for the United States. There were some very interesting developments in 2014, as well as trends that surprised me. It is worth delving into some of the statistics.

The wine business continued to grow in 2014, with the value of total imports rising to $2.4 billion. The countries with the largest gains in volume are, from highest to lowest: Italy, France, New Zealand and Portugal. Italy continues to have strong demand in the U.S. Although the report does not show the varietal breakdown of imports, I might suggest that the continued growth of Pinot Grigio and sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Moscato as a category, the string of very good to great vintages in classic wine-producing areas such as Piedmont and Tuscany (2008, 2009 and 2010), as well as value-oriented Italian wines, have really led the charge.

France’s growth was led by the sparkling wine category, with its still wines just behind. Interestingly, Italy (33 percent) and France (26 percent) accounted for 59 percent of the total value of all imports, showing a strong market share in U.S. consumers’ palates. Our love for the wines of these two countries is still very strong.

The countries that showed decline in imports in order of biggest to smallest in volume loss are Australia, Argentina, Chile, Germany and Spain. These countries long have been a focus for importers and distribution houses to offer great values to the U.S. customer, and yet they all fell backward in 2014; all had grown the previous year (2013).

What is fascinating is that, although the total value of imports rose in 2014, the total imports declined by 2.1 percent in 2014 by volume. Perhaps the U.S. consumer is tired of trading down to value wines and is looking more toward the upper tier within their region/country of choice. Perhaps we are continuing the slow climb out of the recession and wine drinkers are claiming their stake in finer wines from the classic wine countries of Italy and France. I do see the demand for the very upper crust of French and Italian wines to remain strong; collectors, the affluent and avid wine drinkers will continue to drive these prices upward as the limited quantities of these wines determine the ever-increasing prices.

On the export front, the total value of American wines exported abroad shrunk by a mere 1 percent. The only two significant export markets that grew for American wine were Canada and Hong Kong. European Economic Community (EEC), Japan and China all fell. The economic woes of EEC and Japan surely are reflected in these numbers.

China’s performance brings a sobering note to exporters looking to that market for growth. Much of what I have read led to a buildup of inventories within China.

The value of the euro has softened as of late, which should lead to stronger demand for European wines, with some lower prices to be seen. Conversely, it bodes ill for the export market to that region of the world for our domestic producers. The Japanese yen also is soft, so demand for fine wine there will be diminished.

But for wine lovers, it is a great time to travel to Europe to visit your favorite wine region, as the dollar has strengthened. And where exports have faded, they tend to welcome visitors and tourists with open arms.

Recommendations: 2012 A. Clape Vin des Amis Syrah ($28) This is the kind of Syrah that reminds you why it is one of the “noble” grapes of the world. This wine sings with black fruit compote, olives, pomegranate and herbs. It is rich but not heavy. It has balance behind the rich tannin. It cries out for a slow-cooked leg of lamb or braised short ribs. 2013 Vallin Blanc ($24) This is an exotic wine made from Viognier and Marsanne in the Santa Barbara region. It has apricots and tropical nuances like pineapples and peaches. It has a rounded texture and keeps me engaged with such floral aromas. This is great with sautéed fish with lemon, butter and capers.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.
Twitter: @Pinotpusher