Merlot Takes Another Sideways Step


For many years one of the world’s favorite grapes, Merlot is suffering a slide in popularity.

Everyday Merlot could see its popularity slip away.

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| Everyday Merlot could see its popularity slip away.

Merlot’s reputation has struggled to recover from the battering it took in the 2004 movie Sideways, but it has been enjoying a return to favor – until now.

Search data shows that, while Merlot has perked up a little among Wine-Searcher users over the past five years, it has suffered a blow in the past 12 months – especially where it matters most.

In the year to the end of March, Merlot searches fell globally by 6 percent against the previous period, the worst performance of the major grape varieties. That’s against an overall drop in red wine searches of 3 percent and, of the top 10 most popular grape varieties, only Zinfandel (down 8 percent) fared worse.

By category, red wine got off lightly; dessert wine searches were also down 3 percent, while rosé searches fell a sobering 10 percent. White wines saw an increase of 12 percent, while sparkling wine searches were up by 13 percent.

For individual grape varieties, searches for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – the main components of sparkling wine – saw increases in search numbers of 24 and 23 percent, respectively. Sauvignon Blanc continued to pique consumer interest with a rise of 3 percent in search volumes.

In the US, the world’s largest wine market, the picture was slightly better for Merlot, seeing only a 4 percent drop in searches. The big movers in the US were Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, which increased their share of searches by 18, 13 and 10 percent, respectively. That was driven by hefty increases in searches for Burgundy (up 25 percent), Champagne (up 16 percent) and Marlborough, which saw its share of searches rise by 10.5 percent.

The big worry for Merlot producers, however, is when it comes to click-throughs. Click-throughs are when someone clicks on a link on our find page, taking them to a merchant page, denoting an intention to purchase. The average click-through price has gone up across all the main categories and grape varieties, except Merlot. Globally, average click-through prices for Merlot have decreased by 50 percent in the year to March 31, a huge drop. In the US alone, the average click-through price fell by 25 percent.

This is against a backdrop of rising average click-through prices. Red wines as a category saw average prices rise by 11 percent, with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah enjoying average price rises of 14, 16 and 20 percent, respectively. Even Zinfandel managed a 7 percent hike.

White wines enjoyed a rise in average click-through price of 12 percent, with Chardonnay up 10 percent and Sauvignon Blanc up 15 percent. Riesling, a perennial bridesmaid when it comes to search numbers, also managed a respectable 7 percent average price rise.

Those figures exclude wines with an average retail price of more than $1000, so none of the above really applies to heavyweights like Petrus and Le Pin. However, it doesn’t bode well for the mortal winemakers, trying to sell straight Merlot to the world. A sideways step indeed.

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