The apothic-alypse - the rise of sweet red wines

apothicred

There’s a new red wine that’s becoming a bit of a hit. But the wine writing fraternity are up in arms. It’s Apothic red, from California, and leading UK critic Tim Atkin has described it as ‘undrinkable’.

The problem? It’s sweet. It has 16.4 grams per litre of residual sugar. It certainly isn’t the first red wine to be sweetened up like this: over the last decade, residual sugar levels have been creeping up, and producers have found that regular punters quite like reds that are marketed as dry, but which taste a little sweet.

Winemakers will produce a dry wine, and then at the blending bench they will add some grape juice concentrate: sticky gooey stuff made by evaporating down grape juice (see my blog post on this). Yellowtail, the famous Australian wine brand, was a big hit in part because its reds contained around 10 g/litre of sugar.

I bumped into the Apothic red, which is made by Gallo, at the Tesco press tasting. I then opened a sample bottle that I had at home. Here are my considered thoughts.

FOR:

It has a sense of deliciousness. In its style, this is a well balanced wine. The fruit is ripe (sometimes these sweeter reds can have a sickly combination of sweet and green), and there’s nice, seductive vanilla, mocha coffee and spice as well as the sweet berry fruits. It is the sort of red wine that people who have a problem with most reds may well like. There are many wine drinkers who simply don’t drink red wine at all, because they just can’t get on with the bitterness and astringency of the tannins. This could act as a bridge wine for non-red-wine drinkers. The branding and packaging is very clever: wine needs more strong brands. I remember the first wine that really grabbed me; that I found delicious. It was a Berri Estates Shiraz Cabernet back in the early 1990s. As a student I was used to grotty European reds (I was on a budget), and the sweetly fruited Australian actually tasted nice. This wine tastes nice, unless you are a wine nut who has become sensitized to sweetness in reds. Most people wouldn’t think of this as a sweet wine unless it was pointed out to them; they’d just think it was tasty.

AGAINST:

It’s not a reflection of the vineyard. It’s a ‘made’ wine. It appeals to those with a sweet tooth; generally speaking, there’s too much sugar in our diets these days, and we should wean our palates off sweetness. I wouldn’t recommend it to my readers here, but having said that, I don’t think this is a bad or evil wine. In its style it’s very well made.

Here’s a film of me tasting the wine, with an illustration of exactly what 16 g of sugar looks like:

21 comments to The apothic-alypse – the rise of sweet red wines

  • Paul Dove

    Not enjoying this dry reds that taste sweet trend at all. It’s become very evident in the last year or so.

    At the very least, winemakers should make it clear on the bottle itself the amount of sugar in their wine so those of us who don’t like this alcopops style don’t waste their money.

  • Jamie, I have to defend Apothic Red and how important choice is to the industry…

    Full disclosure, I work for Nomacorc and we close this wine with our 21st century engineered corks. I purchase this wine regularly for my wife who is a big fan. Apothic red wine meets her taste palate and it is consistent and perfect every time. She doesn’t drink the white or the special edition Dark Apothic. Just red.

    Every wine has a target audience and isn’t for everyone. I am a big fan of big bold Italian wines that she finds to dry and with too much tannin. That’s what I love about those wines, something for everyone.

    I like deep roasted dark coffees like French Roast. Some people like coffee that is more mild, mellow and lighter. We don’t criticize people for liking full-fat ice cream versus non-fat yogurt, do we? I believe wine is more like other CPG (consumer packaged goods) products and not everyone will like everything wine equally.

    So I don’t think the apothic-lypse is coming. Cheers to the variety of options in the wine industry.

  • Mark Scott

    I bought a couple of bottles of this from Costco a few months ago and quite enjoyed one with a meal. But tasting it up against a wide range of more “normal” wines at a recent Tesco wine fair, I couldn’t believe how nasty it was: possibly my least favorite wine of the day (though I did avoid many known stinkers).

    Now I don’t know what to do with my remaining bottle. Perhaps I should give it to someone who doesn’t really like red wine?

  • Andrew Halliwell

    Jamie – good job, very balanced of you, considering this isn´t really your thing. Until recently I was working in Canada and about 12-18 months ago, this wine appeared from nowhere and everyone was drinking it. Sort of a Californian Yellowtail, as you imply. We made an effort to copy it for our “Cellared in Canada” programme and it’s not as easy as people think. I think the point you make about the fruit needing to be ripe is the key point. You can make balanced wines in this style, that don´t even seem sweet to many people, if you are clever / have no fear of industrial winemaking. We were also instructed by our Marketing Dept. to try something similar about 6 years ago in Spain (for the export market, in this case to copy Red Guitar / Bogle etc).

    Obviously this wine has no real sense of place and isn´t going to appeal to most of the people who read your blog. Yet there are a lot of people who will enjoy this wine – and the point you make about perhaps serving as a bridge to red wines is a valid one.

    As a winemaker it´s kind of frustrating to be asked to make this kind of wine, when you´d rather be going for DRC. But at a large winery, it’s a business, there’s a market and you need to make money. Do these wines serve to bring people in the from the fold and get them into more “serious” wines down the line, or are we just dumbing down and pandering to the masses and the rise of sugar in our diets??

  • It is all over Canada, and popular with the same wine drinkers looking to jammy inexpensive California Merlot, I try to direct people to some of the recently available Georgian semi sweet red wines that have also recently appeared and have a great sense of place.

    On the Yellow Tail note a bottle of US purchased Chard appeared at a BBQ couple of years ago then a Canadian purchased bottle appeared, I had to compare them, the US purchased wine was in the 15-18g/lt RS and the Canadian purchased one was maybe 6-7 /lt RS, same wine different market and yes Apothic Red is now chasing that market.

  • Tracy Cervellone

    It is still difficult to believe professionals in the wine business, and supposedly well informed consumers, are trying to tell people what they should, and should not, think tastes good. The market response to these wines has been remarkable. I may not like sweet reds, but 35 years ago, I adored them.

    I’m now a CWE, 25 year Wine industry veteran. I started off with wines not unlike Apothic Red. Yes, it is a confection. We aren’t talking about terroir or food pairing..but I progressed steadily to the rather rickety heights of wine taste that I currently balance on. It happens that way to most of us. And if your taste doesn’t progress any farther:
    SO WHAT?
    Also: why do we regale classic sweet white wines like Sauternes and Auslese, perfectly willing to add less expensive white examples to our cellars, but confine our praise of sweetness in reds to Port, fortified and near fortified styles? What is it about sweetness in a red wine that angers so many “serious” palates? It just seems so churlish.
    News flash: More than one now very “serious” wine drinker started on the inexpensive, sweet mass market style. I would much rather see a new wine consumer enjoying *gasp* a sweet red, than a cheap, huge can of beer or a high ABV flavored malt beverage.
    Time to get off the high horse, folks. A lot of these inexperienced drinkers move on quickly, like I did.

  • Bob Parsons

    For inexperienced wine drinkers who ask for a sweet red, this will hit the spot. There is a market for a wine like this but obviously serious wine drinkers will give it a pass for sure. It sure arrived in Canada with a lot of hoop-la last year.

  • Paul Dove

    Lots of good points here. But no one’s saying these confected sweet reds should be banned. Just that the public should know what they’re getting, especially as it’s becoming a pervasive style which is also increasingly evident in European wines not just Californian and Australian.
    Just to repeat, surely the solution is to print the residual sugar levels on the label itself – like ABV levels. At least then the consumer has a chance of knowing what style of wine they’re paying for.

  • I saw, and tasted this wine at a recent Tesco Wine Club show – where I was manning another stand. The wine stands out as being remarkably sweet and confected, but I agree with Jeffrey that it will find quite a number of fans. I would not buy it personally. Everyone starts their journey somewhere, and this can act as a staging post for those starting out on reds. In this sense I think it will be an important wine. Once they have drunk a few bottles, their taste will become drier, I suppose. One cannot live on a diet of mars bars after all :)

  • Instead of wine critics telling the world they must drink a certain style of wine they should be listening to what the world wants in wine – over half the population has a “sweet” palate and if winemakers ignore that fact they are ignoring a large segment of the market.

  • Richard Holmes

    Real “men” don’t like “sweet” wine; “men” like their steaks bloody and their reds full-bodied – let’s say an Argentine Malbec of a Californian Zin. They would prefer not to know how much residual sugar is in the bottle as liking sweet wine is “sissy”.
    So, while labelling is an interesting idea (personally I like the idea of abv for actual and potential alcohol – Tolley’s used to do this in the 90s for their Late Harvest Muscat – which would help with German Riesling’s too)any suggestion of sweetness on the packaging of a red wine is likely to alienate a substantial number of male consumers.

  • Nicely said, Tracy. I wasn’t aware there were wine police who made sure consumers only drank critically accepted wines.

    It’s one thing to note that a wine tastes a certain way, but it’s something completely different to tell consumers they’re less of a wine drinker if they drink wines that the Winestream Media disapproves of.

  • Donn Rutkoff

    Many of us drank Mateus, Blue Nun, Lancers, and Riunite Lambrusco. Now we drink dry reds.

    It is good to expand the universe of wine drinkers. Gallo, it is funny, took them a while to catch on to how do it in a nice new package instead of their old “wino” packages. Menage a Trois built a big lead on Gallo.

    I have been working in wine a mere 13 years. I still can’t fathom what the bigtime newsletter writers and glossy mag reviewers mean, why they can’t use simple English. My customers, for the most part, ignore all the written stuff, because it is either gibberish or just plain false.

    I do marvel, that with all the “truth in labeling” laws and so forth in the US, so much wine label wordage is still so far removed from reality. Oh well. When “Founders Estate” is neither the founders vineyards nor estate, and Korbel sells California Champagne, the public learns that most label wordage is worthless. Imagine how large the US wine market really could be if the industry had a simple standard for sweetness. Huge. Really huge.

  • Jamie: I wonder if the idea of the mainstream wine media picking on these wines is a straw man.

    I wrote about Apothic and the category for a trade magazine. I searched for mainstream press coverage of it and found very little.

    In the trade, plenty of people are opposed, but that’s their prerogative, as they can choose to sell whatever they like. People I spoke to who are selling Apothic Red are happy with how well it sells.

    Your general conclusion — well-made for what it is, not for me, can see why this is popular, not something I want to recommmend — is essentially what I’ve heard from most wine writers I’ve spoken to. The exceptions have actually been more forcefully for the category, and I haven’t personally spoken to any wine writers against it.

  • roger sewell

    Why on EARTH are Waitrose sullying their reputation by putting this muck on their shelves? This is a TRULY HIDEOUS product. Is it only me? I’m only angry because I was fool enough to buy some. This sickly gunk should be banned from wine shops and given to Jesse (Breaking Bad) for his homeys to sell on the street corners of Albuquerque as an emergency antidote to bad crystal meth. WHAT A LOUSY PR JOB FOR THE CALIFORNIAN WINE INDUSTRY!

  • Tessa Z

    I think Jamie did an great job – context and understanding of wine and the average drinker – well done – I like the brew – and I know it’s really popular in restaurants – a “favourite” – I am concerned about the sugar, so will have to watch out for that.

  • Mark W

    I spend a lot of time pouring small estate hand crafted Canadian wines from British Columbia. What worries me is….wine newbies who are on to Apothic style sweetened reds are using this wine as a benchmark as to what a good red tastes like. Every other red wine would taste bitter after a sip of Apothic. And then there are the health benefits to more sugar. I would like to see labelling laws to be improved so consumers know what they are getting?

  • Lee Russell

    How gutted am I!

    I really enjoyed this wine and googled it to see reviews on it and came across this review.

    I am gutted because I hate sugar being added to things and had no idea that had been done. Maybe it was obvious to wine people but I am no wine expert and wouldn’t have described it as sweet (just like the reviewer said).

    I also disagree with Richard Holmes. Wanting to know what is being poured down your throat does not make you less of a man.

  • Craig B

    “The problem? It’s sweet. It has 16.4 grams per litre of residual sugar.” Wow! I didn’t know how “sweet” this wine was till I read this article.

    No more orange juice in the morning for me – that 240ml glass has 24 grams of sugar. And forget about a Mountain Dew with 124 grams of sugar per litre.

    16.4g per litre. I guess I won’t drink this wine so I can cut down on my sweet tooth. But if I don’t eat that Snickers bar with 18g of sugar I could drink the whole bottle…..

  • Laura Estrella

    I am a woman Richard Holmes that knows about wine enough to dislike this Aphotic red blend from California. In my opinion it has to be a law that regulates the information in the label for this type of sweet wines, in order to protect the consumers in general when buying a red blend that taste like a bad dessert wine. I bought this wine on sale to taste it for the first time and I regret expending $9 on this wine while I could have bought a decent Malbec with that money and have a great red wine for dinner. This wine sells well because it’s all the time on sale and people buy it by mistake. I would like for the distributor to add the word “sweet” on the label description, so they stop misleading customers and target the audience that likes White Zinfandel.

  • robert sallay

    I got a bottle of Apothic Red as a gift for Christmas, I never had a sweet red in my life before. This was very very nice. I would buy this myself, maybe not all the time but certainly will have some more. My favourite is a nice merlot long given up on shiraz.

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