The apothic-alypse – the rise of sweet red wines


The apothic-alypse – the rise of sweet red wines


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.


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.


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:

47 Comments on The apothic-alypse – the rise of sweet red winesTagged
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

47 thoughts on “The apothic-alypse – the rise of sweet red wines

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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??

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

  18. 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.

  19. “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…..

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. I have tried to broaden my wine repertoire this holiday and moved from white to red.
    Apothic Red was the first red wine I really enjoyed so far. The amount of sugar is disappointing. Can anyone suggest another with similar taste that does not have the sugar. I am still experimenting.

  23. I’m a big fan and had no idea you could even cram all this sugar in. Nonetheless I will still drink it. Must be better than a can of Coke!

    I wonder, what alternatives are there that people like in the “full-bodied red” realm? I’ve discovered a few … but would love suggestions!

    I’m happy if they’re good alternatives to Apothic.

  24. I just bought a bottle of this at my local late store. It was on offer. I just tried it. Great rich color and nose. Initially, it did not strike me as particularly sweet – only after reading this. Certainly an unusual flavor and aftertaste. But its OK as far as I am concerned. I like it. I have been drinking wine for perhaps 40 years and have long since realized that a lot of nonsense is peddled by so called experts. I cant for the life of me find what is good about Hermtage, for example, even paying a lot for a bottle. As regards sweetness in wines with food, what is wrong with that? Have you ever drunk Amontillado with steak? Its great. I can hear the roar of “heathen”.

  25. It is a fantastic debate and one that illustrates the wonderful diversity in the world of wine. I am not a fan of Apothic but must respect they have made a wine that a large part of the market especially here in the US enjoys and buys again and again.

    This is a style popular with those looking for a crowd pleaser and I note some of the ‘serious’ wine buyer comments above about not being able to detect the high levels of sugar. Many of the flavours are those that both regular and occasional wine drinkers find attractive, so why not! As for the labelling issue there are far more interesting debates to be had like ‘Just how much of your favourite New Zealand Pinot Noir is actually from New Zealand’ – have fun with that one 🙂

  26. Most of these comments make me nauseous. Why do wine drinkers have to be SO snobby? (For the record, I’m an avid wine drinker and have tried an inconceivable amount of amazing, rare, and expensive wines. My family owns a fine-dining Italian restaurant where I have worked before and we were required to have extensive knowledge of wines and pairing options.) anyway, the last time I visited Napa valley, I had the pleasure of staying at the Robert Mondavi estate. There are many wine snobs in my family (I find them/you all to be ignorant and laughable) but at one point we were doing a wine tasting in a barn where we continued to use the same glass and learned the art of flinging wine out of our glass on to the ground. It was an amazing experience and the extremely knowledgable wine crafter told us (when he realized a portion of my family was put-off by this actioon, “let me tell you a secret..people drink wine because there is ALCOHOL in it” I laughed so hard… Just how I’m laughing at you all now. You don’t drink wine because you’re classy and better than others… You drink it because there is alcohol in it. This being said, I love Apothic Red and I’m lucky enough to be able to afford (almost) any wine that I desire.

  27. Calling a crappy wine what it is, does not a snob make. If McDonald’s produced wine, it would be this swill. That said, nobody is judging you commenters for enjoying it. Just don’t pretend your McWine is quality; we all know the difference.

  28. I bought this wine as it was rated 0 on the local scale of sweetness.. ie.. LESS than 5 grams residual sugar per litre. That is what they call a zero sweetness code.

    IN actual fact it is 16.4 grams per litre or at LEAST triple the sugar expected.

    THis has nothing to do with preference when you are diabetic.

    Expect more lawsuits BC LDB.

    This is a sickly sweet wine with a bunch of vanilla added in.

  29. Did anyone notice at various stores someone stuck a sticky note by the apothic reds stating it was the best wine they ever tasted (or something to that effect) I think it may have been a very clever or at least devious advertising campaign on the part of apothic

  30. I may be uncouth and I am sorry, but I do like the taste, I think it’s sublime, decadent, but taste is, after all, an individual experience. So my question to you experts is; Can you reccomend something as rich and full bodied as Apothic? An alternative? I may like a sweet red it seems, this doesn’t make me sad! I just love the depth I feel it has, yet being smooth as s baby’s behind! I’d really appreciate any advice because I’m a complete novice.

    Thank you!

  31. This wine was a real disappointment. I have nothing against people liking sweet wine, but I personally prefer dry wines. It seems that there was some mismarketing on Apothic Red’s part, as the blend is marketed as being dry.
    I feel like I just drank a bottle of some generic “sweet red” blend. How very disapionting, especially since I could have picked up a decent Malbec or Cabernet even cheaper.
    There really should be a warning of the sweetness or something. Will not buy Apothic again, as I do not trust the labeling anymore.
    Georgiana, I would recommend a good Argentinian Malbec or Zin. Smooth and full-bodied, but without the gross sugar as Apothic.

  32. don’t worry Georgina, I have been drinking wine for more than 50 years and when my son in law brought out a bottle of Apothic we all fell in love with it. I have always had trouble with the so called experts when as a Wine Shop Manager I supplied wine to the National Surgeons Dinner I received a very much appreciated letter of thanks, so I think I have some credibility. I always said drink “what you like with what you like when you like” Leave the so called experts to their waffling and just enjoy.

  33. Hi
    I recently (Feb16)tried this wine for the first time with a semi-serious monthly wine tasting club when we held a ‘Californian’ tasting.
    I was blown away by the massive fruitiness of it and didn’t consider it too sweet at all. In fact I have since bought a lot of it – and, at around £8.00 per bottle I consider it good value for money here in UK.
    However I have always been suspicious as to it being ‘manufactured’ and now I know.
    16g/l with added conc. grape juice is a bit chemical. BUT because it has some tannin and fruit acid and good flavours in it I still find it well balanced – not necessarily a beginners wine at all.
    But now I’m wondering if they squirted some flavouring in as well !!

  34. Love Apothic wine–red and white. I have been drinking wine for over 20 years. I simply love the balance of the vanilla, mocha, and sweet berries. I am finding it hard to drink the other pure reds because often red wines taste to “acidic” and some really give me heartburn. For whatever reason, the way that Apothic is processed not only simply tastes good but more importantly for me, does not cause the same side effects!

  35. An apalling wine. I tried chilling it, but unfortunately was unable to lower the temperature to the absolute zero required to sufficiently deaden my taste buds. I almost felt sorry for the sink when I dumped the rest.

  36. I’m not a red wine lover – usually it’s too dry and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. When I tasted Apothic Red, it was the only red wine I’ve ever liked enough to buy more than one bottle of at a time. It’s smooth and doesn’t seem all that sweet to me. Certainly, I don’t think I’d drink it as a dessert wine. Plus, it’s affordable. I agree with Barry – drink what you like.

  37. Why do people condem a wine just because a wine taster doesn’t like it?? I have been buying this wine for nearly a year now and absolutely love it. There are reasons why we drink red wine. We either like it or we don’t. This wine is best drunk with red meat, curry etc. Not white meat, it ruins the taste of the wine. Also, it must be at room temperature to really appreciate this superb wine. I have 23 in my wine rack at the moment. I have other RED’s as well but since I ride this wine, it has become my favourite red. Try it with red meat, I’m sure you will like it.

  38. Wow what a bunch of snobs. I grew up in the south were the art of making sweet wines was shared from family to family. I also have enjoyed a career in the military and I have drank some of the sweetest natural whites you can get in Germany, or the natural sweets of Spain, Greece, and even Australia. What I have found is that the wine snobs on this web site like beer snobs no absolutely nothing about a great wine. They have been raised on wine that is imported based on the taste of a country that has not been around much longer then 250 years. In other words it would be like getting a steak review from a 12 year old. Wine is based on a palette and everyone’s is different. Like a good steak one can make a great medium well if he is a great steak cook but most people it them raw because they a. Don’t know any better and b. Have never hade someone cook the, a great steak. These wine tasters are like that, they have never really been exposed to the full range of wine, never lived around the world and they are simply handicapped in there reviews. You can’t even buy a good desert wine in this country. Sad. Enjoy your wine, leave the reviews to the real experts. You.

  39. Got sent this wine to try and i was very impressed. Not much of a red wine drinker before but this wine is lovely. I have since bought a few more bottles. I loved the bold flavour and it has characteristics of mocha vanilla and black cherry. Not at all a wine expert but this was seriously tasty

  40. I enjoy this wine a lot. It does have some sweetness to it, due to Zinfandel blended in. However, it is perfect for me. If consumed more than usual, it doesn’t leave me with “too much red wine” experience. Good, full body wine. It it would be in the domain of Woodbridge, but sweeter. I also enjoy Inferno now and then. But original Apothic red is the my choice today.

  41. Tried this as it was discounted, very nice, sweet, quaffable red.

    Nothing sophisticated and out of the same factory as Barefoot (which share the smooth sweetness).

    At the end of the day, it’s a drink. You either like or or you don’t. More to the point, it’s an alcoholic drink. It’s not pretending to be a ‘fine’ wine.

    It would be very interesting to find an own brand bottom shelf plonk that tasted anywhere near this wine. If one was engineered, it would sell in vast quantities!

    I believe we get a lot of rough, dry, horrible plonk in the UK. A trip to Eastern Europe will quickly show you what we are missing out on.

    Any wine buffs like to suggest a mass produced wine for less money that is as full and fruity and not thin and dry. I don’t care if it’s been manufactured or carted around in tankers.

    Regarding the sugar content, yes I don’t see why the sugar content shouldn’t be made clear on the bottle, along with the ABV.

  42. No offense to anyone who enjoys this, but to me this wine is undrinkable. The wine has an unbearable sweet grape juice quality and a slight milky/chalky aftertaste. It is also a mishmash blend of different varieties of grapes, done poorly and it has no coherence. Not sure what this is trying to be I suspect it is for people who don’t normally drink red wine. But to me this is a disaster of mass production. There are a ton of very good wines out there for inexpensive prices, this is not one of them.

  43. Apothic Red is low in sulphites and tannins which is wonderful for people who are sensitive to those things. I grew up not drinking any wine, or beer and I’m ok with that. I discovered this wine in my forties and I absolutely love it.

    Tastebuds are so diverse and unique according to an individual that it is ludicrous to mandate an acceptable type unless someone is insisting that only the blood of newborns will suffice. As long as no one’s getting hurt who cares what types of red wine people prefer? Drink whatever the hell you like, or don’t drink. Your call.

  44. Apothic Red is a gruesome wine for sweet tooths. Its a made-up wine, with zero terroir, sickening and cloying. I am sticking to single varietal reds from Italy and France where I trust the winemakers, the soil, and the vines. These days I am particularly fond of anything Nebbiola.

  45. Somebody gave me a bottle as a gift, and I dumped it out. Not for me, but if other people like it, who am I to tell them they’re wrong?

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