Ever since I started working in wine retail, I feel like I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t tried Apothic Red wine.
Wine lovers (myself included) tend to turn their noses up at big brand wines, but ultimately, wine is a business.
And Apothic sells.
Owned by E&J Gallo, Apothic is an entry-level wine, targeted toward younger wine drinkers (i.e., not me). Gallo makes an ocean of it (over 3 million cases a year), so you can bet the fruit isn’t vineyard (or even appellation) specific, it’s not aged in expensive oak barrels, and the production process is certainly mechanized.
And yet . . . holy scheiße, does it sell.
Apothic is one of only four wine brands in the $10+ segment with retail sales above $400 million in the US. Apothic sold 3.4 million cases in 2017, making it the largest brand by volume in that segment.
I’ve learned (or rather, confirmed) a few things since I started working in the wine retail that help explain the Apothic craze (which can also be applied to the entire big-brand category):
Americans like sweet wine.
The first question I get when I’m pouring wines at the tasting table is, “Is it sweet?” If I say yes, people usually taste it. If I say no, they make a face and run away.
A 2018 study by Sonoma State University detailed the purchasing and drinking habits of the American wine consumer. This is spot on.
I have a massive sweet tooth (remember, I’m the one who eats chocolate Necco wafers), but not when it comes to wine. I’m definitely Team Dry/Savory/Tannic. Remember that when I taste these guys later.
Apothic has 16.4g/L of residual sugar (for comparison, Robert Mondavi’s entry level Cabernet Sauvignon comes in at 0.29g/L residual sugar). Apothic also has 13.5% ABV, which is high enough to increase the perception of sweetness. Check that box.
Americans like cheap wine.
Despite the premiumization trend (consumers willing to spend more $$ on wine), people seem the most comfortable spending around $10 on a bottle of wine; after that, most folks get a little twitchy.
We sell Apothic Red for $7.49 per bottle. Apothic Sparkling is $11.99. Bubbles are extra.
Americans love their comfort zone (aka brand loyalty).
People rarely stray from their comfort zone (which, incidentally, is also the profit zone) — cheap and cheerful, fun and fruity, and . . . safe.
Gallo is dialed into these truths. Apothic is sweet, cheap, and oh, so comfortable. If I had a dollar for every time someone referred to Apothic as their “usual”.
Red Blend is a trend.
This is nothing new in the Old World. Europeans have been blending red grapes for centuries (Bordeaux, Champagne, Chianti, Rioja, Rhone, Port, etc.). Most of this craze is driven by millennials. “I’ll have a red blend” is the new “I’ll have a Chardonnay”.
In terms of sales, red blends are now the third most popular “varietal” in the US:
In the interest of being a well-rounded wine professional, I decided I needed to try an Apothic Red and the new (limited edition!!) Apothic Sparkling.
According to the Gallo website, the name Apothic is drawn from Apotheca, “a mysterious place where wine was blended and stored in 13th century Europe.” I couldn’t find any corroborating sources for 13th century Europe, but in Greek and Roman times, the apotheca was a storage place for wine. Regardless, the name and the label design are marketing genius.
Note: I chilled the wines before I tasted them, which adds at least a couple of points of tolerability.
This is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Oy, this smells like a headache. At 16.4g/L of residual sugar, technically, this is “off-dry”. But it’s sweet. It’s super dense (almost viscous) and jammy. Ripe, almost stewed, black fruits. Little to no actual structure — acidity and tannins are nearly absent. But now I get it. Apothic Red is sweet, cheap, comfortable, and it’s a red blend. I don’t want to drink it, but I get it.
Apothic Sparkling Red
This is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and “Other”. Oooh. Other is my favorite grape. Perhaps Apothic Punch would be a better name. The carbonation is aggressive. Like Sprite aggressive. It’s slightly sweet, seriously fruity, and not completely offensive. Do I like it? Heck no, but now I know why this stuff is flying off our shelves.
I made the Mr. Armchair Sommelier taste both of these guys, and here’s what he had to say:
And that about sums it up for Apothic.