Tim Hanni a US flavour expert and industry commentator is appearing at the Bibendum tasting in London next week where he will argue that, given the choice, most consumers prefer wines with a sweeter profile. He eventually hopes to calculate how much money the wine trade is losing by not catering sufficiently for consumers with sweet and hypersensitive palates, and who detect bitter flavours in many mainstream wines.
"I can't imagine any industry that's more ignorant of its consumers than the wine industry," said Hanni. "The wine industry has a very distorted sense of history. One hundred years ago the standard for dry Champagne would qualify as dessert wine today. Globally, sweet is very much a preferred taste, very natural, and somehow we've created this distortion of taste."
John McLaren, UK director of the California Wine Institute, the non-profit trade organisation that represents the region's winemakers, agreed that businesses were missing an opportunity to provide sweeter wines. "Tim Hanni has a point. For some reason we have come to associate dryness with sophistication, and sweetness with naffness and chavs, whereas most consumers' default wine style will have at least a hint of sweetness."
Big-selling wines such as Blossom Hill and Echo Falls have been derided by critics for having a sweeter profile than most well-reviewed wines, but they may be more in tune with consumers than the trade realises if Hanni is right.
A commercial wine typically has about 5g of residual sugar per litre. Echo Falls white zinfandel contains 25g/litre which, according to supplier Constellation Europe, makes it ideal for novice wine consumers.
"A lot of people particularly like ripe fruit flavours and that's across all consumer groups," said Sam Caporn, wine development manager at Constellation. "If it's done well, putting in sugar doesn't stick out and makes the wine more attractive."