Why Wine Is a Holiday Favorite, Year After Year
With the last vestiges of that sumptuous Halloween candy a distant memory, it’s full steam ahead for the winter holidays. This make-or-break season for retailers separates the naughty list from the nice when it comes to revenue reports, and for certain industries, the significance of these year-end sales is hard to overstate. For instance, toymakers, airlines, and jewelers can expect nearly a third of their yearly sales to occur during the final quarter of the year.
The holiday economy has been on a steady incline for the past 10 years, and inclinations suggest the trend will continue again this season. Last year saw a 5.3% increase in November and December sales over prior year, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, estimates predict a 4.3-4.8% growth in holiday retail sales, a category that only excludes gasoline, restaurants, and automobiles.
One industry that sees substantial growth during the holidays is food and drink. The sector makes close to 20% of their sales during November and December, with a large portion of the proceeds directed toward adult libations. Not only are customers decking the halls, they’re decking their bars with the best of the best to celebrate the season of fraternity with friends, family, and coworkers.
Of all alcoholic options, wine reigns supreme during the holidays. Nielsen reports that wine sales from the week leading up to Christmas through New Year’s Eve top more than $1 billion, which is a 69% increase over the average two-week period throughout the year. Table wine, a subcategory, is up close to 50%, with red besting white. Sparkling wines see a staggering 272% growth during those two weeks. Everyone wants their bubbly to ring in the new year, after all.
According to Lauren Lamacchia, fine wine manager for Athens Distributing, “Wines of all sorts see sales increases during the holiday season, but certain varietals see greater spikes.” In fact, deep, dark reds tend to be a customer favorite during this time. Alison Matera, general manager for Riverside Wine & Spirits, adds, “Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Grenache, Syrah, and blended reds sell well in the winter months. As soon as the temperature dips, people gravitate toward heavier red wines because it makes them feel warmer in cold weather.”
Brian Leutwiler, partner, general manager, and certified wine educator for Imbibe: Wine, Spirits, and Beer, agrees, adding that some of the more popular culinary offerings during the cold winter months pair better with reds. “Red wine sales increase due to cooler weather and holiday parties that offer prime rib or other heavier, roasted meats. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir lead the pack among reds for us, but my better French red wines like Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Southern Rhône, as well as Italian reds, all see increased sales,” he says.
Beyond varietals, certain brands are more commonly purchased throughout the holidays. Leutwiler explains that holiday celebrations with family and friends or closing a successful business year can usher in top flight red sales with brands like Opus One, Buccella, and Shafer Hillside Select selling well in his store. In addition, he notes, “Sparkling wines and French Champagne sales spike for New Year’s Eve celebrations, and top brands like Dom Pérignon, Cristal, La Grande Dame, and Krug hit their peak.”
Matera sees a similar increase from top brands, explaining, “People buy wine and Champagne for special parties and as gifts. Some popular names are Cakebread, Vieux Télégraphe, Tignanello, Veuve Clicquot, and Moët & Chandon.”
Seasonal wine offerings continue to expand each year, and the sales speak for themselves. But in order to take full advantage of the selling season, it’s vital for brands and retailers to set themselves apart from the competition. In order to do so, close attention must be paid to customer preferences and tendencies.
CNBC reports that consumers are planning to spend an average of $819 on holiday gifts this year, and millennials plan to spend even more, at $861. They’re also starting early, so retail shelves need to be stocked and prepped before the temperature drops. A Harris Poll of more than 2,000 adult shoppers divulged that consumers started purchasing gifts in October, but there’s a bit more of a generational divide when it comes to purchase patterns. Older adults admit they’d rather shop when it’s convenient for them, not on gift-specific holidays like Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Millennials and Gen Zers, on the other hand, prefer these retailer-friendly dates, noting they feel they’re the best opportunity to get good deals.
Matera recognizes the divide and agrees that discounted pricing throughout the entire season can help capture the most consumers. “Retailers can offer special pricing to attract customers all season long,” she explains. She also recommends putting together special gift packs by hand and offering specific wine tastings, called verticals and horizontals.
A wine vertical is a tasting of multiple vintages of one specific wine from one winery. With the producer, the land, and the varietal all remaining the same, tasters can compare the difference in years themselves. For instance, a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Caymus Special Select may taste completely different than a 2013.
With a horizontal tasting, the year, region, and varietal remain the same, but the producers change. So you may try a 2008 Chardonnay from Peju, Far Niente, and Robert Mondavi.
Leutwiler also recommends in-store tastings. “Simply doing public tastings when your store is full of customers is a great way to take advantage of the season to improve holiday sales.”
Another opportunity, focused more directly at the wine brands themselves, is alternative packaging. Nielsen reports that canned wines, premium boxed wines, and Tetra Paks saw impressive dollar growth over the last year. Depending on the occasion, these may stand out more or be a better option for consumers.
And there are options for regular bottled wines too. Some brands offer buyers the chance to customize the case or even bottle itself with a message like, “Thank you for a great year” or “Happy Holidays” with the receiver’s name etched in. Beyond that, there are numerous wine subscription services that act as the perfect “gift that keeps on giving” throughout the year.
And lest we forget, brands and retailers alike are spending their marketing dollars gearing up for and during the holiday season. “A majority of yearly marketing budgets are spent during this time on great television, internet, radio, and magazine ads,” says Leutwiler.
Did you know?
The concept of “toasting” to one’s health originated in the 16th century and was mentioned in Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Back then, it referred to the process of placing a literal piece of spiced or charred toast in a cup or bowl of wine to improve the wine’s taste – the bread was said to remove some of the acidity. Today, the term has evolved, and “toasting” more commonly refers to the person being honored by a brief speech.
So when you’re clinking glasses and toasting to your host at a holiday party this season, you’re taking part in a centuries-old tradition!
Regardless of the reason you’re purchasing wine this holiday season, (“The joke is to survive having so many relatives in one house for an extended length of time,” laughs Leutwiler), these tips and tricks can help you savor the season one sip at a time.
Matera recommends bumping up price level when purchasing wine for someone as a gift. “For example, if they usually purchase $10 Cabernet Sauvignon, buy them a $15 bottle,” she explains. This may help them discover something new they’ve never had before and will show you put thought into your choice.
Purchasing wine for someone whose preferences you don’t know as well can be a bit more difficult, but Matera recommends buying a red versus a white or sparkling wine. “Well-known, high-end red wines from regions like Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Italy tend to make great gifts because people have seen the labels, but they would never buy it for themselves,” she says.
When having a party or gathering this holiday season, Matera warns, “Don’t offer too many options. Keep it simple with a red, a white, and maybe a sparkling. And, keep the style of wine neutral – nothing too sweet, too dry, too acidic, or too much tannin.” She recommends a soft, approachable red wine and a simple, clean, fresh un-oaked white wine.
When pairing food and wine, Matera explains that a good rule of thumb is to pair the body and intensity of the wine with the body and intensity of the food. “Rich, heavy foods go well with rich, heavy wines. Lean, fresh, light wines pair well with leaner-style foods,” she explains.
For budget-friendly wine pairings all season long, Lamacchia recommends La Vielle Ferme Sparkling Blanc. “This 100% Chardonnay sparkling wine from France is great for any occasion and pairs well with a variety of dishes.” Needing something for Thanksgiving? She suggests iconic winemaker Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. “This is a fuller bodied wine that is rich, flavorful, and has great acidity that makes it an excellent match to an array of foods on your table.”
Last but certainly not least: If you’re not sure where to start when making a purchase this holiday season, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Lamacchia explains, “Giving wine as a gift can be intimidating. The best advice I can give is that if you don’t feel comfortable picking out a bottle of wine, ask for help. Chattanooga has a great selection of wine shops that have knowledgeable people on staff that know what the hot new varietal/region is or can point you in the direction of what you are looking for.”