In the race to increase sales by any means necessary, brand builders are adding flavor to wine, expanding traditional notions of the beverage and creating new hybrid drinks.
It's not news to wine drinkers around the globe. Flavored wine categories like vermouth have remained singularly popular for ages. But other home-brewed variations have also been around for centuries. The history of wine culture includes widespread accounts of regional recipes combining herbs, spices, plants, juice, and spirits with a wine base. A centerpiece of seasonal tradition, wine additives have been used for medicinal and ceremonial reasons, and to mask flawed wines.
Much of the current noise on shelves isn't really about new flavor combinations. Instead, like so many fashion and food trends, ideas are often repackaged as cutting edge but are based in old, slightly revised ideas.
In the '70s, sweet, colorful brands like Boone's Farm and Cold Bear wine emerged as hip alternatives to traditional wines. The flavor of fruit in wine, once synonymous with Sangria, had a new target audience and fresh marketing.
The influx of sparkling wine coolers in the '80s and '90s -- while not on the level of the current craft beer explosion -- quickly grabbed the attention of wine shop owners. Bottling companies took my mom Rose Marie's summer mix of white wine and seltzer, added wine and fruit flavor, and pushed the combination into liquor store coolers across the country.
Since that era, flavors have crept further into spirits like vodka and whiskey. Mixologists are pushing limits with concoctions based in spirits and wine and dosed with a growing recipe book of ingredients. A popular small production vodka distiller sent me a recipe last week for Bacon Bitters, using their 151 proof vodka as the base.
Markets have experienced a rapid rise and fall of chocolate wine sales and a curious crossover of wine into liquor-like hybrids such as the brand ChocoVine, now with espresso and raspberry spinoffs.
Last year, French Bordeaux-based Haussmann Famille introduced cola and passion fruit wines and the bold move, targeted largely to younger adults transitioning from soda to wine hybrids, appears to have been a huge success. Sweet inexpensive bottlings like those from Haussmann Famille account for a large segment of the market among young french wine drinkers. More flavors are planned.
It's with this backdrop that a likely scenario will play out. The new product message: anything can be tried out, all combinations fair game. Bacon, BBQ, and Taco flavors in wine. Why not? We like to eat the fruits, chocolate, and hazelnuts now immersed in wine. We love coffee; we drink it on top of the other flavors in the bottle. There could be mass appeal to associate strong, non-traditional flavoring in wine, much as the chip industry has recently gone full out to market the Bold category of chips. Eat Bold, drink Bold, mix bold flavors into one bottle. Pack multiple attractions under one screw cap, maximizing pleasure in one sip.
Much in the way big global brands have hybridized products, the same model could be used with wine. Peanut butter and jelly rolled into one jar called Goobers? Ice cream with peanut butter cups? Wine with bacon. Wine with smoked fish. Wine with olives. Wine with Cheddar. All in the bottle.
And not just any bacon, smoked fish, olives, or dairy. The sourcing would be a key selling point. Local or regional flavor agents would be desired if feasible. After all, foodies are aware of the allure and power of local fare with local wine. Roll it all into one convenient package. Pure marketing genius.
When bottled wine and new food flavors become passé, an endless array of beverage blends will await in the wings. Half wine, half beer. Two thirds Scotch, one third zinfandel. New names, new labels, new target audiences. With bacon, or without. Fined, or with texture. The opportunities are endless, the combinations dizzying. All, quite possibly, in our lifetime.
If it seems far fetched to traditionalists who blanch at the idea of spiking wine with added flavor, it's an opportunity to this generation of experimental marketers and consumers.