Americans drank $68.1 billion worth of wine last year, including red, white, and rosé; dessert wine; and Champagne/sparkling wine. Some of the bottles opened, presumably mostly by that fabled 1%, cost thousands of dollars each. Some of the wine consumed, on the other hand, didn’t even come in bottles: It was packaged in plastic bags inside boxes, and sold for almost nothing. (The big California producer Franzia’s Chillable Red, for instance, could be had for as little as $7.99 for a five-liter box — the equivalent of about six and two-thirds bottles at about $1.20 each.)
When it comes to best-selling wines, not surprisingly, cheaper wines head the list. The number-one brand in America last year by a large margin was E&J Gallo’s Barefoot, whose various wines — including moscato, riesling, merlot, and many more — tend to be priced around $7 a bottle. Number two is the independently owned Sutter Home Winery, the producer that (accidentally) invented white zinfandel in the early 1970s. Many of their wines sell for around $6.
These and other top-selling labels, like Woodbridge, Black Box, Bota Box, and Liberty Creek, make drinkable, affordable wines that can be enjoyed without pretension. But what about those who want something of slightly higher quality? Here are 11 ways to tell if a wine is really any good.
The website wine.com, which styles itself as “the world’s largest wine store,” offering more than 12,000 items, has just released its 13th annual list of the top 100 wines in America based on its customers preferences. The ranking reflects the best-selling wines on the site for the first ten months of 2019, and suggests that wine.com users are not big fans of Barefoot, Sutter Home, and the like, as none of the big mass-produced wines of that kind appear.
That’s not to say that these are stratospheric in price, however. The two most expensive wines on the list are a $65 cabernet sauvignon from one of California’s most respected producers and a $60 Champagne. Some 15 others are priced between $10 and $20. (Note, though, that wine prices vary greatly from state to state, city to city, and even store to store, so take these prices as a guideline only.)
One thing the list makes clear: Americans like their cabernet sauvignon, as seven examples (plus one cabernet blend) are represented. There are also four sparkling wines, three chardonnays, and three sauvignon blancs, among other wines. There are also two rosés, one of them from the winery owned by the now-divorced celebrity power couple of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. (Here are 40 celebrities with their own wine or liquor brands.)
All in all, there are no surprises here. Look in vain for grüner veltliner, viognier, malbec, or nebbiolo, or for wines from Chile, Argentina, Germany, or Australia (though New Zealand is well-represented). What you will find, though, are 25 wines that are both very popular and very good.