There is a debate raging amongst the wine marketers of the world. On one hand we have the consumers shouting about how much they love the wines we think of as typically dry—wines like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay. The other side of the coin is the data, which shows that consumers on the whole purchase wines which are considered to be semi-sweet….. So what gives?

The first clue comes in the science. Typically, when we discuss wines that are ‘dry’ versus ‘sweet’, we are commenting on the level of residual sugar that the wine contains. Drier wines have less sugar and that absence of sugar allows other characteristics of the wines to show themselves, such as the tannins. This is important when we consider that the American palate seems to differ from those of our European counterparts, in that American drinkers, on the whole, tend to purchase wines that are sweeter. Research shows that the average American, raised on the typical American diet of soda and sweets, prefers to drink a wine that is closer to their range of experience.

Sonoma State University conducted a survey and the results are to be expected. The great majority of people, individuals who consider themselves novices to beginners with wine knowledge, like wines that fall on the sweeter side of the spectrum. In contrast, as a person’s level of knowledge increased, their palate evolved, and they favored wines whose profile fell on the drier side of the spectrum. Keep in mind that these individuals were self-assessing their level of wine knowledge, however, the results do indicate that sweeter wines are purchased more frequently.

Many of the most popular wines have as much as 2% residual sugar, making them appealing to the American palate. This semi-sweet trend has seen a huge spike in sales of red blends, demonstrating that Americans seem to be less interested in the varietal. So the old adage does ring true: American wine drinkers “think dry and drink sweet.” But as the studies have shown: as they grow as wine drinkers, so too do their wine preferences, and thus those who drank semi-sweet may end up being fans of drier wines. No matter what type you like, there’s plenty of options to explore.

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