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db Reader: Online consumers prefer premium Italian wines over popular picks

Elvira Dmitrieva, the chief executive of boutique merchant Independent Wine, believes Google trends can’t tell us everything about consumer spending habits.

A review into which wines UK consumers search for on Google found that sparkling wine accounts for 49.3% of all popular wine searches, followed by red wines at 35.4%. White wines are searched for by 14.7% of people, and rosé wines by only 0.6% of potential customers.

The sparkling wine category is dominated by Prosecco, with an astonishing 84,300 searches per month – more than any other wine in the UK by a large margin. It is followed by the generic term “Champagne” (52,500 searches). French wines dominated the red wine category, with 43,400 searches for Bordeaux and 16,800 for the legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The two most searched for white wines were Italy’s Pinot Grigio, with 13,600 searchers, followed by Sauvignon Blanc at 11,500.

Based on this research, it might be safe to assume that wine retailers would sell their bottles proportionately – for example, an Italian wine retailer may find that Prosecco is their best seller with Pinot Grigio in second place. However, Italian wine specialist Independent Wine found a few surprises when looking at their top ten bestsellers for spring 2020.

It was intriguing that, for wines falling within the premium category of £15-25 per bottle, the chart of best sellers didn’t quite match up with the overall search traffic.

What online buyers want

First, the best-selling wine this spring was not Prosecco, but the highly regarded red Chianti Classico DOCG. In second place was a white – although this time it wasn’t Pinot Grigio, but Roero Arneis. This was a very pleasant surprise as this white wine isn’t very well-known in the UK. Although it is a novelty for lots of UK customers, in its native Italy Arneis has a very devoted following because of its fine tropical fruit flavours.

Although Primitivo is not searched for as much as Pinot Noir or Barolo, it placed third in terms of actual purchases. Rich and deep, with flavours of ripe black berries and dried fruits, this wine is more widely known under its American name “Zinfandel”. The grape may have been made popular by California’s winemakers, but the Italian version is known for its natural freshness. It’s more savoury, with less oaky sweetness, as it’s aged in French rather than American oak.

Two Millesimato Proseccos from Valdobbiadene DOCG made it to number four and five. It’s certainly surprising to see the UK’s most searched for wine just ranking in the middle for online purchasing behaviour. The “Millesimato” designation means this wine was made only from grapes harvested in the same year, which is a sign of higher-class Prosecco.

Pinot Grigio was only at sixth place – the second Italian white after Arneis. It’s followed by another fabulous red, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, in seventh place. This wine has deep flavours of fresh red fruits and is starting to show beautiful signs of age, with complex aromas of leather, earth and spices.

The wine that made it to eighth place is named “flight of the butterfly” – a Sparkling Moscato which is light, sweet and only has an ABV of around 5%. Packed with aromas of lemon, yellow apple and sweet tropical fruits, we predict it will be an ideal bubbly for the coming summer.

In ninth place was the delicate Pinot Blanc from the Alpine vineyards of Alto Adige DOC. This area is cooled by the Alps to the north and lake Garda to the west, and is known to produce fresh and elegant wines. Pinot Blanc is loved for its flavours of guava, lychee, grapefruit, bread and honey.

Rounding out the top ten is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG. Although the denomination is searched for more than Primitivo and Chianti Classico, this wasn’t reflected at the point of purchase. A really deep and complex red wine, it’s clearly one of the best in its class. The example sold by Independent Wine was produced by the famous Beretta family, and won the prestigious “two glasses” award from Gambero Rosso, and the Golden Medal from Mundus Vini.

Key takeaways

In conclusion, there is a clear difference between the number of online searches for wine and actual purchasing behaviour. One reason could be that the searches include both “informational” and “commercial” motivations. Very often consumers Google wines to compare prices, or to research a wine before buying it offline in their local supermarket or off-license.

The difference could also be driven by the tastes of customers shopping in the premium segment. Independent Wine only supplies premium wines, most of which have either won Decanter awards, two or three “glasses” by Gambero Rosso, or received a 90+ rank by James Suckling. As such, their sales statistics cover a more affluent group of online customers.

It is interesting to see that in this part of the market, wines with concentrated aromas and a complex ageing profile – such as Chianti Classico and Primitivo – tend to outperform the Italian blockbusters Pinot Grigio and Prosecco. Another trend is that niche, “hidden gems” like Roero Arneis have a strong commercial interest from customers shopping for premium wines.

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