Consumers Warm Up To Chardonnay and Pinot Noir For Fall

Retailers find success with white wines from Burgundy, the Rhône, and Italy, as well as Prosecco and West Coast Pinots.

Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco (pictured) keeps things fresh for its curious customers with an ever-changing inventory and frequent wine tastings.
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco (pictured) keeps things fresh for its curious customers with an ever-changing inventory and frequent wine tastings. (Photo by Peter Granoff)

While some consumers hang onto their summer wines, sales of richer, heartier wines are rising with the harvest season. “People usually start to shift toward reds and away from lighter crisper wines and rosés,” says Peter Granoff, owner and partner at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and Mission Bay Wine & Cheese in San Francisco and Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant in Napa, California. “It’s nice when we start to get that snap in the air. There has been such a sentimental shift toward crisper, brighter wines.”

Granoff remains focused on keeping his inventory fresh. “San Francisco is an unusual wine market because consumers are very open, curious, and willing to try things,” he says. “Our inventory is always changing. We’re competing with supermarkets and chain stores that have more stable inventories and advertising support. Part of our survival strategy is to have things those other stores don’t have.”

Finding hidden wine gems is key. “We keep searching for wines because we like the dynamism of an ever-changing inventory,” Granoff says. “We have an ongoing schedule of flight nights where we bring in a wine producer or importer. At the Ferry Plaza, wine tastings have been an important part of what we do since 2004. The wine bars are open for regular business, and we also offer wine clubs.”  

Unoaked Chardonnays are popular, even as white Burgundy prices skyrocket. Granoff has found value among some entry-level white Burgundies, such as the 2021 Garnier & Fils Petit Chablis ($29 a 750-ml.). “When white Burgundy is good, it’s very hard to beat,” he says. “There are definitely values as the quality of the entry-level white Burgundies from conscientious producers has improved.” 

Granoff and his staff also seek alternatives. “One of my beefs with white Rhône wines in the past has been a relative lack of acidity,” Granoff says. “As white Burgundy prices go into the stratosphere, it’s leaving this gap where white Rhône sells for 30% to 40% less.” Popular white Rhône brands include the 2021 Christelle Betton Crozes-Hermitage Blanc Elixir ($35 a 750-ml). “When things get super expensive, we look for alternatives with comparable quality,” Granoff says.

Unoaked Chardonnays from brands like Monterey’s Wrath EX (lineup pictured) have been popular this fall.
Unoaked Chardonnays from brands like Monterey’s Wrath EX (lineup pictured) have been popular this fall.

Unoaked California wines have a strong following, such as the 2019 Wrath EX Unoaked Chardonnay ($20 a 750-ml.) from Monterey. White Italian wines offer a bang for the buck, such as 2021 Fondo Antico Grillo Parlante ($22 a 750-ml.) from the Sicilia DOC and 2021 Feliciana Felugan Bianco ($20 a 750-ml.) from the Lugana DOC in Lombardy. “Finding these gems is one of the reasons why we have survived,” Granoff says. “It’s one of the things that keeps people coming back.”

Among red wines, California and Oregon Pinot Noir sales tick up in the fall. “We included the 2021 Violet Hill Pinot Noir ($19 a 750-ml.) from Santa Barbara County in our wine club because it’s a stunning value, seriously over delivers, and adds exposure,” Granoff says. “That has been our mechanism for getting people to taste things that might not be in their normal wheelhouse.” He also notes that the 2021 McKinlay Pinot Noir ($22 a 750-ml) from the Willamette Valley is popular as well.

In Colorado, wine retailers are stepping up their game in the face of new competition after a law change in March that began permitting grocery stores and other retailers to sell wine. At Argonaut Wine & Liquor in Denver, there are huge in-store displays with giveaways like paddle boards, sport tickets, grills, and pizza ovens. “We’re going all out at Argonaut,” says store owner Josh Robinson. “Our social media game is strong on Facebook, Instagram, and email. We’ve teamed up with mobile bars for cool in-store tastings, perfect for the wedding season.”

Argonaut is also embracing online wine shopping. “We’ve made it super easy with our new app, which even sends you handy notifications,” Robinson says. “With wine entering grocery, it is essential to use all new avenues to make sure we can get every sale possible.”

Even as autumn rolls in with cooler weather, Coloradoans continue to sip crisp whites and rosés. “French Sancerre and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are still big hits this fall,” Robinson says. The 2022 Jean-Paul Balland Sancerre ($27 a 750-ml.) and 2022 Lucien Crochet Sancerre ($45 a 750-ml.) are popular French offerings, while top-selling New Zealand labels include the 2022 Kuranui Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($12 a 750-ml.) and 2020 Allan Scott Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($18 a 750-ml.).

Prosecco remains popular with brands like Natale Verga Prosecco ($12 a 750-ml.) and Ca’ Furlan Prosecco ($16 a 750-ml.) leading the way at Argonaut. “Prosecco is a star, and some are mixing it up with Chambord ($32 a 750-ml.), St-Germain elderflower liqueur ($30 a 750-ml.), or Aperol aperitivo ($22 a 750-ml.) to make tasty cocktails,” Robinson says.

In other action, Argonaut is expanding its sake selection and keeping up with the demand for natural wines and lighter options. Robinson notes the supply chain is improving, but prices continue rising. “We’re feeling optimistic,” he says. “With holidays and celebrations on the horizon, we expect wine sales to pick up.”