Over the past two years, imported wines have captured the imaginations of adult consumers looking for adventure. “We help customers discover great wines and many times this guidance leads to imported categories,” says Michael Osborn, founder of San Francisco–based Wine.com. “Young consumers are more apt to explore and be adventurous with wine choices. Gen Xers are the ones bringing the Australian and Chilean Cabernet, or they want to talk about the Loire Valley and dream about visiting, too. The younger the customer, the higher the penetration into imported wines.”
Imported wines sales at Wine.com have jumped 111% over 2019 to approximately $152 million in 2021, while overall wine sales are up 102% to about $300 million. The company ships wine to 42 states and Washington, D.C., from its seven warehouses. “Imported wines outpaced domestic wines in a bigger way last year,” Osborn says. “We didn’t have everything we might have wanted. There are some Champagne brands we would have loved to have. Consumers still found a way to imported wines.”
French wines, including two rosés, accounted for four of the 10 top-selling wine brands at Wine.com last year. The most popular imported wines sold on Wine.com in 2021 were the 2021 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc ($18 a 750-ml. in New York), Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut ($65), La Marca Prosecco ($16), 2021 Giesen Sauvignon Blanc ($12), and 2016 Castellani Sangiovese ($17). The average retail price for a bottle of imported wine was $30.45, compared to $32.89 for a bottle of domestic wine. “Since August last year every month is a growth month again,” Osborn notes. “The pandemic provided us with a wealth of new customers to the category. This year we are projecting the type of 20%-25% annual growth we had in non-Covid times. That’s faster than the industry right now.”
While imported wines have always been the majority of Wine.com’s business, in both revenue and units, it’s generally been a 51/49 split for the past two decades. Last year, however, imported wines took share from domestics and accounted for 54.5% of company revenue. Promoted through livestream tasting events, targeted content, videos, images, and maps, imported wines continue to grab consumers’ attention. “We call out hundreds of regions and subregions, which oftentimes reaches up to five levels of region specificity,” Osborn says.
At Zachys Wine & Liquor in Scarsdale, New York (soon moving to Port Chester), customers are trading up to imported wines in the $89-to-$180 range. French and Italian wines are setting the pace. “We saw great growth last year in some imported wines but not all,” says Jeff Zacharia, president of the upscale store. “Leading the pack were Bordeaux (up 25%), Burgundy (up 20%), and Champagne (up 18%).”
These sales were fueled by an increase in home entertainment due to Covid-19, the removal of tariffs on imported wines, a decrease in shipping delays, and online shopping growth. Top-selling brands at the store were Billecart-Salmon Brut NV ($60 a 750-ml.), Sassicaia ($280), Vieux Château St. Andre ($25), and Dom Pérignon ($200). “We saw many Bordeaux brands do very well in the $150 price point,” Zacharia says.
Early indicators this year are positive for the continued growth of imported wines. “We are on much of the same path as last year with growth in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne if they can deliver the wines,” Zacharia says. “Italy has also shown a quick uptick so far in the first quarter of 2022.”