I first heard of Apothic when the PR for the new California brand from Gallo asked me if I wanted a sample of a wine "fusing Old World intrigue with modern sophistication". It sounded too untrue to be good so I declined. I thought no more of it until, lo, two days later it turned up all sweet and chocolatey at Tesco's press tasting. Yum, I hear you say. Perhaps. The wine trade refers to this kind of wine as an 'entry wine', in other words, designed to appeal to newcomers to wine in the same way as, say, moscato or gewürztraminer.
The idea seems to be that a little bit of sugar helps the medicine, whether tannin in red wine or acidity in white, go down. The great success story of the modern era is the Aussie brand Yellow Tail, whose sugary chardonnay was endowed with the Midas touch.
There's a fair bit of this sort of wine around posing as sophisticated and dry. Tesco's apparently dry Cuvée Prestige de France has almost as much sugar as Apothic, as does Brancott Estate's 'lower alcohol' sauvignon blanc. Lanson White Label Champagne calls itself 'Sec', or dry, but it's semi-sweet. Don't even get me started on the plethora of saccharine California rosés.
According to Tesco's wine buyer, Apothic is extremely popular with customers as it's "a bit like a wine chocolate milk shake for grown-ups". On my way home from the Tesco tasting, I came across an Apothic pop-up at Waterloo Station dispending plastic thimblefuls to stressed commuters. In an instant vox pop, sure enough, seven out of 10 said they loved it. The other three found it too sweet.
I don't buy the argument that the Apothic drinker will graduate to drier and better, but is it a little bit snooty of us so-called arbiters of taste to have a go at such marketing-led confections? The world is full of great sweet wines from sauternes to port and they wear their sweetness with a badge of pride. Apothic and its ilk pose as sophisticatedly dry when they're mawkishly sweet.
For a red in which the fruit not the sugar does the talking, try a satisfying languedoc such as the spicy, red-fruited 2011 Taste the Difference Pic Saint Loup, £9.99, Sainsbury's, a priorat like the powerhouse plums and spiciness of the 2010 Clos de Tafall, £12.99, Wine Rack, or, from Australia, the rich, smoky, blackberry-laden 2011 The Hedonist Shiraz, McLaren Vale, £12.99, Waitrose.
Alternatively, for the sweet of tooth, why not go for a brazenly sweet LBV port such as the aromatic walnuts and prunes richness of the Maynard's LBV Port, £9.99, Aldi. Or go the whole hog with Bailey's Chocolate Luxe, £17.50, 50cl, Waitrose; liquid death by chocolate.