Wine Guy: 2014 outlook brings growing thirst for variety

By Rich Mauro Special to The Gazette - Published: January 18, 2014 | 3:50 pm 0

2013 was a good year for wine producers and sellers, and many prognosticators expect 2014 will be the same. But what does that mean for consumers?

Here are some of the developments to expect this year:

- American consumers increasingly will exert influence in how wine markets develop. The U.S. is the largest wine consumer in the world, and the preferences of U.S. consumers will influence the decisions of producers. While older drinkers make up the largest segment, producers have taken notice that the 21-34 age group is growing its share of wine consumption. And market research has indicated they are value-savvy and adventurous.

- Even with an improving economy, the vast majority of wine sold at retail will continue to be less than $20. While the largest volume of wine sold is less than $12 a bottle (and likely will continue to be), there are signs of a growing willingness among U.S. consumers - especially younger ones - to spend a little more for wines with more character. This preference will maintain pressure to keep prices moderate.

- Consumers will look for more variety from lesser-known wine regions. Even though California dominates the American market, consumers more and more are looking for wines that deliver value with a sense of place. This is leading them to sources such as Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Italy and France. They also are showing more curiosity about other states, especially Washington. Colorado continues to see its wine industry grow at a healthy pace, with the state now home to 108 wineries.

- Consumers will look for more variety from lesser-known wine grapes. This trend is in line with the search for value and diversity. Even though cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay will continue to be the most popular varieties, consumers will show more interest in white grapes such as riesling, gew?rtztraminer, chenin blanc, albarino and torrontes. And the popularity of pinot grigio will increase. For reds, malbec will continue to generate interest but will be joined by wines made with carmenere, petite sirah, tempranillo, sangiovese, nebbiolo and barbera. Another interesting development is that consumers seem more open than ever to blends - both red and white - as they learn to appreciate the new taste experiences from multiple grapes working together.

- Sparkling wine gains in popularity and regular use. Champagne is still the benchmark for prestige, but American sparkling wine, Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava, Alsatian Cr?ant and even German Sekt are generating great interest. I would include Italian Moscato d'Asti, which is naturally sweet and lightly effervescent. With ample affordable choices among these sources, sparklers should become more of an everyday choice.

- Sustainability continues its momentum. Acceptance of alternative packaging has grown significantly over the past decade. Boxed wines are popular because of their eco-friendliness and value, though it helps that the quality of the wine inside has improved. From organic and biodynamic methods in the vineyards to using alternative energy sources, recycling and reducing packaging, wineries now regularly tout their efforts to promote sustainability.

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