Wine is a living, breathing, evolving and varied creation. The contemporary wine market mirrors the nature of its product. So what was notable in wine this past year and what to expect in the coming year?
Wine, like any commercial product, is subject to interplay between the producer and consumer. While producers generally want to create something they can be proud of, they also want to be able to sell it. And consumers generally are concerned about the quality of what they drink.
Lately, the sales part of this interaction has taken the form of marketing folks scrambling to appeal to millennials while trying to hold on to baby boomers. (Strange, they seldom talk about appealing to other generations.) Market research suggests millennials are as interested in a wine’s story as its taste. Some worry this will lead to producers emphasizing marketing over quality, as if that’s never happened. Why can’t we have both?
One particularly encouraging development: These market researchers say millennials are interested in diversity, in experiencing new wines. So look for more grape varieties and different wine-growing regions. A few examples: bonarda from Argentina, carmenere from Chile, crljenak kaštelanski (aka zinfandel) from Croatia, cariñena from Spain, numerous indigenous varieties from Italy and from lesser-known regions of southwest France and the Loire Valley.
One of the most exciting recent developments is British bubbly. That’s right, fine wine from England. I had a chance recently to meet and taste with the CEO of Ridgeview, a premier producer in Sussex, where the geology is similar to that of Champagne. This was reflected in the quality of the wines. I definitely will be on the lookout for more.
And the explosion in popularity of Italy’s prosecco is indicative of the growing appeal of sparkling wine. Champagne still is the benchmark, but good stuff is available from Italy, California, Spain and South Africa, to name a few.
Expect continued growth in “natural wine.” In the wine geek world, this has generated volumes of controversy and debate. As a noncombatant, this largely confounds me. We all (I think) are familiar with terms such as organic, sustainable and biodynamic, all agricultural practices I support. They have advanced to the point where significant numbers of wineries all over the planet practice them. The bottom line is: As long as the quality of taste in the bottle remains high, consumers and the environment will benefit.
Rosé, as I have written recently, has finally reached star status with consumers. I now sense a similar phenomenon as that with merlot in the 1990s: an afterthought wine gains wild popularity; producers rush in to meet demand; quality suffers; consumers become disillusioned. So far, that last part hasn’t happened with rosé. I hope producers realize the danger and maintain quality.
Finally, in the category of “is it a fad, a trend or a keeper”: Bourbon barrel-aged wines are becoming more common. I guess if beer can be aged in wine and whiskey barrels … I’m interested but not convinced. I look forward to sampling these wines, and you should look for a column from me soon.