Happy New Year! Now the festivities are over and the crystal glasses are back in the cupboard, it's time to take out the crystal ball. Here are 10 of the most significant wine trends to watch for in 2013:
1. Bull market for consumption:
It may not be a bull market for much in the United States these days, but it’s a bull market for wine consumption. The year just finished may well mark the 19th consecutive 12-month period of growth in per capita consumption, resulting in the U.S. becoming the largest wine market in the world (though it remains a mere middleweight in per capita terms). Wine is hot; wine is the new black.
While baby boomers may reach for familiar selections, the youngest wine consumers – the millennials – show a strong interest in wines and a curiosity to try them from many different regions or grapes.
2. The winter of wine critics:
These same millennials are different from their elders in how they get wine recommendations – they rely on friends (both online and offline) and store clerks more than they value the opinions of the critics who have guided consumers over the past three decades. America today boasts one of the most knowledgeable wine-buying populations in the world, leading to the profusion of blogs and tweets and status updates about wine. While point-spewing critics may have helped create this knowledge base, increasingly savvy consumers are looking elsewhere for recommendations.
3. The threat of craft beer:
The rise of craft beer in America is a tremendously exciting story. While the makers of macro brews keep buying one another and consolidating in a time of flat suds, the micro brewers are experiencing 16-percent growth. Younger buyers are attracted to the beers that actually have flavor profiles, rather than ones that simply slake a summer thirst or wash down wings.
With cicerones (beer sommeliers) popping up at restaurants, and with beer's perceived relative value-for-money status, it’s no surprise that the San Francisco-based news website SF Weekly recently wrote: “Craft beer is overtaking wine as San Francisco’s beverage of choice.” Craft beer and a less-than-robust economy pose the biggest threat to the bull market in American wine consumption.
4. Let a hundred flowers bloom:
Long known for the dominance of a few well-known grape varieties, the California wine industry is seeking out, planting and making wine from a whole new set of grapes in a whole new set of places. While all are still limited in production, 2013 will see notable releases of gamay, trousseau and low-alcohol mourvèdre, among others.
So many new, youngish producers – reflecting the increased knowledge of wine and the enthusiasm for it – are willing to stake their business lives in pursuit of something esoteric, something that can’t be sold using point scores. That’s something the state hasn’t seen in a generation.
5. Small is beautiful in wine lists:
"Bigger is better" has been a prevailing wisdom in many things, including wine lists. However, sommeliers across the U.S. have been cutting the number of wines in stock, in part for economic reasons (lower overheads) and in part to make the short list more opinionated and food friendly. Such a radical shrinking can provide focus and fun and push diners towards the lesser-known parts of the wine world.
With U.S. wine-fraud suspect Rudy Kurniawan behind bars awaiting trial in 2013, will wine counterfeiting decrease? “The wine fraud problem didn't begin with Rudy Kurniawan and it didn't end with him,” says journalist and wine critic Michael Steinberger, who has been covering the story. “So long as there are people willing to pay thousands of dollars for rare Bordeaux and Burgundies, the counterfeiting problem will remain."
Steinberger believes that Kurniawan's alleged activities will haunt the market for years to come. "He sold millions of dollars worth of wine, and lots of his bottles are still out there. When it comes to old Bordeaux and old Burgundies, particularly in large formats, it is caveat emptor. Or maybe the best advice is just to stay the hell away.”
7. Wine auctions:
China’s economic slowdown and a shift in Asian buyers’ tastes have changed the dimensions of the auction market in the past year. Bidders in Hong Kong have shown a certain price sensitivity and Lafite, previously the belle of the ball, has fallen out of favor for top (red) Burgundy, as bidding for Domaine de la Romanée-Conti showed in the fall.
Jamie Ritchie, CEO of Sotheby’s Wine Americas and Asia, adds that the U.S. market is “resurgent,” with “strong demand from Latin American buyers, particularly from Brazil and Mexico.”
8. From Bordeaux to Burgundy, part II:
With Burgundy receiving increased attention at auction and in restaurants in 2012, it’s not surprising it is now getting more attention in stores. Jesse Salazar, wine director at Union Square Wines in New York, says Burgundy has been getting more shelf space there.
“People come in looking to buy a $50–$100 bottle of wine with dinner and, for that, we’ve got Burgundies where we can point to a specific parcel of vines. Barolo too. But look what you’re getting out of Bordeaux – it’s a total racket.” Salazar also flags an increased and enduring consumer interest in moving beyond “supermarket” Champagne.
9. Wine shipping:
With a new session of Congress starting in 2013, the legislative slate starts clean. With any luck, the legislation to restrict wine shipments that has been introduced in the past two Congresses will not see the light of day. There still remains an arduous state-by-state struggle to liberalize shipping laws in the 12 states that don’t allow wineries to ship, and the 36 that don’t permit wine shops to ship. While glaciers move faster, perhaps consumers will be sufficiently outraged in 2013 to draw attention to the issue.
10. Moscato and sweet reds:
Nobody is clear how Moscato came to gather such a head of steam. There were a couple of mentions in hip-hop songs, but it appeared to come out of nowhere three years ago and tacked on double- and triple-digit gains.
Moscato seems destined to replace sagging white zinfandel as the wine of choice for people new to wine. In a similar way, sales of sweet reds are also booming, although exactly who the target consumer is remains something of a mystery. Nonetheless, Beringer was on course to sell a half a million cases of its Red Moscato in 2012.