What's up for wine lovers in 2010? Here are a few prognostications ...
An increasing emphasis on value over stature as the recession maintains its downward pressure on wine prices. Consumers will continue to "drink down" and look for wines that cost less than they used to spend, but still taste expensive. This will reverberate across the price spectrum - those who could comfortably spend $120 in a restaurant two years ago will continue to look for quality in the $60- $80 range, while those who may be cutting their restaurant budgets altogether will look for the $30 - $40 wines that taste like the $80 they used to praise a sommelier for recommending.
The sweet spot in value in the retail market will continue to be in the $15-$20 range, especially for imported wines. Although the average price paid for 750 ml of wine in the US continues to hover in the $5-7 range, the "bang for the buck" is still in the teens.
More wineries will downblend their reserve wines into their basic blends - so we will see fewer $50 cuvées and more in the $30 range from places like California, Oregon and Washington. While these will appear expensive, they will often provide great value.
Bargains in imported wines? Portugal and Spain - more emphasis on the Iberian peninsula for sheer value. Why? Quality price ratio, of course, but also because these wine regions manage to bridge Old World sensibilities with New World preferences for riper, sweeter wines. Argentina will continue to shine, too.
More emphasis on "natural" wines - whatever that means. It means organic, and biodynamic, and - depending on who you read or talk to - even using ambient yeast instead of cultivated yeast. All well and good, and I applaud winemakers who want to preserve the environment and protect their vineyard workers from pesticides, fungicides, and the like. However, I worry that "natural wine" is becoming a buzzword that is more a reflection of marketing than viticulture. Wine has enough polemics - the pendulum may be swinging too far to the left.
The anti-alcohol movement will continue to grow - not an anti-wine (or beer or booze) movement, but a swing against the high-alcohol, high-extraction wines that have dominated the high end of the market the past several years. Consumers will favor moderate-alcohol wines well balanced with acidty, even from areas and wine types we now associate with syrup.
Regional wines will continue to gain in prominence. The Millenial Generation will continue to explore and expand its wine palate, and this rising consumer group appears to be unfettered by its elders' preference for cabernet, chardonnay and merlot. As local wines improve in quality, more consumers will ask for them in restaurants, stores, etc.
For better or worse, wine writing will trend towards new media. The recent demise of the popular Wall Street Journal wine column by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher emphasizes the shift toward blogs, Facebook and Tweeter as mainstream media - newspapers - cut costs. This will mean a decline in substantive, thoughtful wine articles, but an increasing visibility for individual wine reviews in "tweets" or blog posts. Some familiar names from newspaper columns (Gaiter and Brecher, perhaps?) will gravitate toward blogs and "word of mouth" media like Twitter. But will they have the same market pull? Psst, buddy, wanna try a nice Zinfandel? ...
Happy New Year, everyone!