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Category Archives: Wine trends

Four highlights from the 2015 American Wine Society conference

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American Wine Society conferenceLast weekend’s American Wine Society conference reminded me that U.S. wine drinkers aren’t the stereotypes the wine business wants us to be. What a pleasure to be around curious, intelligent, and passionate wine drinkers for two days, people who want to learn more about wine and who are open to something that isn’t what they’re told they should drink.

Yes, it’s a small sample size, and yes, anyone who attends something like this isn’t going to be exactly typical. But when I mentioned the grocery store Great Wall of Wine in my first presentation, there was more than one nodding acknowledgment from the audience. Which means every wine drinker, no matter how experienced, faces many of the same problems.

Among the highlights:

• I took a lot of kidding when I offered to do a Texas wine seminar at an East Coast event, but it sold out almost immediately. The McPherson rose, the Llano Estacado Harvest tempranillo, and the Haak dry blanc du bois were the biggest hits, each speaking to Texas’ terroir and what happens when Texas winemakers make Texas wines. But that’s the point, isn’t it? That Texas wine will only grow and get better if the focus is on making Texas wine, and not California (or wherever) wine that comes from Texas.

• The other key from the Texas seminar? That people elsewhere seem eager to buy the wines, and that it’s time — if the grape harvests cooperate — to start exporting Texas wine to the rest of the U.S. The days when 95 percent of Texas wine was sold in Texas, and everyone was content with that, appear to be over.

• We aren’t scared of weird grapes, even though the wine business does its best to terrify us. That the hybrid blanc du bois impressed so many, with its clean citrus flavors, was one thing, but that the Augusta chambourcin was one of the hits of the regional wine seminar says even more. Chambourcin, a red hybrd, is notorious for its off, foxy aroma, but winemaker Tony Kooyumjian has solved that problem. This is probably the best chambourcin in the U.S., with spiciness, dark Rhone-style fruit, and a wonderful Missouri elan.

• The best wine that almost no one has ever tasted is the Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly gamay from California’s Sierra Foothills. It seems so simple, but there is so much going on that it’s difficult to believe. Most winemaker tasting notes don’t say much, but Steve Edmunds is exactly right: “Juicy and precise on the palate, mouth-watering, showing lot of depth. The finish is long, and clean. This is already really versatile at the table, as always.” How much do I like it? It’s worth every penny of the $21 it costs.

Wine prices up, wine quality down in 2016?

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wine prices

“$12? Didn’t that wine cost $10 last year?”

Don’t expect good news for wine prices or wine quality in 2016, and it’s more than my curmudgeonly cynicism saying so. The wine industry’s best price forecaster expects price increases next year, while a wine blogger who has been spot on about decreasing quality over the last couple of years sees more of the same.

Wine prices, says Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank, will go up slightly next year, citing what looks to be a reduced harvest in California over the past three blockbusters, low gasoline prices, and producer optimism that they can raise prices. In addition, says McMillan, the numbers so far this year suggest that prices have been increasing, even though overall sales have been modest.

Interestingly, he doesn’t use the word premiumization to describe what’s going on, given that McMillan was one of the first people to identify the trend, that U.S. wine drinkers are trading up to more expensive wine. In fact, he seems almost surprised that prices will go up, given that “the the world’s economies are still struggling and our own [economy] isn’t setting any record.”

McMillan doesn’t define slightly, but my guess is that we’ll see as much as a dollar or so on a $15 bottle of wine, not that it will be that obvious. Those $9.99 wines will go up to $10.99, but there will various discounts, like case and club membership, to soften the blow. Plus, we’ll see even more new wines in the $12 to $15 category, as producers entice wine drinkers to spend a couple of bucks more for the same kind of wine they bought before.

As to quality, let me quote my pal Steve McIntosh at Winethropology. “The wine world is going to hell in a handbasket,” he emailed me, citing this post, in which he details (and it’s excruciating) how California winemakers are bastardizing wines that cost as much as $20 so they taste the way a focus group thinks they should taste.

In this, his post dovetails with what I’ve tasted over the past year, as producers focus on manipulation to push wines in the focus group direction and paying less attention to grape quality and varietal character in the process. This has been the case not just for wines from California, but from France, Spain, and Italy. A distributor friend, who has been in the business for 20 years, said he has seen wine quality go backwards, toward where it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, so many wines have been so poorly made that I’m thinking about posting negative reviews, something I never thought would be necessary. But these wines are so dishonest that someone needs to call them on it.

I expect a wine to taste like wine, and not what Steve calls cough syrup. But apparently that’s too much to hope for these days.

Chehalem, pinot noir, and screwcaps

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chehalem pinot noirScrewcaps, say the purists, don’t let wine age. Harry Peterson-Nedry has a PowerPoint presentation that says otherwise. And who says Microsoft products are useless?

Peterson-Nedry is the co-owner and long-time winemaker at Oregon’s Chehalem Wines, where screwcaps have been used to close pinot noir, chardonnay, and its other varietals since the end of the last century. As such, Peterson-Nedry, a former chemist, has tracked more than 15 years of wine, complete with data, charts, and graphs. Or, as one of the slides last week mentioned: “absorbents at 420 nanometers.” In other words, a rigorous, scientific look at how well Chehalem’s wines aged under screwcaps.

The result? Quite well, actually, if different from the way wines age with natural and synthetic corks. And, if we didn’t believe — or understand — the science, we tasted three five-wine flights of Chehalem labels — the winery’s $29 Three Vineyards pinot noir from 2009 to 2013, the same wine from 2004 to 2008, and Chehalem’s stainless steel $18 Inox chardonnay from 2004 to 2014. Tasting made believers of us all, even those who may have been skeptical about Peterson-Nedry’s research.

The highlights from the slide show and tasting (without too much science) are after the jump:

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