Over the past three decades America's wine tastes have swung from white wine to red, from Merlot to Pinot Noir to Malbec, from jugs to screw-capped bottles to kegs. During that time we've transformed from the great un-wined to the planet's top wine customer. So what will we, and the rest of the wine world, be watching for in 2013?
Price: For the best quality/value, look to imports.
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Ÿ Suggested retail and availability: Fine wine shops, liquor chains & at the ONEHOPE website, $18.99 (distributed by Southern Wines & Spirits of Illinois, Bolingbrook)
The wine industry is no stranger to social action. Every year since 1859, the French wine town of Beaune holds an auction to support its hospital, raising nearly $8 million in 2012. In the 1970s, Edmeades "Whale Wine" raised funds for Greenpeace, inadvertently becoming the world's first "critter label." ONEHOPE is building momentum, donating 50 percent of its profit, recently passing the $1 million mark to charities including the National Breast Cancer Foundation. This Chardonnay is pure California with ripe apple-pear flavors, a rich lacing of brown spice and oak and firm palate to pair with the richest seafood, poultry and light meats. More at onehopewine.com.
California is dry, water- and wine-wise. Strong sales but weak vintages have made good, cheap juice part of the past, along with discounted brands and private labels. With low inventories everywhere from your corner shop to national distributors, there's little California product to fill the pipeline. Best values from California will be blends, as growers cobble together supply.
Oregon and Washington have had serviceable vintages recently, but both states are waiting for newer vineyards to bear fruit. Those acres will eventually fill the shelves but in the meantime Europe and South America have wine now and look to us to buy it.
Look for under-$10 to $15 values from Spain, Chile, Argentina and France's south. One of my favorites is Santa Julia "Reserva" Cabernet (Argentina), a mouthful of berry and plum fruit and spicy complexity, all for about $13. A few dollars more buys remarkable complexity from South America. In the $15-and-up range, look for Catena Zapata or Zuccardi (Argentina), Errazuriz or Montes (Chile).
Package: The glass bottle and cork stopper were breakout technologies in the 1700s and little changed until in 1978 when the Cruvinet Preservation System allowed restaurateurs to serve premium wines by the glass.
In the new millennium, consumers chose screw caps over cork-sealed bottles and today, 3-liter bag-in-box wines are booming and kegged wine is the rage. (Caveat emptor: Keep those bags cool! The University of California, Davis Campus recently proved that wine ages faster in a bag than unopened bottle at temperatures above 50-degrees.)
The 1-liter Tetra Pak and Astrapouch make wine packaging lightweight and shatterproof, while reducing carbon footprints by 70 percent and more.
Whether it's for cost, convenience or ecology, there's certainly another alternative wine package on the way.
Product: Once, wine gained acclaim for direct acidity and flavors ranging from "earthy" to "well-hung meat." Then, sunny Australia, North and South America introduced the fruit-forward flavors of fully ripened grapes.
Today's flavor, according to sales figures, is sweet, including Moscato and sweet red wine. (Sadly, Riesling -- the grape that produces glorious sweet and dry wine -- lost sales.)
The sweetening trend reflects America's sweet cuisine: wine must be sweeter than its accompanying dish, or else it tastes sharp and bitter. Sweeter wine also complements spicy Indian and Asian cuisines, and spicy barbecue, all which are fully integrated into modern menus.
Rosť is on the rise too, not sticky White Zinfandel, but wines of fruit and acid balance from the U.S. (Isabel Mondavi), Spain (Chivite), France (Ste. Eulalie) and other Old World regions.
Oak is out, as more "naked" white and red grapes reach the shelves. Producers say it's a response to consumer demand. Or is it an unwillingness to replace expensive barrels (or wood chips)?
demand. Or is it an unwillingness to replace expensive barrels (or wood chips)?
People: America's wine industry used to be Mom-and-Pop, with family-owned wineries shipping to family-owned distributors who serviced family-owned shops and restaurants, who sold to you.
Now, wineries are owned by multinational beverage groups who make deals with national distributors based on channel marketing data that satisfies category managers in chain liquor and food outlets. It's very efficient.
Wine drinkers who want the safety of familiar labels will see more familiar labels. Due to the short grape supply, however, they won't be more and better (see above), or even the same.
On the flip side is a 21st century wine buyer who researches wine on producer websites and through social media, who vacations in wine country and who shops both retail and e-tail. This knowledgeable buyer has stimulated an evermore knowledgeable wine pro. (When I earned the Advanced Sommelier degree in 1987, for instance, eight Americans began the Court of Master Sommelier's lengthy exam process. In 2012, that number hit 3,549.)
However you buy whatever you're drinking, one thing is clear: wine enjoyment in America continues to trend up.
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.