This is an incredible time to do my job. As the wine buyer for DEP’s I have never before seen so many options available in our Cincinnati market. Winemakers from all over the world are lining up to get their wines sold here-in humble Cinci! On a busy week I may taste up to 100 wines, which means I am able to see trends emerge and also eventually fizzle out. In this post I’ve rounded up a list of interesting trends I witnessed from the past year and made a few predictions for the year ahead.
The Best Wine Trends of 2017:
OK, so it’s not new (planted in the 1st century by the Romans) but Beaujolais had a great year. It was the wine version of the “it-bag”. People finally understood that Beaujolais Nouveau and Cru Beaujolais are very different animals. I sold Beaujolais to young and old, man and woman, Napa wine snobs and francophiles. Which cements its position as the wine of the people. Huge, real flavor nuances at democratic prices made it an easy gift and a wine that transcends seasons. It’s just as good served chilled in the summer with a hotdog as it is enjoyed by the fireplace while the bomb cyclone rages. My top pick: Antoine Sunier ‘Regnie’
In what is probably the most polarizing wine trend I’ve ever lived through, the natural wine trend finally hit Cincinnati in full force. Popular for some time on the East Coast, this year saw a flood of interesting and unique bottlings available in our market, thanks in large part to Daniel Souder of Pleasantry and of Chef Ryan Santos of Please. I have lead many Natural wine tastings over the past year to acquaint people with what they are and what ‘natural’ means (click here to learn), but with very mixed reviews. Some people love it with a fierce passion. Others are totally repulsed. And I get it, because not all natural wines are created equal. If I’m being honest, often they taste unfinished. Some natural wines all taste the same to me, no matter where they are from, with a perception of mousiness and volatile acidity that is hard to overlook. These wines could certainly use a touch of SO2 to let their better nuances shine. However, I love the conversations this trend opens up, and the light it shines on producers who are dedicated to transparent winemaking and letting the vineyard speak for itself. For too long wine consumers have been fed big business wine marketing, so any trend that brings attention back to real people and honest wine is a good thing. Wines to try: Noella Morantin ‘Les Pichiaux’ Sauvignon Blanc, Tout bu or not to Bu, JiJiJi Chenin Blanc.
Trends that made me ask ‘why?’.
I am a KY girl so you would think I would love anything with the word ‘bourbon’ in it, right? Wrong. I may be from KY but I am a wine purist. Bourbon and wine together? No, just no. I already think too many wines suffer from overuse of oak and then you add bourbon flavors on top and you have completely lost the essence of the original wine. I champion wines whose unique terroir and sense of place shine. I predict this will be a short-lived trend, striking people’s curiousity once but (hopefully) not something you buy a second bottle of.
Red blends have always been a thing. Like Bordeaux? It’s a blend. How about Napa Cab? Almost always a blend. It’s only recently that ‘blend’ came to be its own category, a plot used by marketers to expand a wineries offerings on a retail shelf. The winery has too much Syrah this year? Blend it! Don’t know what to do with that experimental Grenache? Throw it in that tank over there and ta-da, blend. Which is all fine until the worlds huge wine companies started out-blending eachother. First it was just ‘blends’ as a category, which I can live with. Then it was ‘dark’ blends. Which made me scratch my head and go ‘huh’. This year saw the rise in ‘midnight blend’, ‘double black blend’ and my personal favorite, ‘authentic black’. (?) How can it even get darker, and what does this all mean? I suggest they stop, before we reach ‘black hole blend’. When that happens I’m moving, maybe to said black hole.
On deck for 2018:
In the 2004 film Sideways, Miles exclaims “I am not drinking any [explitive] Merlot!” And singlehandedly killed merlot sales. And maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing, because merlot bottlings had reached such huge volumes which resulted in watered down, one dimensional and flat flavors. Most growers pulled up their merlot vines and planted Pinot Noir, which in a role-reversal of sorts is now reaching the same place merlot was 12 years ago: a boring, monotonous commodity. Whenever these ‘wine-lakes’ occur of too much subpar juice available on the market they are funneled into red blend programs. (See black blends above) All of this is good news for Merlot and the few wise growers who stood by their beloved plots during the past decade when it was unfashionable. They are poised to reinvigorate the marketplace with fascinating, single origin offerings at the same time that new drinkers are coming of age who have never heard of sideways, and have none of the prejudices that come along with it. Merlot to try: Ridge Vineyards, Frogs Leap.
The first true glass was produced around 3,000 BC in Northern Syria. Ever since, glass bottles have been the vessel of choice for wine packaging. Of course, we’ve seen the bag-in-box and tetra packs, but last year saw a new trend in the premium wine sector: can wine. Underwood Winery in Oregon pioneered can wines a few years ago with premium Pinot Noir, Rose, and Sparkling available, and other wineries have followed suit. Already this January I have been pitched several new producers that will be available in can in the coming months. Riding the popularity of the craft beer wave, forward-looking wineries have looked to the can as a means to reaching a new, younger consumer who cares about the aesthetics of a can and about the quality of whats inside. Look out for some super-hip juice in even cooler cans in 2018.