New Year’s is crystal-ball season in a lot of respects – not just the ball that drops on Times Square, but all the figurative crystal balls that pundits and wine columnists gaze into to predict what the new year will bring.
This was my exercise in prognostication for 2014, published January 1 in The Washington Post’s Food section. There were other predictions I could have ventured – will 2014 be the year of the sommelier (if 2013 wasn’t already)? Will the boomlet of interest in sherry become a fad or trend? (It’s due for a cyclical comeback, I would say.)
Happy New Year, everyone, and thank you for reading Dave McIntyre’s WineLine!
What can we expect from wine in 2014? What trends will reach our tables, and where will the bargains come from? It’s time to divine the future from the sediment left behind by our Christmas bottle of Port.
This year we will continue to see the evolution of what could be called “the new American wine.” California still dominates every statistical analysis of U.S. wine production, but the Golden State is no longer synonymous with the nation in this regard. In 2013 we saw dramatic proof that some California wineries see their future outside the state. Jackson Family Fine Wines, the winery empire built on Kendall-Jackson fame, moved outside California for the first time with a series of vineyard purchases totaling several hundred acres in Oregon. Duckhorn Vineyards, a smaller but very prestigious Napa Valley winery, purchased vineyard land on Red Mountain in Washington’s Columbia Valley and announced plans to create a cabernet sauvignon-based wine.
We’ve known for awhile that Oregon and Washington make fine wine, of course. But any reasonable discussion of “American wine” now has to include New York, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Idaho and more. Not only are these wines getting better, but they are more readily available than before and consumers have welcomed them.
Three years ago I wrote about the lack of local wines on D.C.-area wine lists, even at restaurants that tout local ingredients. Today, sommeliers have embraced the “drink local” mantra, and more and more lists are peppered with bottles from Maryland and Virginia. To some extent this has been a rush to see who can list RdV and Black Ankle, the region’s two trendiest wineries. Soon I expect we’ll hear somms boasting about their new finds from Charlottesville, Frederick County or the Eastern Shore. And as the mid-Atlantic wine region continues to develop, we may see wines from Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey on our restaurant lists. Okay, probably not in 2014 but before too long.
What does the new American wine taste like? Since so much of it is coming from outside California, the wines are less ripe and alcoholic, combining a European sense of balance with American flair. They may be made from unusual grape varieties, such as petit manseng or chardonel, as vintners discover which vines grow best where. Grape varieties may actually become less important as winemakers focus more on expressing the voice of their vineyards, often with blends that don’t follow traditional wine paradigms. The new American wine is a wine of place, proud of where it comes from and proud of its diversity.
These trends are happening inside California, too. We will hear more about moderating alcohol levels as winemakers, such as those in groups like In Pursuit of Balance, redefine ripeness. The 15 percent alcohol sledgehammer may not be extinct, but its heyday has passed.
From around the world, we should see tremendous bargains coming from the vineyards of Portugal and Spain, where strong vintages and weak economies have been a boon for consumers. We may also see more wines from eastern Europe as Slovenia and Bulgaria modernize their vineyards and wineries. From South America, Brazil will be the next trendy wine region, and we will see more from newer wine areas such as Patagonia and Salta in Argentina or Bio-Bio, Leyda and Elqui in Chile. More and more of these wines will be labeled sustainable, organic or biodynamic as these eco-friendly vineyard practices gain popularity with growers and consumers.
And I believe 2014 will be the year of chardonnay. Producers I’ve spoken to in Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest and California are particularly excited about chardonnay, believing they have the right clones and vine age to produce superior fruit. Invariably these producers are cutting back on the use of new oak barrels to amplify the expression of fruit and vineyard. Look for chardonnay to regain the wow factor that made it the world’s favorite white wine in the first place.
Whether these predictions come to pass or wine takes us in a different direction, 2014 is bound to be a delicious year.