As we prepare to exit the “aughts,” it’s fun to look back on some of the major wine trends of the past decade.
Some are industry-wide, some are Washington- specific. But here are the top 10 trends that have seemed most important to me.
10. The rising popularity of dry rosés. When my friend Jeff Morgan launched his barrel-fermented rosé project (SoloRosa) at the beginning of the decade, it seemed far-fetched at best. A Napa valley winery making only rosé?
But dry pink wines have become the drink of choice for summer sipping, and we can now find brilliant examples from all over the world. Drink them young and fresh and chilled. In Washington, I especially love rosé of sangiovese.
9. The proliferation of new AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas. In Napa there are now 15 sub-appellations, the newest being Calistoga. In the Willamette Valley, six sub-appellations were added a few years ago.
Idaho now has its first AVA (other than the generic Idaho AVA). And Washington has added seven this decade: Red Mountain in 2001, Columbia Gorge in 2004, Horse Heaven Hills in 2005, Wahluke Slope and Rattlesnake Hills in 2006, Snipes Mountain and Lake Chelan in 2009.
Whether you think it’s over-reaching, or applaud it as a sign of the maturing of the wine industry, the effort to refine and define specific regional terroir is part of an overall push toward producing world-class quality wines.
8 . The newfound interest in aromatic white wines, especially riesling. Winemakers, sommeliers, restaurateurs and now consumers are moving away from heavy, oaky white wines toward lighter, lower alcohol, unoaked (or naked or unwooded) styles.
Grapes that naturally show well when done in stainless steel are the main beneficiaries, especially riesling. Washington’s first riesling specialist (since the failed Langguth project) opened this decade: Randall Grahm’s Pacific Rim winery.
7. The United States is now the No. 1 wine- drinking nation in the world. Who imagined that would happen so quickly?
6 . The explosion in imported wines. Australian shiraz, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Chilean carmenères and Argentine malbecs have been immensely important in putting those New World wine producers on the map. But Old World countries have been explored like never before, as aggressive young importers travel the back roads and unearth treasures from southern France, southern Italy, and previously off-the-radar wine regions in Spain, Austria, Greece, South Africa and more.
5 . The fascination with pinot noir. The movie “Sideways” brought the flighty grape to everyone’s attention, but the spike in sales became a long-term trend, and the once-rare grape has been planted all over the world. Results are mixed, but there is little doubt that good pinot can be made in a lot of places that would have seemed impossible not that long ago.
4 . Revolutionary new packaging. It’s now common to find fine, vintage, varietal wine in casks, bags in boxes, cartons, cans and plastic bottles. Alternatives to traditional corks include screw caps, glass seals and a proliferation of composite cork products. All are designed to eliminate “corked” wines – the bacterial problem that can ruin wine. Don’t look for traditional corks to disappear anytime soon, but do look for them to continue to improve their quality.
3 . Changing consumer buying habits. A host of trends are included here, most notably the interest in buying cheaper wines, in lower-alcohol wines, in eco-friendly (green) wines, and in online purchasing.
2 . Changing consumer palates. Younger consumers in particular are proving to have more knowledgeable and more ambitious palates than their parents did – no surprise, as these new wine drinkers have probably been raised with fine wines regularly enjoyed at the dinner table. More sophisticated wine drinkers tend to favor more elegant, high-acid, terroir-driven wines, and to avoid jammy, overripe, high-alcohol wines.
1 . The explosive growth of wine bloggers. There are dozens upon dozens of bloggers in Washington alone and hundreds more scattered around the nation. The national bloggers’ conference is coming to Walla Walla next June.
There are plenty of lively debates about the relative value and importance of such a tidal wave of opinion, but blogging is not limited to the younger generation. Some of the country’s best blogs are being written by print veterans, who are embracing the social media as this century’s most invigorating new communications tool.
It has been my pleasure to chronicle these changes and many more, and I hope you will continue to join me on this exciting adventure as we slide into a new decade. Happy New Year!