January 5, 2005
Change in the wine industry used to move at a glacial pace. Lines were drawn, vines planted, Things remained the same for centuries. That was the old axiom.
Technological advances, the introduction of big business to a mostly familial endeavor and the fact that more of us are drinking wine fuels competition and variety, and has affected change like never before. Here are a few trends to look for this year and beyond.
GET A GRIP
Love or hate ’em, screw caps are here to stay. Initially, like many of us, I loathed the thought of twisting and pouring. It seemed too unsavory, too colalike. Pulling a cork is part of the experience, right?
But in terms of protecting and preserving your wine, screw caps are superior. And in my mind, screw caps win because they best protect what’s inside the bottle. Australia and New Zealand have led the charge to introduce these new closures, but California is quickly following suit. We’ll devote a column to corks and screw caps next week.
For all the reasons Australia and California soar, the French fall behind. Though some producers have simplified their labels by including single varietals such as chardonnay, most are difficult to decipher, and the style of everyday French wines doesn’t fit our palate. Most wine consumers like the fruit-forward style of California reds and Aussie whites, and some French winemakers have been slow to react, and in some cases, refuse to change. Oh, and the first-growth bordeaux that you have to wait two years to attain, forget it at $200 a bottle. Most big hotel and restaurant companies have their mitts on them, anyway. Make it easier for the little guy to get access.
Gaining access to wines directly from vineyards is gaining favor, mostly because of consumer demand and the Internet. The barriers erected after Prohibition, which include a network of state-by-state distributors, are starting to crack. Instant access to a producer’s library of wines, via the Web, is a powerful force, and advocacy groups have taken the cause through several rungs of state and district courts. Congress or the highest court in the land may decide if wineries can sell direct across the country. It may take a while, but my guess is that consumers will win.
CLAP FOR ME, ARGENTINA
Wines from Chile have been in vogue the past few years. Now Argentina, and its most successful European planting, malbec, are catching sippers’ attention — and taste buds. This meaty red delivers dark, full-bodied wines, which takes well to blending, cabernet sauvignon being the most common. You’ll usually find malbec blended with one or more varieties. A couple of good names to look for include Torrontes, Trapiche and Catena.
HOLD THE OAK, PLEASE
Big, flabby oakened whites are fading fast, as consumers appreciate the cleaner, brighter styling of whites from New Zealand, South Africa and parts of Europe that don’t use as much barrel fermenting. Whites from Veneto and Friuli in Italy, the Loire Valley in France and savory unoakened sauvignon blanc from California are good examples. These wines are better with food and are great for everyday sipping. The times, they are a-changin’. Grab a glass and enjoy the ride.