At the end of each year, virtually everyone from clairvoyants to business executives tries to predict the events that will shape the next 12 months. Looking into my crystal ball, this is what I see happening in the wine world in 1985.
In both 1983 and 1984, the wine buyer had a plethora of high-quality selections at prices that were the lowest in more than a decade. Both years were undeniably great vintage years for the wine consumer. This remarkable trend should continue for at least the first nine months of 1985. There are multiple reasons why at least most of 1985 should be every bit as good as 1983 and '84 were for enthusiasts to stock up on wines.
The wine world, and particularly the United States, has been the beneficiary of three consecutive (1981, '82 and '83) large, high-quality European crops. Most of these wines have been preordered and prepaid in strong American dollars, and will inundate the market in 1985. Domestic wine producers who have been taking a licking from the high-quality, low-priced imports will have to keep their prices stable just to maintain space on retailers' shelves.
Although the consumer would appear to have the best of both the domestic and international wine worlds, the great buys that exist from virtually everywhere may not last for long. Europe's 1984 crop was very small in quantity, and depending on which viticultural region you look at, the quality ranges from poor to average. Prices have already begun moving up in Europe, although the increases for most wines won't be felt here until the end of 1985.
This trend toward higher prices for imported wines could accelerate further if Europe's 1985 vintage is a small or poor-quality crop. Add the strong likelihood of a decline in the value of the macho American dollar, as seems to be forecasted by most international money market watchers, and all the necessary ingredients are present for some hefty price increases in imported wines by the end of this year.
However, the near term looks especially strong for the imported-wine market, with significant and persistent consumer interests in 1982 and '83 bordeaux wines, 1983 Alsatian wines, 1982 and '83 white burgundies, 1983 rho nes, and both vintage and nonvintage champagnes, all from France. There will also be significant interest in the 1983 German wines, 1982 Italian red wines from the Piedmont and Tuscany regions, and the new generation of fresh, light, crisp, well-made Italian white wines.
In the domestic wine regions, interest should remain high in California's top white wines, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Additionally, sales of the new kid on the block, white zinfandel (really a rose' wine made from red grapes) should continue to catch the fancy of neophyte wine drinkers moving away from the sweet and now unfashionable lambrusco into something more special.
The great big happening in California white-wine production will be the signficant quantities of sparkling wines that will become available from both old and new producers in 1985. Extensive numbers of investors, most of them foreign, have somehow reached the conclusion that this country is about to go berserk over sparkling wine. I predict that the production of California sparkling wine will far exceed demand, and that by this year's end, most domestic sparkling wine producers will be cutting prices, and perhaps their throats, in a drastic attempt to stay competitive with the ocean of imported French champagne that will be dumped on this market. Certainly the marketing analysts appear to have miscalculated the American market, because consumers will refuse to pay $15 for a bottle of domestic California sparkling wine when real French champagne is available at the same price.
As for red wines, zinfandel will unfortunately continue to lose popularity, and California cabernet sauvignon will have to go through another year of so-so sales in deference to the hot interest in that wine's major competitor, bordeaux. Pinot noir, the problematic and fickle red-wine grape of California, will obtain some new-found respect and support as increasing numbers of California wineries get closer and closer to delivering the real majestic flavors of this hard-to-grow and hard-to-vinify grape.
As for the domestic wine industry's gimmick wines, the low-calorie and low-alchohol light wines, these will be nothing but memories at the year's end. Last summer's hot sellers, the wine coolers, those ubiquitious, uninteresting pseudo wines, will again be big items in the summer of 1985 as California continues to come up with innovative ideas to get rid of its surplus wine stocks. However, don't invest the family jewels in such ventures, as these will prove to be only a passing fad.
As for the rate of consumption of wine in this country, more Americans in 1985 will, I predict, drink wine, and drink more of it than ever before. They will drink significantly less liquor. The new federal excise taxes that will be imposed on liquor in the fall of 1985 will no doubt turn the stomach of more than one diehard liquor drinker to something lighter.
Also, because people seem to perceive that the greatest problem is with hard liquor, the national campaign against drunk driving will hurt liquor sales significantly more than those of wine or beer.
And for the biggest prediction of all: America will gradually, but convincingly turn to red wine as its preferred vinous beverage. As more and more wine drinkers acquire tasting experience, red-wine sales will increase for the simple reason that they are more interesting and satisfying than similarly priced white wines.
By January 1986, the boom period for European wine sales will be coming to a halt, and prices will have moved up by a good 15 to 25 percent over present prices. Additionally, the California wine industry, in the doldrums for the last three years, but with its best crop in four years ready to hit the market (1984), will begin to regain considerable trade and consumer support. And finally, expect at least two local wineries (Mont Bray and Allegro) to get long overdue national recognition for their fabulous 1982 cabernet sauvignons, after their wines have beaten out a number of very highly regarded, more expensive California cabernet sauvignons in a major wine competition. Wine Briefs
The 1984 vintage for the French party wine known as beaujolais nouveau was quite disappointing, but I finally found a nouveau that possesses sufficient quantities of the exuberant grapy fruit that is a personality mark of these wines. While it will make no one forget the wonderful 1983 nouveau wines, the 1984 Robert Pain Beaujolais Nouveau ($3.99) at the Calvert Woodley Wine Shop is the best example yet of a beaujolais nouveau from the 1984 vintage. Needless to say, it should be drunk over the next three months for its freshness and vigor.