What can we expect from wine in 2014? Which 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 a borderless future. Jackson Family Fine Wines, the winery empire built on Kendall-Jackson fame, moved outside the state for the first time with a series of vineyard purchases in Oregon totaling several hundred acres.
Duckhorn Vineyards, a smaller yet very prestigious Napa Valley winery, bought vineyard land on Red Mountain in Washington’s Columbia Valley and announced plans to create a cabernet sauvignon-based wine.
We know that Oregon and Washington make fine wine. But any reasonable discussion of American wine now has to include New York, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Idaho and more. Not only are those 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 Washington 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 might 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? Because 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 might use unusual grape varieties, such as petit manseng or chardonel, as vintners discover which vines grow best where. Grape varieties could 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 as well. We will hear more about moderating alcohol levels as winemakers, such as those in In Pursuit of Balance and other groups, redefine ripeness. The sledgehammer wines with 15 percent alcohol might not be extinct, but their 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 also might see more wines from Eastern Europe as Slovenia and Bulgaria modernize their vineyards and wineries. Brazil will be the next trendy wine region in South America, and areas such as Patagonia and Salta in Argentina or Bio-Bio, Leyda and Elqui in Chile will send forth new wines. More and more of such bottles will be labeled sustainable, organic or biodynamic as these eco-friendly vineyard practices gain popularity with growers and consumers.
And I predict 2014 will be the Year of Chardonnay. Producers I’ve spoken with 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.