Good Libations: Predictions For 2018

Posted: Jan 06, 2018

As a longtime reader (and occasional writer) of trend prediction stories, I’ve learned two things over the last 25 years.

Most of them get almost everything wrong. (Funny, though here’s no retroactive punishment for that, it seems.)
Those that do hit a couple of bull’s eyes usually follow the old rule that trends in specific industries tend to follow larger changes in the business, social and political climate.
So with rule number two in mind, here are five predictions for changes that we might see in the world of wine, beer and spirits over the next 12 months, backed up by the observations of those who know more than I do.

1. The craft beer movement is finally pausing to catch its breath. In 2013, growth by volume was a torrid 18 percent. By mid-year 2016, that number had slowed to 8 percent, and now it’s down to 5 percent, according to the Brewers Assocation, which keeps tabs on the craft beer industry. “The beer world is highly competitive, and there is certainly a mixed bag in terms of performance,” said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association. “Some breweries are continuing to grow, whereas others are having to evolve their position and nurture new opportunities to ensure they keep pace.” There’s also evidence that the beer giants’ counter-punching tactics, such as faux-craft beer, are beginning to have an effect. My prediction: This year the industry will be in a no-growth holding pattern.

2. In the wine world, magnums are getting more popular. “Rosés and house reds in 1.5-liter measures are proving particularly popular for weddings and parties, where a big celebration warrants big bottles,” reports The Drinks Business. I think the magnum trend also emanates from increasing wine knowledge among consumers. Wines in magnums take longer to reach their optimum drinking age, and the added volume coupled with time in bottle increases the intensity and quality of the vino in most cases.

3. Fires and climate issues will have an effect on wine quality. The wines of Napa and Sonoma will undoubtedly be affected by the widespread fires that occurred there right around harvest last year. The effects of smoke taint and interrupted fermentation will become apparent when barrel tasting begins. And in South America, weather changes have severely affected the volume of grape harvest over the last two years. Argentina’s production, for example, was down 25 percent in 2016, an El Nino year, compared to 2015. 2017 brought similar results. When yield goes down, quality and intensity usually go up. So do prices. We will see.

4. We’ll gravitate toward lighter and healthier wines. According to food authors Andrew Donenberg and Karen Page, “We’ll be turning to wines that reflect our rising consciousnesses, drinking more natural, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines from winemakers who have embraced these values in their winemaking philosophies.” An increase in vegetarianism and healthy eating means we’ll eschew big-boned wines, the authors predict: “(We’ll) trend away from ginormous veg-overpowering reds (like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel) toward more veg-friendly lighter reds (e.g., beaujolais, cabernet franc, grenache), rosés and white wines.” More drinkers are discovering the benefits of low-sulfite wine as well.

5. Cocktails will get lighter, too. After several years of manly cocktails new and old (Manhattans, barrel-aged Negronis and an endless slew of wild new rum and gin concoctions), we’ll back off the spirits and opt for mixed drinks that are less intoxicating. “Wine- and Champagne-based cocktails that are easier to pair with meals will gain popularity next year,” said Brian Van Flandern, a mixologist who has created cocktails for Thomas Keller and Geoffrey Zakarian. He said that Champagne cocktails are “ideally suited to foods and are a great way to start a meal.”

By Paul Hodgins  
January 5, 2018

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