Posted: Jan 16, 2017
Throughout this month, just-drinks' regular category commentators will be sharing their predictions for the year ahead. First up is Chris Losh, who flags what we should look out for in 2017.
On the Up - Premium New World Chardonnays
Now that the whole ABC nonsense seems finally to have blown itself out, and Chardonnay is acceptable again, the next question is: "How long before it becomes actively sexy once more?" The work done by winemakers in Australia, California and South Africa, in particular, has created products that could redefine the way the public view the wine – it's just a question of getting consumers to order it. Which is why the awful vintage conditions (and trashed volumes) that hit Burgundy in 2016 could be the kick-start that the varietally-labelled versions need.
There will, to put it bluntly, be very little Chablis or Burgundy around for the next couple of years, so retailers and (particularly) restaurants will need to find alternatives. It would be inaccurate to describe the cool-climate New World Chardonnays as direct replacements, but they're certainly closer stylistically than they used to be and, balanced and approachable, they're easy to like. Price-wise, they aren't exactly cheap, but they are more or less on a par with Chablis, and compare well with Burgundy. The latter's misfortune could be just what the New Worlders need to cement their position.
On the Up II - China
Domestically, concerns remain that China's economy might have come too far, too fast and could be about to see a few years of recorrection, which might not be good news for wine. But, still, the country continues to offer the wine industry big numbers and decent growth. At a time where such positives are in short supply elsewhere, most producers will hang on in there and hope for the best. Of real interest in the medium-term, meanwhile, is the appearance on export markets of good quality Chinese wines (a matter I considered late last year). By 2020, Ningxia is expected to cover 60,000 hectares, and the impact of its wines on shelves and wine lists outside China could be significant. One to watch.
'Enhancing its Power' Award - The US
There may be stories doing the rounds that the US restaurant bubble is about to burst - put frankly, how many rib shacks or organic burger joints does any street need - but the rest of the economic data for the US is moving in the right direction. Growth of 2% a year might not be setting the heather alight, but for a developed country with wine-savvy consumers, it's good news for people making and selling the stuff. Much of the world might have looked on aghast at the election of the new president but, provided there are no protectionist trade wars, the wine market should remain solid. The US remains the market to aspire to for most producers.
'End of the Empire' Award - The UK
There will be some positives to come out of the UK's decision to leave the European Union, but few of these will be open to the country's wine importers and retailers. Yes, the nascent domestic industry (mostly high-quality, méthode traditionelle sparkling wine) was already an area of genuine excitement, and will benefit further from the weaker currency: The local stuff will be cheaper to export, and imported competitors will be more expensive.
But, elsewhere, there's precious little good news from the UK's pending departure. The country is set for at least two years of economic uncertainty, which will probably affect consumer confidence - and, therefore, spending - and it's not impossible that the country will see the introduction of trading tariffs on EU wines. We can be certain, however, that prices will rise, as a result of which spending will fall, and retailers will cut back their ranges – it looks horribly like a vicious circle. The only light in the darkness? Look out for a rise in the number of good (mostly online) specialists with excellent wine ranges for the engaged consumer.
Two Sides of the Curve: Prosecco and Pinot Grigio
It's true that an awful lot of Pinot Grigio is going to be bought and drunk over the next 12 months – just like it has been every year for most of the last decade. But, it isn't quite the hot style that it once was – there's a feeling that the variety may have peaked and is now either plateau-ing or on the way down, depending on who you speak to, with Sauvignon Blanc scrapping back in the battle of the light whites.
There's no sign of its fizzy equivalent, Prosecco, slowing down, though. The drink that launched a thousand book clubs just keeps on rolling. Production volumes have been steady for the last two years and, while growing demand might put pressure on prices, this is a trend that shows no sign of stopping, happily stealing consumers from red, white and sparkling competitors alike.
The latter, in fact, is likely to remain moribund this year. Cava remains obstinately immobile, while Champagne volumes from 2016 are down over 20%, so houses are likely to be eking out stocks rather than pushing for new listings. Price rises would not be unexpected and, coupled with currency issues in their biggest market, the UK, volumes could take a further hit. The US, their second biggest market (and biggest by value) might slow down too. The big coastal centres mostly voted Clinton, so they may not feel much like celebrating this year.
Ready for a moment - Beaujolais
I hesitate to say it will be the 'next big thing', since so much depends on volumes and quality - both of which vary massively from one vintage to the next - but what's certainly true is that there should be some decent volumes of some very good Beaujolais wines available over the next six months, at least. The 2015 vintage was the region's best for five years, and by some distance. Moreover, it comes at a time when red Burgundy is struggling for volumes, and is becoming ever-more expensive. For restaurants, in particular, looking for a mid-weight, well-priced red that still has some reassuring Old World credentials, a silky, sappy, vintage of Bojo is an obvious solution.
Source: Just Drinks.ComBy Chris Losh
January 12, 2017
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