Use of oak, rising alcohol levels among 2017 wine trends

Edward Finstein

It’s really difficult to predict trends in wine, but certain evidence does suggest many in the offing.

Look for more collaboration between “Old World” and “New World” producers. Joint ventures on both sides will flourish.

The aggressive use of oak, for the most part, will subside. However, there’s a tendency for producers to look at different formats of oak for aging wine, like the use of Bourbon barrels for aging some table wines.

Alcohol levels will continue to rise. Whether the reason is warmer temperatures, winemaking styles, or the consumers’ demand for “more buzz for the buck,” it’s a fact.

Advanced vineyard management, production techniques, the use of new oak, and, in some cases, the blending in of popular, nontraditional grape varieties are all robbing wine of indigenous qualities. While this metamorphosis provides wine with smoother, fruitier, more harmonious flavors, it reinforces sameness.

If this continues, within 20 years or so, we will be floating in a sea of homogenized, similar-tasting wine void of not only country, but also regional and varietal distinction.

When it comes to wine enclosures, cork is making a comeback. The Portuguese (who produce most of the natural corks in the world) have spent billions of dollars to correct the “taint” problem and many producers the world over are going back to the “real thing.” Of course, there will still be lots of wine presented under screw caps, polymer (plastic), glass, etc.

Wine and its components will be used more for other things beyond sipping, such as vino-therapy utilizing the skins, pips, stems, and residue from winemaking for therapeutic wraps, messages, soaks, baths, and cleanses. Look for it in toiletries, too.

The general trend today, and most likely tomorrow, is to turn all aspect of production over to a younger generation, and most of these are women. This group — especially the millennials, who sip anytime and anywhere, like to try new concepts, are creating a rosé renaissance, and are more interested in “natural” wines — will steer production, marketing, and sales down the road.

Perhaps the largest trend has to do with climate change. Warmer temperatures, reduced water levels in many of the larger bodies, severe weather with harsher and more frequent storms, flooding, and earthquakes are devastating vineyards around the globe and may result in less wine produced.

There will be more celebrity-owned wineries, as many well-to-dos look for tax write-offs and something else to display and extend their brand. Actors, professional athletes, musicians, and others will take the plunge. Even Donald Trump has one in Virginia.

If you think prices, overall, will fall, you had better think again. As grape growing and winemaking become more innovative, complex, and challenging, the cost of production will increase, and that cost will filter down to the consumer.

Packaging and labeling practices will become more avant-garde and experimental. As producers and distributors compete for shelf space and their need to stand out increases, presentation should be quite fascinating. Artistic labels, unusual bottles, and alternative packaging, including wine in plastic, cans, tetra-packs, boxes, and even “on tap” like beer, are flourishing.

Lots of new “wine toys,” such as aerators, chillers, thermometers, and preservers, will continue to emerge. Some actually work reasonably well, while others are downright silly.

A serious trend for licensed establishments is the fact that more folks are choosing to drink at home, as opposed to doing so while out. Whether it’s the cost, stricter drinking/driving laws, or for other reasons, this trend most definitely will affect alcohol sales.

© Edward Finstein, “The Wine Doctor” 2017. “The Wine Doctor” is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant. For more information, visit winedoctor.ca, twitter.com/drwineknow, thewinedoctor.blogspot.com,winedoctor.ca/docs-grapevine.html, or facebook.com/edwarddocfinstein?fref=ts.

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