This is our Best of Year issue, and we’re proud to present our top-rated wines, most outstanding value wines and top spirits of the year—and my annual roundup of the most important stories in the wine world this year.
1. Sideways. Who could have predicted that a modest, character-driven movie that takes place in wine country would have such an impact? First, on wine sales and awareness across the country. Second, on the Santa Barbara area, which has seen an astronomic rise in wine sales, wine tourism and restaurant bookings. Third, on Pinot Noir, which has gone from the savvy insider’s jewelbox red wine to a must-have for the casual drinker. Fourth, on Merlot, which took it on the chin when the main character, Miles, derided it. Merlot sales haven’t dropped, but Miles’ rant reinforced its loss of cachet.
2. The Supreme Court ruling on interstate shipping. On May 16, the U.S. Supreme Court at last issued its decision—and leveled the playing field for wineries across the country. Every state that allows intrastate shipments of wine from its own wineries to its own constituents has to allow the same privilege to out-of-state wineries. Now, unless your state prohibits your local wineries from shipping to you, you have the right to receive shipments from any winery in America.
3. Wine overtakes beer. A July Gallup Poll revealed that wine has overtaken beer as Americans’ alcoholic beverage of choice. And according to a study funded by Vinexpo, the U.S. is on track to overtake France and Italy as the largest wine-consuming country by 2008.
4. Consolidation in the wine industry. The French firm Pernod Ricard, in partnership with Fortune Brands, successfully acquired Allied Domecq for $14.5 billion, making Pernod Ricard the second-largest alcohol beverage business in the world, second only to Diageo. Hundreds of wine and spirits brands worldwide were involved, including Perrier Jouët and Mumm in France, the Brancott line from New Zealand, Kahlúa and Stolichnaya. Meanwhile, Australia’s Foster’s Wine Estates acquired Southcorp Ltd. for $2.5 billion.
5. New Orleans: One of America’s great culinary cities, virtually destroyed. The lives lost, property destroyed and economy gutted—those are the important issues. But wine enthusiasts also wonder, will this city ever regain its status as one of this country’s great culinary meccas? It was always such a great and gritty contrast to the more trendy, super-refined cuisines identified with the likes of New York and San Francisco.
6. New players on the world wine stage. This year, Argentina and South Africa dramatically increased their production and exports, and New Zealand’s growth in those areas continues apace. More competition for the old-guard wine regions means more choice for the consumer, higher quality and lower prices overall.
7. The tenacity of sparkling wine. According to the Wine Institute, sales of California sparklers were up 5 percent in 2004, and the numbers are looking good for 2005. Champagne sales have remained strong and have even grown during France’s recent wine industry malaise. Champagne is that country’s consistent bright spot.
8. Cocktail culture. In huge numbers, from coast to coast, the 21-and-ups are spending their disposable income on martinis, cosmopolitans and dozens of other complex, expensive concoctions. Ten years ago, these same people would have been drinking beer, vodka tonics and more beer. With so much energy and creativity devoted to intricate cocktails involving three or more ingredients, these young palates are recognizing complexity and quality, and are willing to pay for it.
9. Critter wines. The astounding international success of Yellowtail has inspired a slew of cute animals on labels and cute names to go with them (Goats do Roam, anyone?). We’ve seen lizards, penguins, koalas, cows, porcupines, fish, dogs, monkeys and giraffes. Is this just turn-on-a-dime marketing in the global/ computer age, or the Zeitgeist at work?
10. Portuguese table wine makes an impression on consumers. Portugal has always had the terroir, the expertise and the tradition, but now it has a new generation of talented, young and aggressive red winemakers who are willing to bend traditions to their own ends. That’s a recipe for innovation and success. Icing on the cake: This year, the Por-tuguese declared 2003 a Port vintage year.
This is our final issue of 2005, and we thank you all for buying and subscribing, and hope you’ll continue to enjoy our ratings, reviews and remarks in 2006.
Happy New Year!