Top 10 Wine Stories of 2006
These are the issues we discussed over the past year, and that will continue to affect what you drink and what you pay for it.
The world of wine is as multi-faceted as the beverage itself. Global economics, agriculture, winemaking, marketing and legal wrangling are just some of the factors that bring us the wines we love. Here are my Top 10 Wine Stories of the Year:
1. Millennials embrace wine. This year, wine consumption surpassed beer consumption in the U.S. Those most responsible for that are the millennials (defined as age 29 and under). Young adults have embraced the sophisticated image that wine imparts to them, just like their baby boomer parents. Quality is key.
2. India and China. Rapid economic development, improvement in living standards and the rise of the middle class are factors that drive a wine boom in countries whose combined populations exceed 3 billion people. In India, 7.2 million bottles of wine were sold in 2005. That number is expected to triple by 2010. Meanwhile, demand for imported wine in China is growing at a rate of 30 percent annually. The opportunities for producers worldwide is significant if these vast populations increase their thirst for wine.
3. Global warming. There are still some who dispute the science of trapped greenhouse gases and the implications for our planet’s long-term viability. But wine is an industry that cannot afford to sit back and wait for legislators to steer a course correction. Wine is an agricultural product, agriculture is already feeling the impact, and newly industrialized nations (see above) aren’t going to want to stem their progress unless the United States takes the lead, dramatically, meaningfully…and now.
4. Wine and health. The newest report on wine’s impact on health was released just a few days ago, as I write this. Scientists at Harvard reveal that resveratrol, an ingredient naturally found in red wine, may increase lifespan (by a factor of 10 to 20%) while also countering the effects of a high-fat diet. This is just the most recent of a succession of such reports—red wine’s benefits to cardiovascular health and boosting of the immune system. Regular and moderate consumption is the key.
5. The Australian wine glut continues. Australia had a record crush again this year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports a record 1.42 billion liters of wine produced in 2005. Producers are sitting on 900 million liters of excess stock, which could find its way into very low-cost bottles, impacting markets around the world.
6. New packaging, new seals, new deal. Ten years ago if you’d told me sommeliers would be opening screwcap wines and that no great fuss would be made about it, I would have had my doubts. But it’s happening in restaurants and homes all over the world. Led by New Zealand and Australia, more and more wineries are adopting the screwcap, plastic corks or hybrid closures. Meanwhile, quality wines are being sold in vacuum-sealed Tetrapaks and boxes with collapsible plastic inner bags that preserve the wine longer.
7. Argentina emerges. Argentina’s wine industry is experiencing astonishing growth, both in production and international acceptance. Wine production has grown 35% every year since 2002. Value on the market of these wines has grown 280% in that time period. They have more than doubled their presence globally (distribution in 12 countries in 2002; 28 countries in 2006). There has been an increase of 150% in the total number of cases sold. And if you taste a rich Argentinean Malbec, all of this makes perfect sense.
8. The rise of rosé. Winemakers the world over are taking rosé seriously again, and so are consumers. It’s no longer difficult to find dry styles, made from top-quality grapes, carefully vinified. In the U.S., an organization called RAP (Rosé Avengers and Producers), begun, in part, by WE contributor and winemaker Jeff Morgan, is at the forefront of promoting quality rosé wines as food-friendly, complex and purely enjoyable.
9. Wine on steroids. Many wines, particularly from California, Washington and Australia, are zooming way over the 12% mark in alcohol, above 15% in some cases. Consumers don’t seem to mind, but it is the epicenter of a New World/Old World debate about wine styles, the effect that wine scores have on what winemakers make, the role of terroir and other sacred subjects.
10. Truth in labeling. In September the California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a decision handed down in May by the California Court of Appeal. The upshot: if it says “Napa” on the label, it must contain wine made from Napa Valley fruit.
Those are the stories that intrigued us this year. I raise a glass to you for a happy and healthy New Year!
Have a comment on this month’s Enthusiast’s Corner? Email Adam Strum