The Top 10 Wine Stories of 2016

Lightning hits a Northern California vineyard
Photo by Brad Perks Lightscapes / Alamy

1. Weird Weather Worldwide

Climate change continues to affect the wine world in a major, primarily negative way. This year saw hailstorms across France, drought in California, El Niño in South America’s major wine regions and devastating late spring frosts in Austria, to name a few. While always unpredictable, wine farming this year was an unusually wild ride, with low yields, wacky weather patterns and unpredictable temperature fluctuations.

2. Continued Expansion and Acquisition

Continued expansion in America at the producer level, whether via real-estate acquisition (Jackson Family Wines in Oregon) or by brand acquisition (Constellation Brands buying Charles Smith Wines, Gallo buying Orin Swift, Ste. Michelle buying Patz & Hall) was a big story this year. Beer companies were in on the action too, with AB-InBev purchasing Virginia-based Devils Backbone Brewing Company and MillerCoors picking up a majority stake in Oregon’s Hop Valley Brewing Co., not to mention AB-InBev’s approved bid to acquire SABMiller.

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3. Sparkling Wine is Celebrated

From Spanish Cava to Champagne to the ever-popular Prosecco and beyond, bubbles were consumed morning, noon and night at eateries and in homes nationwide this year. With diverse offerings from every major wine region in the world on shelves and offering price points to match most wallets, the sparkling stuff came closer to becoming an everyday wine for many Americans.

4. G’Day for Australia and New Zealand

Still selling millions of cases of Yellow Tail, Australia nonetheless gained traction for higher-end wine this year, with exports of wine to the U.S. over $10 up 21 percent Overall exports to the U.S. increased 4 percent, with leader Treasury Wine Estates reporting growth in the strong double digits. New Zealand also showed impressive growth, with over 14 percent increase for 12 months through summer 2016. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc continues to set the pace.

Wine Enthusiast's 40 Under 40 of 2016 / Photo by Paul Aresu
Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 of 2016 / Photo by Paul Aresu

5. Millennials Find a Voice in the Somm

This year saw the rise of top somms and wine directors nationwide under age 40, reflecting the well-known rise of wine drinkers in the millennial set. Young experts were seen increasingly on the floor of the country’s best restaurants, armed with a fresh perspective and a taste for wines from unconventional locales like Corsica, Greece, Georgia and Croatia, as well as a knowledge in new styles of wines (think sparkling red wines, natural wines).

6. Rosé Year-Round and From All Corners of the Globe

No longer relegated to summer picnics and sailing trips, the pink stuff was consumed at record volumes all year long in the U.S., with rosé bottlings from virtually every wine-producing region in the world appearing on shelves and lists nationwide. Its popularity keeps growing, and numerous big-volume producers plan rosé launches in 2017—which means it will become ever more ubiquitous.

7. A New Era of Restaurant Wine Lists/Pairings

Restaurant wine lists nationwide got shorter and more specific in 2016, focusing on quality and diversity rather than massive scale. Plus, the days of rigid wine pairing menus and classic pairings seem to be behind us as sommelier/chef teams get creative about pairing wines to stimulate new responses rather than just finding copacetic pairs or playing to traditions past.

8. Off-Beat California

Renzoni Winery in California's Temecula Valley at night / Photo courtesy Matthew Burlile
Renzoni Winery in California’s Temecula Valley at night / Photo courtesy Matthew Burlile

California made a big push beyond the heavy hitter varieties of Cabernet, Chardonnay and Zinfandel with compelling, small-production wines in the $20 to $30 range. Ribolla Gialla, Albariño, Kerner, Tempranillo and Godello were just a few foreigners to make inroads. Also, new regions in the south of the state emerged, with a Los Olivos district approved, Sta. Rita Hills expanded and San Luis Obispo Coast proposed.

9. Spain is Caliente

A sommelier darling (and chef favorite), Spanish wine continued to gain steam in the glass this year, with Spanish value bottlings from regions like Cariñena, Jumilla (as well as classics like Rioja and Rías Baixas) on fire nationwide. Good quality, favorable prices and continued interest in Spanish cuisine made Americans tip a glass to España in 2016.

10. Cross-Drinking A Way of Life

Boundaries between beverages fell away further this year, with wine lovers also seeking out high-quality beer and spirits. In opposition to the segmentation of past years, the modern drinking mentality (fueled heavily by younger consumers) reflected a taste for like-minded product across the categories.