28-12-2016 ~ 3 Comments

Wine Predictions for 2017

This is of course that time of year when anyone writing in wine sets forth their grand predictions for this next trip around the sun. Yay! They can sometimes be interesting but, despite its slow nature both in drinking and being made, wine can take crazy turns that no one can see coming. Or then on the flip side, it can remain static for eternity.

Last year, I made a couple of predictions for Catalan wines and then wine in general. They were playing it a bit safe as I there was nothing in there you could hold my feet to the fire on. So this time around, I’m going to follow in the model of technology writer, Robert X. Cringely and make some definitive predictions. We’ll look at them next year and see if I have to eat my shoe or if I’ll be able have it au point with a wine of my choosing. In roughly keeping score for last year, there were pretty much all correct, but honestly, they were part of ongoing trends and it was a lot like saying, “This year, the sky will be blue quite often.” So let’s get more sticky.

Champagne is in trouble

That’s a pretty lofty thing to say no? How can Champagne, the ultimate expression of class and celebration be headed towards troubled waters? Well, if you look at their consumption statistics you’ll see that the UK and the US represent nearly 18% of their total market. The UK has already seen the Pound sink considerable after the Brexit vote and once Article 50 is invoked early in 2017, it’s bound to sink more. The average price of a bottle of Champagne is £26 which is massive when taking in to account the average still wine price is around £5.50 a bottle. This will raise the price of all imports and additionally there were probably be some anti-EU product boycotts as well given that the exit of the UK from the EU is going to be much like a gravy I once had in a London restaurant: lumpy.

In terms of the US, theoretically nothing would change–if Von Clownstick wasn’t going to be taking office. He is promoting what is essentially an isolationist policy and while the US Dollar is inexplicably strong at the moment due to inexplicable consumer confidence, once his economic policies of shoot first, ask questions later start taking hold, the dollar will sink as well thus reducing American buying power and putting off purchase of luxury items. These two issues taken in to account, there is no possible way that Champagne isn’t going to be hit unless they work hard to get in to other markets and quickly. I wouldn’t put it past them however as CIVC is powerful organization.

Crémants, Cavas de Paratge & English Bubbles all go booyah

On the flip side of this, other quality bubblies are suddenly going to get a lot more appealing to people. You can already see it in the English wine trade press that there is a lot of talk about the Crémants of Loire, Bourgogne, Jura, Alsace, Bordeaux, Limoux, Savoie, and Die. If you want a well-priced sparkling wine and want it to be French, there’s a lot to be found here. You’ll have to look a bit harder, but it’s already started. We’ll definitely be seeing more of this.

DO Cava couldn’t be introducing this top tier of Cava at a better time. I’m always professing that Cava is a better value as long as you’re not buying the cheapest of the cheap. For 15€, you can get a much better bottle than you can of Champagne–if you can even find one for that price. The only problem is that the Paratge (or Paraje in Spanish as they seem to be insisting upon) wines will probably be pretty high-cost, starting at 60€ if not 100€. This isn’t the worst thing as they could potentially pull up the flagging demand of the Cava’s mid-range.

Then of course there’s English Sparkling Wine which needs a serious renaming, Ensp? Sparklish? The quality of these thoroughly surprised me. Some still have work to do, but the trajectory is on a massive upswing and it’s not at all hurt by the fact that the most respected English language wine publications are all based in English and they will happily be propping up their home brew.

We reach “Peak Somm”

It’s been good times for the sommelier trade as what was once little more than a server with a good deal of wine knowledge has gained hero status on the restaurant floor. I don’t see how this can really expand much more as there are only so many restaurants willing to splash out on the cost of having a server fully-dedicated to wine. I should also add that this is really a US thing as in Europe the “somm” doesn’t have anywhere near the respect that he/she does in the US.

There are countless people working towards the accreditation these days which is in turn flooding the market with people who are qualified. There’s simple economics that will come in to play and, while in no way do I think that the need for this individual will die off, we’ll need a lot less of them and thus, the profession will peak, although a potential die-off won’t happen for some time to come.

Wine writers write more about wine writing failing and it will get worse

Back in September I wrote about how people were talking about a fall-off in wine writing. The topic was picked up again by Mr. Hemming and in general, it gets talked about a lot. Yeah, things are shit and as Richard stated, earning most of your money from writing about wine is an impossibility these days but for a select thimbleful. I see it probably getting worse as the devaluation of writing (and most creative endeavors) continues. On this front, I unfortunately see little turnaround and see there being a lot of well-written articles about how there is nowhere for people to write.

A few “En Primeur” articles will call it finished but it will soldier on

I haven’t been writing forever and in a truly professional manner I think I’m just in to my third year. But the repeating theme of En Primeur (the sampling of just-made Bordeaux to buy it on futures) is always said to be in its death roll. I have yet to see this fully happen and for some reason, I doubt that it will as there’s just so much structured around it. It does need to go though as it’s a truly idiotic way to rate a wine like Bordeaux when it’s barely finished malolactic conversation and hasn’t seen anything for aging. But, this cycle will go one although I think less people will be claiming the fork has been stuck in it.

Le Pan Magazine will fold

I think we can all agree that Le Pan was released supposedly as a new magazine targetted at the Asian market, but it really only aimed to make wine more luxurious and unreachable. That was one of the most ludicrous things to attempt given that the movement in wine is towards anything but. Wine is closer to the “everyman” now that it has ever been and this magazine has no place given how many fine publications for wine there currently are. Naturally, the thought they could do better by starting out with a fleet of Masters of Wine on the editorial board who as far as I can tell have almost all parted ways with the magazine.

The weird thing is that while there was a news article that broke about them closing down part of their operations in Hong Kong, it was deleted for some reason. Maybe it was wrong? I just can’t see how this magazine is going to hang in there unless the owners have exceedingly deep pockets. All around, a weird magazine that falls prey to the fact that if you have to say you’re “luxury”, then you’re not. I can’t see this magazine existing by the end of the year and myself and others I know will be happy to see it go as wine doesn’t need anymore fancying up.

Georgian wine will get more mainstream

In case you don’t follow anything I do (I might respect you more if you don’t as it means you have better shit going on) then you don’t know I’ve been writing a new book on Georgian wine. The weird thing wasn’t the exotic wines and grapes I found in about three months of travel there, but how little resonance the wines had to wine drinkers at large. With how much many sommeliers wax poetic about them, they’re not often found outside of the most hardcore of natural wine bars. This I believe will change a great deal by the end of the year. Availability will pick up (short of massive tariffs being slapped on imports in the US & UK) and the wines will just get more well-known.

Sales of Catalan wine in Catalonia will increase, again

Luis Gutiérrez, the Spanish wine reviewer for Parker did the equivalent of someone having a shit fit at a party, calling everyone there childish, and then ripping a massive fart while running out of the room. In his recent update and ratings of the wines from the region, he accused Catalans of being “provincial” because they insist on drinking their own wines in the region. Seriously? I was just in Ribera del Duero and you know what I saw on all the restaurants menus? Holy shit, Ribera del Duero wine! This point is even more underscored when you travel around France. Try and find Roussillon in the Rhône or Côte Rotie in Burgundy or Gigondas in Bordeaux, etc. Not gonna happen. Is is “provincial”? Sure because people give a shit about drinking and having pride in their local wine. Why should I buy it if the locals aren’t drinking it [ahem, Georgian Semi Sweet wine]?

Luis was just parroting the anti-Catalan dry heaving that’s going on in Spain as the Basques can’t be scapegoated anymore, so now it’s the “stingy, arrogant” Catalans. Because of this, the fact that the rest of Spain boycotts Catalan products, and because Catalan wine is good, we will finally start to see even more of it being imbibed in Catalonia than now and damn straight!

The average bottle price in the UK will increase 15%

Nothing crazy here. Much like I’ve mention before, Brexit is going to cost the English dearly when it comes to wine drinking and by cost, I do mean cost. Why 15%? because there’s no way they can really pay less (people have been trying for years) but 15% is the amount that they can slip by with people only slightly noticing but still going along with paying it, as it will slowly be introduced over the entire year as the stocks from cheaper times run dry.

Someone other than me will state that social media and wine are over

I’ve gone on quite at length that social media and wine are dead. In fact, in 2016, the marriage was truly and fully over, not that it was anything more than a one night stand that got stretched out too long. What really sealed the deal in 2016 was Paul Mabray’s company Vintank/TMRW Engine was fully shut down. Paul is a lovely fellow who accused me of click bait (as well as respected journalist, Steve Heimoff!) and generally being full of shit. The fact that the backers of his social media and wine analysis tool didn’t see a future in funding was not “shortsighted” as he went around grabbing the ear of anyone who’d listen, it was good business.

Some might say that Vinous buying Delectable shows that there’s still life in this pairing but it actually shows the contrary as Delectable was a failing company with no future other than a sale. Vinous buying it was just adding another facet to their systems. Alone, it can’t survive but, much like a discussion board or a mailing list, it might be another part of their general outreach.

Then of course people will point to the success of Vivino. As they secured $25 million in funding at the start of 2016, I would assume they’re not yet profitable. Who knows how long this will continue as all this identification of wines is done by a team in India. Yes, you might be as surprised as I was to learn that the fantastic identification system is actually done by hand.

Anyways, I assume that some people might finally come to terms with social media and wine and not keep trying to promote it as a means to an end. It’s not and it’s just people profiting from it who keep going all Tony the Tiger and insisting, “It’s Grrrreat!” The only comment I’ve ever heard that was remotely reasonable was a winemaker in Roussillon who said, “I use social media because I like it.” That’s solid and I’ll fully back that reason to use it which is really, the original reason, not to drive sales or market LTV or SPI or HSN (I made these last two up.)

So, let’s check back in a year and see how I did and let’s but this total bastard of a year called 2016 behind us!