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Wine Writers and Experts on What's Hot and What's Over

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Illustration: Eric Lebofsky

Last week, Eater's year-end survey series included discussions about 2012's best meals, best dining cities, untold stories, and what's hot, and what to look forward to in 2013. The year-end parade of surveys continues with a look at what's hot and what's over in wine. There's lots of enthusiasm for California wine, clay pots, light reds, and cheap wines. But sauvignon blanc, using the word "baller" to describe wine, sommeliers, big wine lists, and the Bachelor winemaker guy (and his hair) are really over. The full report:

Jon Bonné, Wine Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle

What's hot? Let's start with California. This year brought some legitimate shock waves for the new generation of wines. Drinking Sierra Foothills mourvèdre at a Brooklyn brunch? Unthinkable three years ago. This coming year, California's new wave will find critical mass. And table wines, not trophies, will drive it.

New York, too. It finally discovered its potential for great local wine. Finger Lakes: NYC; Loire: Paris. Austria. Blaufränkisch and grüner veltliner aren't just asterisks now; they make some of the world's best wines. Germany. Upstarts like A.J. Adam or Weiser-Kunstler are rewriting the storyline, and there's finally some real respect for dry Riesling.

Finally, I think Beaujolais is the new Burgundy. And regional France—like the Côte Roannaise—is the new Beaujolais. Thank the AOC system for finally screwing itself.

And what's not? Well, I wouldn't want to be the guy left holding the 15-percent [alcohol] cabernet when the music stops. Burgundy is in danger of becoming the new Bordeaux: too much of a collector's bauble and otherwise out of polite conversation. (Chablis gets a pass.) The Rhône is approaching that, too: The best of the north has become Burgundy South, the south is still working through the predilections of Robert Parker, while Roussillon is laughing all the way.

Last but not least: I'm done with talking about wine like we're on ESPN23. "Baller" is henceforth banished.

Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor, Food & Wine

Sherry is hot, and about time, too. I'd like to hope that NYC's Sherryfest in November was the harbinger of a vast nationwide obsession with great sherry, but I'll settle for what's going on now, which is that seemingly every ambitious sommelier in the country has rediscovered the stuff. In the U.S., particularly in California, there's the fascinating indie/DIY winemaking scene, with young (mostly) winemakers making micro-amounts of great wine from non-mainstream (mostly) grapes like ribolla gialla, trousseau, tocai friulano, you name it. And liquor-wise, there's an amazing profusion of artisan gins, from craft distillers around the country; my colleague Megan Krigbaum did a report on these, and our tasting room was awash in gin for months. The best were truly terrific (though, admittedly, the worst would probably strip paint off a car).

In the realm of no more, please, I'd put the whole holier-than-thou self-righteousness of many natural wine adherents. Some of the wines are great, some smell like swampwater, but enough with the attitude, thanks. I'm also weary of the knee-jerk "Ew—I'd never drink a California wine" sensibility you run into in some of the cooler wine precincts. It's both tiresomely predictable as well as closed-minded. I mean, maybe I'm idealistic, but why replace old-school wine-snob pretentiousness with some sort of brand-new hipster school of wine pretentiousness? But then there's sweet red wine. Massively popular, deeply unpretentious, and, I think, a pretty pure expression of absolute ick. What the hell. Life is full of contradictions. Maybe heaven makes sense.

Alice Feiring, AliceFeiring.com; Author, Naked Wine

At one vintage a year, wine trends go so much slower than food trends. Disclaimer in place: 2013 will see way more Loire winemakers than you've ever imagined making wine in buried clay pots from Georgia as they search for the meaning and method of truly "low-intervention" wine. Look for the trend—extending to clay being the new oak—to kick in worldwide. New World wine will continue to go on a diet: wine alcohols and heft drop. More domestic winemakers will start to learn how to grow grapes and we'll see fewer new plantings of cabernet, while gamay acreage grows. After bashing Bordeaux, more sommeliers will become Bordeaux apologists. Lees stirring to increase heft and flavor will officially go out of style and we'll see an increasing obsession with angular whites and no-dosage Champagnes. Vermouth will get sexy.

Ron Washam, The Hosemaster of Wine

1.) It seems every century spirituality makes a dramatic comeback. In 2012, wines labeled, variously, "natural," "authentic," and "real" were hot. Wines that focus on minimal intervention, biodynamic farming, and telling the yahoos what they want to hear. What's important, we're told, is how the product was produced, not what it tastes like. Which is how men feel about their semen.

2.) I don't think anyone saw the astounding popularity of Moscato coming. Echoing the White Zinfandel craze of the late '70's and '80's, Moscato, in all its various guises, began flying off retailers' shelves like pedestrians off Lindsay Lohan's bumper. Never underestimate America's sweet tooth.

3.) Orange wines are over. (Hold your applause.) For those of you unfamiliar, probably most of you, orange wines are white wines where the juice is given extensive skin contact, like when your creepy aunt gives you a really long hug. Briefly hot in 2012, they burned out and died like "Gangnam" parodies.

4.) Though they did fail to predict the end of the world, the Mayans did correctly predict the sale of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate to three Singapore investors, which amounts to as much among wine geeks. So Mayans were hot in the wine business in 2012.

5.) Wine always reflects culture, and as the middle class in the country vanishes like the polar ice, so has arisen a divide in wine pricing. Most folks can only afford to drink cheaper wines on a daily basis, leaving the 1% to collect and consume the luxury wines, much like they eat their young. Negociants who can offer palatable wines at affordable prices, were very hot in 2012. At first glance this seems contradictory to the popularity of "authentic" wines, considering that wines under $15 tend to be more manipulated than Mitt Romney's tax returns. But both categories—cheap and natural—were hot in 2012.

6.) Sommeliers are not hot any more. Once an occupation that was greatly esteemed, now it is more often insulted and demeaned. Amazingly, only two of them noticed.

7.) And, gratefully, the Bachelor dude, Ben Flaggelatenik, or whatever (I bet no one
remembers his name), is no longer hot
. His perfect girl married someone else. His wines are over $15 and not "natural." His hair fell in love with a fright wig. Just not his year.

Katherine Cole, Wine Columnist, The Oregonian and MIX; Author, Voodoo Vintners

2013 will be the year of the backlash against the backlash. The "natural wine" fad, for example, began as the valid reaction to an alarming rise in over-extracted, heavily manipulated wines. But the natural wine trend has played itself out to the point of self-parody in the form of holier-than-thou primitivism. (See: Naked Winemaking Enthusiast to Carry Out Full-Moon Harvesting Ritual). Instead of grasping for some fancifully nostalgic notion of past, we need to ask ourselves, "What does honest winemaking look like in the present?"

With this, I think we'll see a reevaluation of and renewed appreciation for the modern classic styles that have fallen out of favor in recent years—old-school, barrel-aged California chardonnay or zinfandel, for example. As long as thought, skill and empathy went into the farming and winemaking, there is a time and a place at the table for the wine.

Jordan Mackay, Wine & Spirits Critic, San Francisco Magazine

Hot: California continuing its improbable migration back into the hearts and minds of wine's hipster vanguard. The irony is that it's not the bloated mainstream leading the way, but the periphery—the growing profusion of boutique labels often headed by talented assistant winemakers or former assistant winemakers turned entrepreneur. Being small and fringe clearly fosters a sense of freedom and temerity and we are seeing wines successfully brought to market with such grapes as alvarelhão, ribolla gialla, and picpoul. The appeal of such bottles isn't obscurity, though, the wines are simply delicious.

Hot: Non-pinot light reds. You see more and more reds occupying space in ice buckets these days, enjoying the slight chill that makes them refreshing and gulpable. Gamay, poulsard, schiava, st. laurent, zweigelt, cinsault are making more and more frequent appearances on wine lists and in shops.

Hot: Cheap wine. They say it's never been a better time to be a wine drinker; I say it's never been a better time to be a cheap wine drinker. Maybe I've just been bludgeoned for too long into thinking I needed to spend more for decent quality and interest. Spending less on wine makes me happy on its own, but the fact that often times I actually prefer the unadorned, straightforward, and open nature of such wines makes it a win-win.

Over: Wine for health. More people are quitting using the excuse that drinking wine every night is good for their health. They're just drinking it every night because they like it.

Over: Sauvignon blanc. The former upstart, who challenged chardonnay and became a hero, seems to have lost some luster. I still love it, but I meet more and more people who profess loudly to not liking it and not drinking it. I observe it offered less and less by the glass. I'd love to see SB get back into underdog mode and train for another title run. But it finds itself in a much more crowded field of white wine contenders these days.

Over: Low alcohol. People don't harp on this as much as they did over the last few years. Their alcohol caviling seems to have done its work—awareness is high, and more and more winemakers are bringing their levels down. On the other hand, or perhaps because of this, people seem more forgiving of wine with robust alcohol levels, as long as it bears the semblance of at least trying to be balanced.

Maggie Hoffman, Editor, Serious Drinks

Short wine lists at restaurants are in. As is the option to order a half-bottle carafe of anything on the list, cool wines from Hungary and Slovenia, and young winemakers who train at top wineries in Burgundy or Austria and come back home to make wine where they grew up.

What's not? Being a cynic. Limiting your exploration to what's pre-approved. Assuming everything is static, and that the New World is locked into some old model that only offers industrial wine and trophy wine and nothing else.

Levi Dalton, Host, I'll Drink to That! Podcast

What's hot? Barolo. Folks are being priced out of Burgundy, especially now that the Chinese are on to it, and they are looking for alternatives. Piemonte, for all its renown and illustrious history of wine, is still relatively cheap, and still relatively unknown. Barolo has the complexity of Burgundy, in the place and in the wine, but it also offers a sense of discovery. When you combine unquestionably great wines with middling prices and that sense of discovery, that's a real ballgame, at least in a new wine economy.

What's over? Big wine lists within restaurants that buy a wine on release and slowly age it until it's ready for sale. Those are history. This is a market whose tastes are shifting rapidly. Think about how popular Napa Cabernet was 10 years ago, and how (not) popular it is today. Now extend that idea forward. Can anyone expect the market in the future to share the taste for what is popular today? If you age a wine for 10 years, is there any assurance that you will find a ready audience for it? Most likely, the answer is no. Does anybody want to bet big that the same thing won't happen again? They probably don't.

Richard Betts, Columnist, Forbes.com; Owner, Sombra Mezcal & my ESSENTIAL wines

Democracy is in. Surely it is not as though this is an entirely new thing — it's been in the works for years — but now there is meaningful gravity and one can really let their freak flag fly in the most wonderful way. The yellow brick road is littered with retiring critics, intense bouts of ideological gunslinging, and movements that have actually never been completely understood. Yet, somehow, everyone is left standing. I mean, c'mon, there was actually a highly successful (and special) Sherryfest for goodness sake. There is a tenable low-alcohol movement (In Pursuit of Balance). Australia still makes wine (lots of it). And there are kids walking around with grenache t-shirts, when, just 10 years ago, I was the guy who was asked by 10 out of 10 people, "What's Grenache?" None of this would have been imaginable even just a few years ago.

This democracy transcends the entire industry. Look at the wine list at Reynard in Brooklyn or Frasca in Boulder, the selection at Chambers Street Wines in Tribeca or Perman in Chicago—there are restaurants and stores across the country that are not afraid to have a real point of view and they are doing really well. Meanwhile, Gallo still crushes it; no one brings the iced tea drinker to wine like they do. I mean it, that's important. The fact that there is room for all styles and opinions is evidence of our maturation as a wine drinking culture.

Brooklynguy, Brooklynguy's Wine and Food Blog

What's in:
-Sherry. It's not what your grandmother drank. Fine dry Sherries are now among the very finest wines that we can buy for under $50, often much less. And they are as flexible at the dinner (and lunch) table as anything.
-Thoughtful people at good wine shops. Ask them what they import directly, ask for their recommendations, and just trust them.
-Meaningful information on the back of wine labels. Tell us when this Champagne was disgorged and the vintage it is based on, for example.

What's over:
-Natural wines that aren't very good wines, and restaurants that serve them because they are natural wines, and because other restaurants serve them.
-The idea that there is a "correct" food and wine pairing.
-The idea that there is one big source for reliable wine criticism. There are many independent folks who specialize in a certain type of wine and its appreciation, and can offer reliable and in-depth material.

Tyler Colman, Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Short but sweet wine lists are a welcome trend. Burgundy continues to maintain a grip on wine geeks and rightfully so. The Burgundification of Champagne with more sight-specific bottlings is also propitious.

By contrast, wine critics are entering a period of diminished relevancy. The inflation of point scores for wine has demonstrated their false sense of precision and objectivity while hastening their decline. That's not to say that wine expertise is not valued, it's just that with the rise of the internet, Twitter, and blogs, there's more of it around.


· All Year in Eater 2012 Coverage [-E-]
· All Wine Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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