Top Somms Predict The Hot Wine Trends Of 2015

By John Lenart in Food on Jan 13, 2015 5:00PM

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Rachel Driver Speckan

Just like every vintage brings about different challenges and superstars in the wine world, every new year brings with it new wine trends. While the quirky trends of 2014, like hipster somms, natural wines and obscure varieties are here to stay, 2015 is poised to be marked by the return to classics, service and better wine lists in restaurants.

I asked a group of prominent sommeliers from around Chicago what they see as the hot and emerging wine trends of 2015. Here's what they had to say.

Rachel Driver Speckan - Sommelier, City Winery, Chicago

I highly anticipate that the 'somm' becomes fashionable this year. I hope that it is a mediated and balanced spotlight, giving respect for the position, knowledge and expertise, and the tasks of a sommelier, rather than casting a highlight on the flashy parts and skimming over the schlepping and less glamorous pieces of the job. Much like a Chef, the Sommelier begins with learning to stock the cellar and polish glasses before presenting beautiful bottles of wine and winning Champagne sabering competitions. I also think we will see the lady sommelier take a prominent position in the wine trends this year!

The trend of 'New California' is picking up momentum and will just crush it this year. Perhaps a few of our beloved winemakers and farmers toiling away on the edge of it all will be profitable! Provenance, place and a personal story will dominate the drinkscape. The heritage vineyards with a focus on soil and vine age are ridiculously amazing. Winemakers with this approach and outlook in New York, Oregon and Washington are on the radar.

Riesling. It is my current obsession. Riesling is capable of translating place and soil character more precisely than most grapes. The range of interpretation and spectrum of possible iterations of the grape is phenomenal. Piercing acidity with high ripeness and mild alcohol levels, it can be the driest wine ever or the richest, sweetest and most unctuous. Just lovely. Juicy, mouthwatering, refreshing. Good with food, or not. There are champions of riesling on the coasts and internationally right now, the spark is there, it just needs to catch fire. I am all for it.

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Photo by Neil Burger

Dan Pilkey - Director of Restaurants, Trump Chicago

If I wrote a book called “The 2015 Year in Wine” the table of contents would read:

Wine in Cocktails - the rise of Jerez & Marc

Western Spain

Rediscovering the Mediterranean - The Islands of Italy (Sardegna and Sicily)

Coravin - If you have it...pour it! (Sixteen features a great reserve list that utilizes Coravin to serve by the glass.)

War on Prices - Why wine lovers hate on 3x markup. Better pricing keeps wine lovers coming back for more and they can leave their checkbook at home with lower mark-ups.

War on Prices part 2 - Pocket Book Somm. Small business owners don't need the big boys anymore. Chicago’s trending in wine portfolios that offer new wave producers and fair prices but does take a more than "entry level" knowledge to navigate them.

Portugal - If I could clone it I would.

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Photo by John McArthur

Shebnem Ince - General Manager, Perman Wine Selections

I am tasting and seeing a lot more great Portuguese whites, but that is mainly because Craig [Perman] is driving the market on this category. That being said I am sold as are many of our customers.

I see less interest in organic, biodynamic, and natural, but rather people looking for classically well-made wines that are not mired in flaws. Though many classic producers have already been farming with the environment in mind for decades now.

Non-dosé Champagne is finally getting its due. Fuck sugar.

And finally, and most thankfully, I see people veering away from commercial wine products and asking for wines that have more personality and "terroir" if you will.

I also see people less afraid of acidity and cool climate. Yeah!

Steve Morgan - Manager/Wine Director, Formento's

I see 2015 being another step forward in guests asking questions and seeking more education to go with the good time of wine. Hopefully more people will want to know soil types as well as how the grapes that made their delicious wines were grown.

Personalization of the wine experience will become that much more important, especially at lower price points.

Due to value of the category and the love of fried, Asian-influenced, spicy foods, I see an increased love of Rhone varieties and zinfandel based blends. American wines on the rise!

A winery or type of wine being "cool" will mean less and the juice inside the bottle will mean more!

Things that are cheaper than white Burgundy - chardonnay from the Jura, dense and dry chenin blanc from Anjou and Saumur, Canadian chardonnay, and many great American chardonnays. There are so many values to be had that are absolutely delicious!

Sardinia and Sicily are still on the rise. More producers in both whites and reds are making higher quality wines at remarkably reasonable price points.

Andrew Algren - Sommelier, Alinea

Heading into 2015, I think wine will find its way back onto a more level footing with cocktails and craft beer. It feels, with a couple of highly notable exceptions, that well-curated wine programs have been relegated to steakhouses and jacket-and-tie fine dining in the city. That is changing, as more and more comfortable, neighborhood-centric projects open with earnest, meaningful wine lists filled with selections that make sense for their cuisine, represent compelling producers, and offer real value. I also see mature wines making their way onto lists around the city. With more and more wineries offering library releases and a rise in auction and consignment availability, listing wine that is fully ready to drink at great prices is becoming easier. It is definitely going to be an exciting year!

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Jon McDaniel - Wine Director, Acanto, The Dawson, The Gage

2015 should be an exciting year for wine here in Chicago with a lot of new openings and several trends that I see coming (or at least hope!)

A lot of new domestic brands will come into the market. I get messages almost on a daily basis from winery friends that have not been or are trying to get back into the Chicago market and they seem to be wanting to make that push this year. With 2012 and 2013 being bigger crops, production is higher and these small producers finally have some wine to share with other markets. Somms like myself, Steven Morgan and Ryan Arnold are helping to facilitate some of these boutique wineries into Chicago - which will be great to showcase great new wines from across the U.S. Wineries like Liquid Farm, Cruse Wine Co. and Grassini are going to shock some people with how delicious they are.

With that being said, I see more of a focus on Midwestern wineries. The explosion of craft beer and spirits from the Great Lakes region over the past few years, regional wines are going to have their time to shine. These wineries have finally got their costs and pricing in check to be competitive in the marketplace with comparable bigger brands from other regions around the world. Wineries like Firelands from Ohio (which I pour by the glass at The Gage) and the great sparkling wines of Michigan, like Mawby, will start to see more glass placements and tasting opportunities.

More topical, focused lists. The success of Osteria Langhe with their Piemontese wine program, Salero's great Spanish list, and of course the fun that I have at Acanto with Italy will lead the way to 2015 and new restaurants opening with more focused programs. Take Alpana [Singh] and Seven Lions - which will be an all-domestic list, which is something very few restaurants are willing to commit to featuring.

Restaurants with great cocktail programs will finally beef up their wine programs.  It has always been a frustration to many of my friends that only drink wine when they go to an amazing cocktail bar and can't get a good glass of wine. I think that wine lists like The Dawson and soon to open The Drifter will show amazing mixologists that they need to have a little something for everyone and not just phone in their list of grape juice.