The Top Wine Trend Predictions Of 2016, From Expert Sommeliers

By John Lenart in Food on Jan 19, 2016 9:10PM

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Photo Credit: John Lenart

Wine lovers can look forward to the expansion and emergence of several interesting trends this year—but what exactly are they?

We asked a group of sommeliers around Chicago to look into their crystal Zalto Burgundy glasses to predict what they see as the top wine trends coming in 2016. There were five trends that stood out:

Rosés and light red wines

While rosé has been hot for a number of years, somms predict that trend will continue in 2016, but with a few twists.

First, while rosé is an obvious choice for summer, you'll start seeing it on wine lists even now that temperatures have dropped. Jamie McNee, Wine Director at Community Tavern tells us, “It is no longer just a summer wine. I took rosé off of our wine list when the weather started to change yet still saw a demand for still and sparkling rosés in the colder months, so I brought it back!” So, while you await the spring arrival of the ever popular Ameztoi Txakolina Rosato Rubentis, you'll now have some pink wines to enjoy throughout the winter.

Another twist to the rosé trend is pushing the color just a bit from pink to light red wines. Once warm weather returns, expect to see the emergence of light, slightly chilled red wines. “Thin skinned, pale red wine with high acid will sneak in to share the market with rosé, being delightful and versatile with a slight chill applied,” says Rachel Driver Speckan, beverage director and wine education director at City Winery in Chicago.

We dug a bit deeper to find out what some somms thought were the emerging lighter reds we should be looking for. “Austrian reds are a great value for the price and they are delicious!” explains Christy Fuhrman, Sommelier at Vera. “Estates such as Weninger produce six different blaufrankish wines from six different soil types bottled individually.”

Value-friendly wine regions delivering high quality wines.

There's no doubt that Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and Piedmont produce some great wines. But if you're looking for wines that won't break the bank, somms are predicting that awareness of high quality wines from growing areas of lesser renown will see consumers looking to places like South Africa, Croatia, and Greece.

If you think South Africa is nothing more that pinotage and boring chenin blanc, guess again.

"I am looking at very unique expressions coming out of South Africa. Now that the winemakers in that remote part of the world have stepped up their game over the past decade, some beautiful wines are coming out from that region. South Africa has unique, ancient soils, which create a lot of old world nuances in their new world wines,” says Alex Smith of ENO Wine Room.

I recently tasted through the amazing terroir-driven wines of Catherine Marshall and I have to tell you, these ain't your mama's chenin blancs. Along with chenin, Catherine Marshall notably produces a great balanced pinot noir and a lush merlot.

Croatia is another wine region somms are looking to in 2016.

“When I present a wine from Croatia, all are singular in their expressions, and interest is peaked for their individual stories and brings them together in a way that is presented with representative honesty at the forefront rather than a marketing driven delivery,” says John Aranza, Owner and Wine Director at Autre Monde Cafe and Spirits. And it's these stories that young wine drinkers in particular are looking for. Several consumer studies have shown that millennial wine drinkers are far more interested in an intriguing story about a value priced wine than about a pricier, trophy wine that was given 100 points from a well-known critic.

Another area somms are looking at to emerge as a quality, value driven wine region is Greece. “For years, writers have predicted that this is the year of Greek wine, but 2016 will actually prove to be huge for Greek wines. Not only are there great values in Greek wine because of the strength of the American dollar, but also Chicago is probably the best Greek wine market in America. Ted Diamantis of Diamond Wine Imports continues to bring amazing Greek wines that can be compared to Chablis, barbera and other more well-known grapes. A new Greek importer, DNS, has some of the most fascinating and food-friendly wines I have tasted this past year,” says Jon McDaniel, GM and Sommelier at Acanto.

One of the most interesting wines I tasted last year was the 2014 Glinavos Paleokerisio Semi-Sparkling Orange wine. It was a bit geeky, with a bit of a rubbery smell reminiscent of some rieslings, but really intriguing and fun to drink.

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Photo via Shutterstock.

Bubbles bubbles, bubbles (and we're talking more than just the big Champagne houses)

Wine lovers have been drinking more and more sparkling wine. It used to be that bubbles were reserved for times like New Year's Eve or special occasions. Well, not any more. In 2016, any time, like, say, Tuesdays, are perfect times for a sparkling wine. Let's face it, bubbles, particularly Champagne, are great food wines. And those in the know are popping corks more and more frequently. But if you look at the labels, they're not always from the big Champagne houses.

“Champagne is a region that greatly suffered especially after WWII because the small farmer couldn't afford basic infrastructure and was forced to sell grapes at a prefixed price to some of the bigger names in the business,” says Parag Lalit, sommelier at Sixteen. “We proudly carry some unique farmer fizz [wine geek term for grower Champagne]. Georges Laval, Egly Ouriet and Lilbert to name a few. All these wines are produced in tiny, tiny quantities and often reflect a savoir-faire that has been passed on from father to son for generations.”

While other sparkling wines like Cava and Prosecco have seen growth in the past, this year you'll be hearing about sparklers from Franciacorta in Italy as well as some outstanding terroir driven sparkling wines coming from California.

Franciacorta offers traditional method sparkling wines from Lombardy in the north of Italy. Nonvintage Franciacorta must age at least 25 months, 18 months of which must be in contact with the yeast in the bottle (compared to 15 months in the case of Champagne). Franciacorta Vintage or Millesimato must age at least 37 months, of which 30 months must be in contact with the yeast (similar to Champagne). Franciacorta offers great value. Look to Berlucchi for a nice value.

When it comes to Cali bubbles of high quality, be sure to check out wines from Under the Wire made by Morgan Twain Peterson and Chris Cottrell, and Ultramarine made by Michael Cruse. These young wine makers have the vision, the passion and the knowledge to will a new revolution of grower-style sparkling wines made in California.

Finally, drinking sparkling wine from flutes or coupes will become a thing of the past. “As more people experiment with different glassware for bubbles they will discover the versatility that bubbles offer. They're not just for celebration anymore,” says Christy Fuhrman.

Next time you drink a sparkling wine, try it in a tulip-style white wine glass and experience the difference for yourself. C'mon, all the cool kids are doing it.

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Photo via Facebook.

Coravin

Another thing all the cool kids are doing is using the Coravin. This wine gizmo extracts wine from a bottle without removing the cork. At the same time it replaces the space left by the removed wine with inert argon gas to keep the remaining wine from oxidizing. This allows somms to sell wines that are more expensive or rare by the glass. In the past, they typically couldn’t offer these wine by the glass because the cost of, or demand for, these wines would be slow enough that the open bottle would often go unsold before the wine turns. But with the Coravin that's no longer an issue.

Look around town and many restaurants with serious wine programs already have a Coravin selection. To name a few:


And many more. Look for more wine focused spots to offer wines via Coravin in 2016.

Somm-Slam

Recently Levi Dalton, host of the amazing wine podcast I'll Drink To That and Wine Editor at Eater, penned an article entitled, “Why 2016 Could Be a Difficult Year for Sommeliers.” In the article he posits “... sommeliers are being hit by big challenges that could signal the end to the kind of influence that they wield in the market today. In the way that once powerful restaurant maître d’s have now largely been replaced by hosts whose jobs are to seat people, sommeliers may also see their roles within New York City's restaurants diminish.” It appears that a number of the somms I interviewed for this article agree.

Here's what Jon McDaniel had to say:

“With the release of SOMM: The Movie, its follow-up film, and TV shows like Uncorked, there has never been more public eye on the profession of sommelier. But like Real Housewives, Project Runway and the like, the bubble is going to unfortunately burst. The celebrity sommelier has had the unintended consequence of turning our craft into parlor tricks. When I go to a table, I want to talk about the stories of wine, not to tell a guest that, ‘yes, I can double decant a wine like that girl from UnCorked,’ or ‘yes, I know the blonde guy from SOMM, and no he isn’t really that much of a jerk in person.’ The profession of sommelier, much like that of a chef, is not to live in a constant 15 minutes of fame, but to bring the passion of a winemaker from say, Campania to the guest; to pour bottles that get guests more interested in wine; to pair a dish with the perfect glass. As sommeliers, 2016 will end up being the year where we re-focus our community on our individual restaurants and of furthering our cellars, not our celebrity.”

And John Aranza:

“Wine study programs have taken on the trend many culinary schools have in the last decade by creating a surplus of such in the industry and not as many positions to accommodate. I find myself more interested in whom a particular sommelier has trained under, the same as a chef. This, to me, gives an indication of pedigree. Accreditation is so readily available for the layperson as well as industry veterans now. The issuing of certifications has far outnumbered the amount of positions available. While book study is key, the classic combination is still being both well-studied and well-traveled.”

The role of the sommelier is indeed changing, and often includes managerial duties, but I don't foresee the role of the sommelier actually diminishing in 2016.

While there's always some ass who thinks his Vivino or Delectable app knows more about the wines on the list that was carefully and passionately developed by a knowledgeable sommelier, for the most part guests look to somms more than ever for guidance in choosing wine. In fact, I'd say that today, the sommelier has surpassed the wine critic when it comes to wine recommendations. I mean, who do you trust more, some faceless writer bandying about bizarre flavor descriptors and anointing a wine with a numeric score, or the person who takes time to speak with you about what you like, takes that into consideration, then tells you the story of a wine that they think you'll not only like, but love? Neither the critic nor the app on your cell phone can do that with such accuracy or so personally. That being said, I do encourage you to use apps like these to check pricing on wines to be sure the markup you're being charged is fair. Expect restaurant pricing to be right around two times the retail price.

And isn't that personal touch one of the things that makes enjoying wine so special? So, I have to disagree about the diminished role of the sommelier. And however 2016 turns out, I hope yours is filled with amazing wine and memorable wine experiences.