Grape expectations: Raise a glass to better wine value
According to a recent study, 58pc of British wine drinkers believe Chablis is a grape, while 43pc think Chardonnay is a region. Of course, the opposite is true. Chablis (the region) possesses some of the best Chardonnay (the grape) vineyards in the world. I suspect the Irish may be better informed, but one thing's for certain: our thirst for wine education, such a feature of the early Noughties, has been slaked and so my first vinous prediction for 2011 is that the number of courses and the enrolment figures for such will continue to decline.
A greater certainty is that we will be drinking cheaper wines. Last year I said €8 was the base limit for wine that wouldn't see you clutching your throat. I'd take that down to €6.99 now and it may come down further in 2011. Shop carefully and don't buy more than a single bottle until you are sure it's tasty.
What will we be drinking? Well, the rise-and-rise of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc should continue, as there's a glut and the Kiwis are dumping wine on grateful European markets. That skinny tart, Pinot Grigio, will continue to prowl wine's catwalks. I think it's got another eight months before we yearn for more flavour and turn to Albarinho or, whisper it, old-style oaked Chardonnay. Riesling will continue to be a hard sell. Red-wise, there will be more Malbec. As a long shot, I reckon Tempranillo may be in the frame. Champagne will bottom out at around €18. It's not far off as I write, unless they extend the region's limits, which they might. Prosecco, the big success story of 2010, will continue to climb.
The stelvin (screw cap) will continue its upwardly mobile spiral. Already featuring on expensive Aussie wines, this trend will extend to Europe with the certain exception of Portugal who have too much invested in their cork industry to make such a change possible.
The consumer will have even more choice as hitherto little-known regions send us their wines -- Georgia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Mexico, Brazil, India and China are most likely to feature. Most of these will be dire. Marketing will assume even greater importance, except at the base end where wine will be 'unmarketed' with plain labels in cheerful colours.
Asia will replace the USA as the region that shapes wine. The influence of Robert Parker and his disciples will diminish and I wouldn't bet against some Japanese or Malaysian writer/taster/collector becoming the new guru. This will change the nature of the wines we drink as surely as social pressures will reduce wine's alcohol levels, despite global warming. Could Burgundy then become 'the new Bordeaux'? It's a possibility.
Themed bars and nightclubs are said to be on the verge of becoming a big deal. Get birds of a feather together and flog them exotic cocktails is the premise. Predictions for 2011 include more molecular wizardry, strange-flavoured syrups and a savoury element.
Lastly, for investors. Buying en primeur is a bad idea. Buying first-growth Bordeaux, wherever, will earn you better dividends than bank shares, nudge, nudge . . .