Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wine Trends for 2012

Link to RMGT article published December 2011

Keep your wine program fresh and stay up with the latest trends to keep your customer’s coming back for more.

Next year is expected to see a resurgence of the classics, such as Château Margaux, Bordeaux (above).

Thanksgiving festivities have passed, but the leftovers keep on giving. The Christmas wreaths are hung, and the smell of fresh pine fills the air. Champagne is stocked in the cellar in anticipation of the celebratory midnight toast. Holiday carols play on repeat as the crackling fireplace defrosts December’s chill, and your wine list reflects the warm winter flavors. But now it’s time to prepare for next year’s trends.

Just as bell-bottom jeans were popular in the ’70s and de rigueur last spring, so are wine trends cyclical. Malbec has seen its heyday; Merlot still has a bad reputation. And people either love or think they hate Chardonnay. Next year, we can expect to see a return to the classics.

“One of the up-and-coming regions to look for value is wines from Spain,” says Patrick Okubo, managing partner for Formaggio Grill in Kailua, Hawaii. “Areas such as Priorat, Navarra and Aragon are places that grow French varieties that we're comfortable with, such as Grenache, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are often blended with Spanish varieties such as Verdelho or Tempranillo, mixing comfort with something unique.” Okubo recommends Abadia Retuerta Rivola made from Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, an affordable selection for under $20.

Eric Crane, who does training and development for Empire Distributors Inc., focused in Georgia and North Carolina, agrees that people will go back to drinking wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Ribera del Duero, Loire and Alsace.

Charlie Plummer, regional manager in California and Nevada for Jackson Family Enterprises, says the superb vintages of 2006 and 2007 have inspired growing popularity for classic Napa and Sonoma wineries. “I'm starting to see a renewed interest from buyers looking to add depth to their list by way of library wines (mostly ’90s and early 2000s). Particularly wineries like Freemark Abbey's single-vineyard Rutherford Cabernets, La Jota's Howell Mountain Cabernets and Arrowood Cabernets.”

Plummer says buyers are drawn in by the current releases and eager to learn and share the winery’s history by making library wines, or older vintages, available on their list. “It's a walk back in time for your restaurant guests,” he says.

To find library selections for your list, I encourage you to inquire with the winery directly. Buyers need to be aware that only a handful can accommodate such requests. According to Plummer, most of the bigger corporate wine companies have purged their libraries before 2000. The continued consolidation of corporate wine companies limits the number of Napa and Sonoma wineries that actually carry library wines back to the late ’70s and early ’80s.

For value wines, South America still trumps any other region. “I think if people aren’t entertaining South America, they are really missing out on making money for themselves,” Crane says. “In this economy, restaurateurs need to make money, and sommeliers should run the program this way.”
Don’t be scared to please the crowds, but don’t compromise your standards. You can find wines that are going to be comfortable and provide a robust experience for your guest.

“Malbec from Argentina still represents the best price-to-value on the market,” Plummer says. Instead of the typical Malbec from Mendoza, try a Tannat from Uruguay, Carménère from Chile, or Pinot Noir from Patagonia. Or try an international-style Malbec, such as Cot from Cahors, France. Either way, Malbec and South American wines haven’t lost popularity yet.

Another region to consider for mid-priced wines is Australia. The country has been enthusiastically promoting a regional identity in the U.S. Take the neighborhood wine shop, for example. Australia used to have one lonely shelf among its competitors. Today, however, it is separated into different regions such as Margaret River, McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley.

“I think we will see more sommeliers talking about the $30 to $50 Australian wine that is pretty darn delicious at an everyday level,” Crane says. “If you spend $100, you can get a really well-balanced wine that works great with food.”

For the first time ever last year, Americans consumed more wine overall than the French (who still lead in per-capita consumption). According to the Wine Institute in San Francisco, domestic wine sales grew by 7 percent. Americans also spent more per bottle. People are growing increasingly curious about wine and want to learn more. Where there’s a demand, the supply will soon follow.

“Education in our industry is starting to get rolling,” Crane says. “Sommeliers are a fantastic resource, and the service staff is starting to understand the importance of wine knowledge.”

Whether you have a sommelier or a well-educated staff, staff training and awareness are musts for 2012. The dining experience is becoming more involved. Guests expect to learn more about the wines they already love. Or they want to be introduced to new wines that fit their palate preferences.
To keep customers happy, it’s important to keep your wine program fresh and stay up with the trends. Wine is just as vital an accompaniment to a meal as salt and pepper, adding a new dimension to the dining experience. Don’t miss the opportunity to provide a rich experience with the latest trends.

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