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Peering into 2018
It is crystal ball time; the moment when I take a step back and reflect on the future of the wine business and try and predict the trends and movements that will be influencing the wine world in 2018.
First up has to be the climate: The last few years have shown us how extreme weather conditions can wreak havoc on our vineyards: the frost at the end of April 2017; the dreadful forest fires in Portugal and in California; the extreme drought in Italy in the summer of 2017 which transformed Tuscany into a dust bowl. Sadly I don’t see these freak weather conditions abating in the near future; or at least until we manage seriously to reverse the effects of climate change globally.
There is one positive however and that is winegrowers’ ability to deal with adverse weather conditions better than in the past. Not only in the vineyards where windmills and smudge pots guard against frost and we can fire hail cannons as shockwaves to turn hail into rain but also in the cellar where our winemaking is now adapted each year to the ripeness and alcohol of our grapes. 2018 will see more progress in this field with methods of pruning, canopy and cover crop management compensating more effectively with the vagaries of climate.
This has meant that there are less and less “bad vintages” than in the past and many of our clients are surprised to see how less sexy vintages such as 2007 and 2011 are drinking so well at the moment. Vintage differences are being smoothed out by accurate winemaking. Is it too much to hope that the 2018 vintage will turn out as well as the glorious trio of 2015, 2016 and 2017 in such areas as Bordeaux and Burgundy? The odds are stacked against it and the wine trade has a natural distrust of too many great vintages following each other; but it is absolutely true that wines are being made so much better these days than they were a decade or so ago.
Going hand in hand with this is the trend for “natural” wines. While I hate the fact that the non-sulphur movement has adopted the word “natural” for their wines, thereby casting suspicion on all other wines that are produced with sulphur, we winemakers are getting better and better and managing our winegrowing and winemaking better so we use less and less additives. I dislike the cloudy cider taste of many natural wines but I love the tangy zing of organic wines and the beauty of a biodynamically farmed vineyard where the soils are soft and powdery and teaming with insects and the whole biosphere is buzzing with life. In 2018, I predict that more vineyards are going to move to organic farming and I applaud the efforts of official bodies, such as the governing body of Saint Emilion which has decreed that all estates need to be either organic or sustainable by the 2019 vintage.
Looking at wine and spirits fads – news from capitals such as London and New York announce that the trend for a dizzying array of different Gins and Tonics is abating fast (witness how last summer more people seemed to be drinking the lower alcohol Aperol spritzers). While alcohol levels are falling, it would be wishful thinking to state that fine Sherries, Madeiras and Ports will come back into the mainstream. However, I welcome the move, spurred on by several sommeliers for these wines and especially for Fino en Rama. If ever there was a gastronomic way to waken the taste buds, this would be it.
The King is dead; long live the king: Robert Parker has not been an influence for over a year or so. We thought that we would miss him terribly but the wine world has got used to living without his generous 100 point scores and moved on. Who has taken his place? Certainly not the myriad of self proclaimed journalists. No, the rise of influence in bloggers, specialty wine merchant and sommeliers has had more effect on the way we buy wine. Word of mouth has replaced press reviews. Thanks to the Internet, we share our favourite wines with our peers and urge our contacts to try them.
Finally, in Belgium, expect to see more focus on sommeliers and their roles as we gear up for the Best Sommelier in the World Championship, which will be held in Antwerp between the 10th – 15th March 2019. This will mark 50 years since Belgium hosted the first competition in 1969. To get involved contact the Belgian sommelier guild at: www.sommeliers-gilde.be -It looks as if this is going to be a key event in the Belgium wine scene.
Happy New Year to you all and may your 2018 be filled with beautiful wines.
© Fiona Morrison M.W.