Welcome to the first edition of the "State of the Bar". This edition will focus on wine trends for 2018. The second and third editions will hone in on spirits and beer.
Like all of us, 2017 was a complicated year for wine. Drought and the tragic wild fires that burned through northern California and its vineyards left its mark on an otherwise successful year for the wine industry. Shaken, but not defeated, what is on the horizon for 2018 wine trends? Let’s take a look at which trends will open up, breath, and come to maturity in 2018.
Premium Wine Time
Premium seems to be the buzzword surrounding a lot of beverage trends taking hold. And wine drinkers are also looking to spend more on high end bottles than in years past.
Beverage Dynamics wrote about the “premiumization” trend that wine retailers are seeing in their stores.
On the pricing front, consumers are continuing to trade up in 2017. While more than 80% of wine category volume still occurs below $10 at retail, national data shows that consumers are increasingly seeking more premium offerings, and the most significant growth in the first two quarters of this years is occurring above $10 a bottle.
“Buying up” is often an easier sell at restaurants than wine sellers, where drinkers are looking more for an exciting and elevated experience than simply purchasing a bottle to unwind with after work.
The growth of rosé is beginning to wane. Which isn’t necessarily a surprise, given that the explosive rise of the pink stuff couldn’t be sustained forever. But rosé from the Provence region of France continues to build as drinkers seek out different styles of the wine. Provençal rosé is light and crisp, without the soft fruits found in many of its American counterparts. Wine Spectator notes that this rosé style is especially popular in restaurants and sales numbers show that Provençal rosé recently hit a milestone, reaching 1.3 million cases for distribution to the U.S. Whispering Angel is the brand leading the trend in U.S. wine bars and restaurants.
The imperial purple shade of Bordeaux red wine isn’t the only reason the stately region has a reputation for producing fine wines fit for the highest class. The region’s wines have a quality and depth that puts Bordeaux blends in a class of their own. But the individual grapes that can be used in Bordeaux reds are also worthy of reputation. Some of these grape varietals are making noise of their own, and taking up listing on wine menus.
Carménère is Growing
Carménère has taken on a new life in Chile. Originally grown in Bordeaux, this grape was traditionally used as blending grape in red wines. The pleasures of South American wines were brought to U.S. drinkers through Argentinian Malbec. And now South American wines are growing in quality, yield, and consumption. Carménère has also grown to become more appreciated as its own distinct varietal. Spicy and rich, it’s becoming more popular on restaurant wine lists and in wine retail.
Cabernet Franc Finds a New Home
A grape regularly used in Bordeaux reds, Cab Franc also has legions of fans that favor Loire Valley wines from the north center of France. But Cabernet Franc is taking root in another prominent wine region, California. And California wine makers have put their own spin on Cab Franc, with wines that boast flavors of big, ripe fruit. Punch Drink notes that Cab Franc is primed to grow in popularity, particularly as wine drinkers honor California and the wine regions that were devastated by wild fires.
Red Blends Grow On
The red blend market is wide open. Often credited to an emphasis on catering to millennials, the popularity of red blends continues to build beyond that golden calf demographic.
2016 saw 10% growth in red blend sales from 2015. And that wine trend doesn’t seem to be slowing, but rather picking up steam.
One of the reasons this category is set up for continued growth is how open and freewheeling a category it is. Red blends offer a perfect palette for wine makers to mix grapes, blending, and mimic other styles.
Natural Wine Reaches its Tipping Point
The fervor surrounding natural wine, the wildly popular, loosely defined category of wines produced biodynamically or organically, is catapulting toward a fever pitch. We think it will peak and eventually decline in 2018. As experts question the category, and the market is inevitably saturated with bottles of varying caliber, consumers and distributors alike will start to backpedal. We expect to see some of the bar and restaurant lists solely devoted to natural wines start to even out their offerings with traditional bottles.
Wine Bars Are Everywhere, All the Time
As fine dining continues its decades-long transmutation from white tablecloths to (sustainably sourced) butcher blocks, so too has the all-day cafe morphed from roadside Starbucks to hip, coffee-, wine-, beer-, and cocktail-slinging hangout. We predict the cafe/wine bar hybrid will continue to rise as sommeliers, bar managers, and restaurateurs see its popular appeal and economic viability.
Amazon Re-Enters the Online Wine Sales Marketplace
We fully expect to see the announcement or launch of “Amazon-Whole Wine Online” in 2018. With its retailer licenses in nearly every state, Amazon/Whole Foods has the regulatory infrastructure to sell and ship and deliver wine to nearly every corner of the country. The idea that Amazon would forgo the opportunity to take advantage of this landscape goes against everything we’ve learned about Amazon and Bezos over the past decade. Look for an Amazon Wine Online Initiative to emerge in 2018. The biggest loser in this move will immediately be Wine.Com, but small and medium-sized fine wine retailers will also be impacted if they cannot move the ball on changing laws in more states to allow shipments from out-of-state retailers.