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Peering Into the Crystal Glass: Wine Trends to Expect in 2016

The 2011 Brunello vintage, great wines across Europe from 2015, the decline of "natural" wines, and more
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 22, 2016 1:00pm ET

Forecasters are predicting that Winter Storm Jonas could bring a lot of snow and ice to the northeast this weekend, which is a great reason to stock up on wine today. Here are a few of my own forecasts for what the coming year has in store for wine lovers. 

Brunello di Montalcino 2011

Coming on the heels of the stellar 2010 vintage, the 2011s will be a tough sell, no matter how good the vintage. It was a hot August in Montalcino, particularly in the southern part of the region, with a heat wave reaching temperatures of 105° F. It was worse than 2003 in the late season according to Giacomo Bartolommei of Caprili, who used Amarone yeast to complete fermentations, which was the first time they added yeast since 1978.

Caprili only made 830 cases of Brunello in 2011, compared with 2,170 from the 2010 vintage. At Antinori's Pian delle Vigne estate, the volume of Brunello was half what it is in an average harvest. The 2011 wines I tasted in the region from barrel in 2014 were pleasant and fruity, with softer structures than the 2010s.

If the Rosso di Montalcinos are any indication, the Brunello '11s will be charming and fruity. At the recent Consorzio tasting in New York, I tasted a few dozen '11s with mixed results from around the zone. Look for my upcoming reviews.

Natural Wines

The trend for "natural" wines will decline. Popular in wine bars and restaurants in cities like New York, London and Paris, wines made without sulfur or any kind of intervention are rarely found outside the big cities that offer importers, distributors and a market to support them. As "natural" wines improve and consumers become more educated, they will recognize the difference between well-made, sound wines and flawed wines, realizing that regardless of origin and methods, there are only two types of wine—good and bad.

Rising Prices in Burgundy

One thing we can almost set our clocks to is escalating prices for Burgundy. Granted, the region has been devastated by hail three consecutive vintages and has not had a decent-size harvest since 2009. Add global demand for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produced in tiny quantities and the result is expensive. Expect to pay $100 or more for wines at the village level in the hierarchy.

The 2015 vintage looks promising, however, it too was smaller than average. I see no relief in sight unless 2016 delivers both quality and quantity, despite a stronger dollar.

Europe's 2015 Vintage

Despite a hot summer, the 2015 vintage across Europe appears to be the best in many years. Given the quality and consistency, 1990 might be the last year we witnessed this level of optimism and excitement in all the major Old World regions, although 2010 was also a contender. Growers throughout Europe are better-equipped to handle warmer growing conditions, from experience and knowledge to technology. The 2015s will appear as early as this spring, but it will be another two years before we see the heavy hitters.

Interest in All Things Italian

Italian wines will continue to capture the hearts of American wine lovers. Renewed focus on indigenous grape varieties from the country that boasts over 500 different varieties offers a mind-boggling range of wines to suit most palates and pocketbooks. From Alto Adige to Etna, Italian whites and reds are relatively uncomplicated and great with food.

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