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The Next Wine Varietal Star?

I’ve yet to put my finger on the zeitgeist that creates consumption trends in the wine industry.  Wine isn’t like popular, consumer culture where trends happen at the street-level and work their way up, or, alternatively, they start with media stars and work their way down.

With regulation and distribution being what it is, I think trends happen more conscientiously in the wine industry; it’s based on research and data—whereby the slightest uptick in a varietal can mean a piling on of growing, importing, stocking and subsequent promotion to grow sales.  If the media goes along for the ride—ala Rośe—, than that is all the better.

We can all certainly wish that somebody, perhaps Master Sommeliers, will wield ever growing influence in the swings that mark our consuming public.  In fact, we need this to occur to create a healthy balance, as the wine industry continues to bifurcate on multiple levels between mass production and boutique, points wines and unreviewed artisan production, alongside imports, etc.

With that in mind, I’m curious to see what the next “hot” varietals will be and how they are addressed in the market.  Does the wine industry have an influential star system whereby a winemaker, a Sommelier, or a critic not named Parker, can raise tides and steer ships to new chartered courses?

Last week winemaker Randy Dunn denounced high alcohol wines, so we’ll see how that moves or doesn’t move activity over the course of the next year or two.  We’re already starting to see a groundswell around more organic and “food-friendly” wines so lower alcohol wines may already be well on their way, Rośe being a fine lower-alcohol choice for many and a food-friendly complement to a wide variety of dishes.

A recent feature in Ronn Wiegand’s “Restaurant Wine” caught my attention for similar reasons.  Restaurant Wine is a trade-oriented wine newsletter with a mixture of news, insight and review available by subscription only.  In the current issue (#118) he takes time to profile each of the eight Americans who passed the Master Sommelier exam in March, bringing the total number of domestic M.S.’s to 87.

It may be that their influence will grow as enough voices in the wilderness come together to create a public chorus.

An interesting thing occurred in each of these profiles that asked a number of standard questions, including their “favorite wine types” and “most underrated/underappreciated wines.”  Four of the eight profiles cited Piemontese wines—Nebbiolo-based, Barolo or Barabaresco as one of their favorites or noted as underappreciated. Secondarily, four of the eight also cited German Riesling as either one of their faves, or underappreciated.

Both of these wines, by their naming and/or origin are a confusing, tangled mess for American wine consumers to figure out.

But, again, this is where the influence of the Sommelier in our increasingly wine-centric society can be a positive indicator of trends to come.

For example, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco and Barolo are all made from the Nebbiolo grape and are produced in that same order of intensity-Nebbiolo being the “lightest,” and Barolo being the heaviest.  Not that you would know unless you really tried to figure it out, or had somebody teach you—a Sommelier, for example.

Barbaresco, in particular, is something I would definitely like to see grow in the U.S., driving prices down while they are at it.  Finding good Barbaresco’s below $40 a bottle is a challenge.  Trader Joe’s $13 junk bottles notwithstanding.

I had a bottle of a Barbaresco at dinner in New York City last May that opened my eyes to the beauty of this region.  The 2000 Cascina Morassino Barbaresco paired with a striped bass with white, green and wild asparagus did two things—it paired red wine with fish and it was a complete revelation in seductiveness.  One of the less than five bottles I’ve had that acted as an epiphany while driving introspection—the experience that so many wine lovers orgasmically chase. 

A couple of quotes from the Master Sommeliers:

Fred Dexheimer, Domestic Portfolio Director, T. Edwards Wines, New York on Barolo/Barbaresco: 

They are soulful by nature and reward those with patience.  One is forced almost to meditate while enjoying a great bottle of one of these wines.

Thomas Burke, Sommelier, Red Rock Casino & Resort, Las Vegas on Barolo/Barbaresco:

For me, gaining an appreciation of these wines was like getting my Ph.D. in Understanding Wine Complexity.

Brian Koziol, District Manager – Sales, Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida, Miami, FLA:

Great with food.  Wines with soul (cherries, truffles, roses, licorice).

Brett Zimmerman, General Manager, American Division, Southern Wine & Spirits of Colorado, Denver, CO

Piemontese Wines, especially those that are Nebbiolo-based.  Wines from these regions have high levels of intensity and acidity; are mostly single variety wines (that reach their apogees here); and have considerable history and food culture associated with them.

German Rieslings, for their part, were cited by the Sommeliers, especially the Kabinett-level food-friendly styles.

Generally speaking, I think as the ranks of Master Sommeliers grow in the U.S., so too will their mainstream influence.  While I’m not sure what the next “hot” varietal will be, I’m hoping that the Master Sommeliers can act as “star” influencers in bringing both Riesling and Barbaresco to a greater level of prominence in the U.S., educating us along the way.


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (2) |


On 07/31, Jack wrote:

Ah, fahgit these reds, let’s just go straight to the whites - Ribolla Gialla! Ya got Gravner, Miani, Radikon, Movia, Damijan, Simcic and Jermann. Talk about All-Stars!

On 01/29, Tessa Norris wrote:

Hi Jack,
You mention Ribolla Gialla.  Vare Vineyards we’re the only producer of it in the U.S.!
We just went to Italy in Nov/Dec. to meet with Enzo Pontoni of Miani, Sasa at Radikon Alex Simcic, and others.  I’d enjoy talking with you.  Check us out!


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