Out with the Old, In with the New: Wine Trends of 2009

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By Courtney Cochran

As with every new year, 2009 will bring the birth of new wine trends and the departures of others.  Some we'll be sad to see go (so long, cellaring for sport!), while others we'll barely miss (we're talking about you, overly alcoholic wines).  No matter what, we predict you'll find lots of things to relish about the wine scene in '09, and along with them excuses for uncorking many a new bottle.

OUT: Heavy, Oversized Bottles
Heavy wine bottles will continue to come under fire from climate change-conscious critics in 2009, with good reason.  Developments in '08 such as popular British wine critic Jancis Robinson's "name and shame" campaign - which prompted visitors to her subscription-basis website to list wines made by wineries using heavier-than-usual glass bottles, so others could avoid purchasing them - have already led to several large wineries' decisions to begin "lightweighting" their bottles going forward.  It can't happen soon enough. 
IN: Inexpensive, Aromatic Whites
The economic crunch of '08 has seen demand for wines of all kinds shift to the under-$10 category, which means more of us than ever before are looking for stellar quality at a value price.  Aromatic whites from the likes of Argentina - let's give it up for Torrontes! - and Portugal - we're talking about you, Vino Verde - are leading the pack for value at this price point, and - happily - American wine merchants are carrying these beauties in greater numbers than ever before.  

OUT: Overly Alcoholic Wines
"Table wines" tipping the scale at 16% alcohol are fast getting on the nerves of savvy sippers who look for balance - not a blasting headache - in their glass.  The new year should see winemakers taking note of the growing distaste for highly alcoholic wines and tailoring their offerings accordingly.  The trend may also usher in a shift in consumer preferences towards wines made in cooler climates, which boast lower alcohol levels and more mouthwatering acidity.  

IN: Sustainable/Organic Winemaking
In an era in which concern over global warming has reached a crescendo, sustainable and organic winegrowing practices are more important - and more appreciated - than ever before.  We take off our hats to winegrowers who have committed to farming practices that help ensure the vitality of vineyards for future generations, and who refuse to put chemicals into our good earth.  Their efforts will pay dividends for years to come, and are already showing up in the bottle.

OUT: Cellaring for Sport
With the Dow inching steadily south and showing few signs of rebound, '09 won't be the best time to buy and stash away zillion dollar bottles just for the sport of it.  In fact, collectors the country over report a decided downsizing of such extravagant purchases, along with a corresponding shift towards uncorking more sober purchases, particularly when company is present.  Still, should you feel the urge to splurge or spot a spectacular deal, by all means go for it  - just don't flaunt it.

IN: Cutting Carbon Emissions
The new year should also see the continued uptick in wineries and wine-related businesses cutting carbon emissions for the sake of the environment.  And whether they reduce their carbon footprints directly (think solar energy, more lightweight packaging and shipping materials) or indirectly (by offsetting emissions through reforestation or other means), these pioneers are to be saluted for catalyzing change by example and setting an admirable standard for our industry.

OUT: Critter Labels
If we had a dollar for every critter label we've seen...Let's just say that when it comes to wine labels bearing the likes of dogs, birds, fish or any other sort of creature, the jig is up (or at least it should be).  These labels made headlines - and generated serious cash flow - as Americans shifted from drinking beer and spirits to uncorking more wine bottles in recent years.  But as our experience with wine grew, so did our savvy, and these labels' pandering no longer rings true.  

IN: Buying Local/Regional
Paging all locovores!  The time has arrived - without a doubt - when buying products produced locally makes sense for many good reasons.  Besides the obvious boost that doing so gives a region's economy, buying local also means fewer carbon emissions are spent transporting products over long distances.  If you're not lucky enough to live in a region that produces great wine, consider those from regions relatively close to you - every emission avoided counts.  

OUT: Overly "Manufactured" Reds
Sadly, wine's recent upsurge in popularity has led to the introduction of oceans of overly "manufactured," homogenous-tasting red table wines whose greatest virtue is often...a critter label.  These wines, usually made from sub-par fruit that's tinkered with to excess in the winery (think oak chipping, tannin additions and other shortcuts to quality wine), offer consumers little real substance and even less reason to buy again.  Here's to real wine coming back in '09.  

IN: Wine Country Travel
At a time when international travel may seem like a splurge you'd rather not make, we encourage you to recall the many reasons why wine country travel is always a good idea.  With its emphasis on relaxation and its cozy, welcoming ambiance, wine country is the perfect antidote to the recession blues.  What's more, with travel of all kinds at an all-time low, deals and specials in wine country abound, making a weekend jaunt to your favorite Pinot producer a nearly effortless excursion.   Just the kind of event we look forward to in '09.

>>Read the Top 10 Wine Stories of 2008

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Seems to me that people who see a label with alcohol over 14% assume it is overdone and hot. A wine can be higher in alcohol and be very balanced with great character. My favorite is Manzanita Creek Zinfandels. There best are over 15% and have been well received by judges and wine writers. Their Stealth Zin won Double gold and best of the competition in the Pro Buyers 1st annual competition where all the judges are wine buyers.

Athenablu - Thanks for your comment. While I agree there are some really nice - and balanced - wines out there for 14 and even 15% alcohol, I feel that these wines are the exception rather than the rule. In 2008 I had too many wines that were WAY too alcoholic, and that left me feeling totally tipsy after just a glass or two (not to mention hungover the next day). Not only does this make it impossible for me, as a sommelier, to recommend these wines with food, it's beginning to be impossible to recommend them for responsible consumption, as well!

Hi alc. levels are less drinkable. Judges and writers taste lots of wines for a few seconds or maybe half a minute. The real test is over a 5 to 15 minute time span, does the wine continue to make you want to drink more. Don't substitute someone else's rating and a compressed time horizon for real drinkability.


I have to disagree. As a sommelier I am trained to make judgments based on a wine's balance as well as its drinkability in a regular tasting evaluation period, which for me is about 5 minutes. If a wine is out of balance - which overly alcoholic wines are - it is apparent almost immediately.

Another thing I'd like to point out is that while there are indeed many wines in the 14% range that are totally drinkable, some wines bearing 14.X% ratings in fact carry more alcohol than stated. There is leeway up to 1 percentage point in alcohol reporting in wines over 14% in the US, which means that some wines bearing 14.5% ABV may in fact hover quite close to 16%. More often that not, I wager it is wines such as this that make me - and many of my fellow tasters, pros and non-pros - find certain wines unpalatably alcoholic.

And I don't need 15 minutes to determine that.


We are a wine-country bed and breakfast in the Monticello Appellation of Virginia, just 6 miles outside Charlottesville,and have noticed that we are staying as busy as last year right now during our "slow season".

So I believe that this is indeed a trend - many of these guests are coming from a 2 - 3 hour driving radius. I have assumed they would rather spend their precious weekend get-away time at a driven destination rather than count on the reliability of airline travel.

I'm definitely going to be staying local this year. I thought I'd be traveling alot of different places, but the way the economy is and the high prices of airlines, I'll be driving to vacation spots and taking short three day weekend trips.
Most places in California are aware of the strain on people's budgets and are offering pretty good deals on dining and lodging rates. Haven't seen much of a price dip on wine tasting fees in Napa or Sonoma. I'll stick to scavenging the Internet for tasting coupons.
The other thing I've started to do for the very first time is bringing my own bottle of wine and just paying the corkage fee. This has significantly lowered my dining bill and I think will be a TREND this year for a lot of folks!!!

Cabernet Girl,

I totally agree with your prediction that more folks will be bringing their own wine when dining out in '09. Watch the blog for tips on BYO etiquette in the coming weeks.

Cheers, Courtney

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