Liquids: Wine Trends Fall 2005

This time of year, every magazine except Popular Mechanics seems to be stuffed to the gills with fall fashion advice. Including this one. So, good—now you know the new colors, the new lengths, and which of your old clothes are officially retro. But how about what to drink? If the pinot noir sensation caused by Sideways taught us anything, it’s that wine is fashionable. Pinot noir sales in the United States shot up nearly 16 percent after the movie was released last fall, according to ACNielsen (the same folks who track TV ratings). Most of the credit goes to Paul Giamatti’s soliloquy about the potential of this often difficult-to-grow grape (“Oh, its flavors—they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and … ancient on the planet”). The rest, of course, goes to the media (cue me, fanning my plumage).

Taking stock of wine trends and forecasts at this time of year makes sense anyway, because wine, like fashion, premieres somewhat seasonally. Wines are typically aged for at least 12 months in either barrels or bottles. That means those harvested last year or before are now headed to wine shops near you, just in time for their fall debut.

So here I am to tell you what to hold in your hand when you step out in that new fashion ensemble. For help, I turned to a handful of noted area retailers for their predictions of which wines will be stylish in the coming season. Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it; grab a glass, there’s nothing to it.

>>BRIGHT WHITES Many deep-gold whites that have the color of that synthetic butter they splash on movie-house popcorn actually taste like it, too. The “vanilla-kissed French toast” formula that hooked so many of us on wine during the past decade (myself included) has finally withered, driving people toward the noncloying refreshment of unoaked or minimally oaked wines that actually possess varietal character, such as sauvignon blancs from New Zealand (Kim Crawford) and South Africa (Mulderbosch); grüner veltliners from Austria (Nigl); and pinot grises and gewürztraminers from France’s Alsace region (Trimbach). Brix wine shop manager Andrew Deitz says sauvignon blanc (sancerre) is a particular favorite of his largely South End clientele. Kelly Coggins, a wine consultant for Brookline Liquor Mart in Allston and the Wine Bottega in the North End, reports that grüner veltliners are gaining ground, too.

>>SANG-FROID WINES While wines from sunny California remain hot for their fruity, big flavor profiles, there’s suddenly a call for “cool-climate” wines. The buzz is that too much heat results in wines that are off balance, overly fruity, and high in alcohol. Cooler climes, on the other hand, produce wines with higher acidity, which equals food-friendly refreshment—Oregon (Sokol Blosser) and Washington (Chateau Ste. Michelle) on the West Coast, New York (Bedell Cellars) and Massachusetts (Westport Rivers) on the East Coast, Argentina (Catena), and Australia’s Yarra Valley (Green Point), to name a few. “People are getting more daring and esoteric, and that’s a good thing,” Coggins says. And many of these wines, especially the Argentines, are great values. Who says you can’t be fashionable on a budget?

>>THE NEW BLACK The good news is that we’re drinking a lot more red wine. The bad news is that fruity, one-dimensional merlot, despite the best efforts of Sideways, remains one of the most popular varietals. But other reds are on the rise. Remember these names: nero d’avola from Italy (roasted fruit), carmènere from Chile (merlot with more depth and character), malbec from Argentina (spicy, rich, and aromatic), and tempranillo from Spain (pinot noir meets cabernet sauvignon). Deitz says to keep an eye on Spanish wines from Priorat, Rioja, and, for value, Ribera del Duero. Coggins says Sicily is getting a lot of play (finally), and predicts that soon Greece will be a force to be reckoned with.

>>PINOT ENLARGEMENT The consensus among our experts is that the Sideways effect is, well, still in effect. But a year on, the cognoscenti are branching out beyond California’s Central Coast. Abe Lerner, wine manager at Blanchards Wine & Spirits in West Roxbury, is thrilled because he has long been pointing adventurous customers toward Oregon pinots. Coggins recommends seeking out South Africa’s floral riff on pinot called pinotage (Kanonkop), a cross between pinot noir and cinsault.

>>“GENERATION W” If there was one thing all our experts agreed about, it’s that Boston’s wine drinkers are getting younger. “I’m seeing a lot of people who don’t fit the stereotype of the wine drinker—snobbish and uptight; they’re more everyday people,” says Lerner. Adds Coggins: “I see the consumers under 30 coming in full force. Their attitude is a little more experimental than the old guard’s. I’m only 23, but I’ve been watching this happen for at least five years.”

Which means Coggins probably has no idea what parachute pants are, or skinny leather ties. (Those are from when I was 23.) But what he—and, apparently, his whole generation—does know is that wine is always in fashion.