There’s never been a better time to be an inquisitive, engaged wine consumer in the Twin Cities.
And it’s just going to get better, at least if 2018 predictions from local wine mavens hold.
Several of the eight folks we asked — what they expect to see and/or would like to see — talked about the plentiful opportunities available to what Tana Wold, purchasing and event manager for Eden Prairie Liquors, called “open and adventurous consumers who will take a chance on a varietal or region that they are not completely aware of or comfortable with just because it is something different.”
Wold was among those who cited the plethora of smaller importers and distributors bringing in wines from across the globe, “more and more varietals and growing regions.”
Or, as Rodney Brown, owner/operator of Cedar Lake Wine Co. in Golden Valley, puts it, “I think people are tired of being bored, of seeing the same offerings. I think that horse has been beaten to death. There are always going to be customers gravitating toward brands they know, but the shift is more toward ‘I want to try something new.’ ”
Alison Perrier Briggs, wine specialist at four Perrier Wines & Liquors stores, also foresees her customers “venturing into more esoteric brand and varietals. I am already happy to see how many of our customers are broadening their wine game. There’s been an uptick in less mainstream wines already, such as Picpoul, Ruché and Jura.”
This emerging trend coalesces with an increasing ardor for authenticity and provenance, said Rebecca Slapnicher, beverage program coordinator for the Bartmann Group of restaurants. “People are paying closer attention to viticulture and winemaking practices. Restaurants will put more emphasis on offering organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines. Pét-nat [a light, fizzy wine] will gain visibility in the sparkling market.”
Phineas Fittipaldi, owner/operator of Troubadour Wine Bar in Minneapolis, agreed. “Distributors, buyers and consumers have passionately shifted their focus to supporting small family producers. It’s awesome to see that we are all starting to care as much about where our wine comes from as where our food comes from. After all, wine is a food — a magical one.”
Hard to argue that point.
Sparklers and wine in a can
The next most prevalent prognostication found purveyors seeing bubbles following the primrose path of pink wines.
“On the heels of a rosé explosion in the last year, which was 10 years in the making,” said Cindy Cotroneo Fix, owner/operator of Cotroneo’s in White Bear Lake, “I think customers are really starting to realize that their preconceived notions of ‘wine truths’ might be wrong, asking, ‘What else might I have thought was uninteresting that now I can be reintroduced to?’
“That’s where bubbles come in. Gone are the days of the headache-inducing, CO2-shot, gross bubble bombs that we only drank once a year and spent the other 364 days trying to work up the nerve to drink again. Now, it’s wine first and sparkling second. The sparkling wines available in our market right now are better than we’ve ever seen, and they are in a perfect position for a lift in excitement and interest.”
Briggs noted that “we are all realizing sparkling wine isn’t just for New Year’s, but can be busted out for more small celebrations, such as getting your laundry finished or Tuesday.”
Other nascent movements could come to the fore in 2018, our winemongers say.
Brian Mallie, wine buyer for Kowalski’s, opined that this “might be remembered as the year wine in a can takes up permanent residence on store shelves. Convenient, nicely priced and easy to finish, the first generation of canned wine has been of mostly very good quality. I am expecting the number of choices to increase significantly this year.”
Mallie also anticipates that cabernet franc “can build on its 2017 résumé to become a fashionable pick in 2018.” Slapnicher envisions regions such as Hungary and Slovenia and grapes such as blaufränkisch, Alicante Bouschet and garnacha tintorerra popping up on glass lists. Perrier Briggs expects Oregon wines to continue their ascent, and not just on the pinot noir front.
Wold sees progress on another front. “Wine consumers are throwing the book out the window when it comes to wine and food pairings,” she said. “They are drinking what they like instead of following a pairing chart. I have always said that drinking a wine you don’t like is the easiest way to ruin a fabulous meal.”
Women and wine
As for wish lists, the offerings were more diverse — literally and figuratively.
For starters, Slapnicher said, “I hope to see a lot of support for female winemakers. There are some amazing women out there making really beautiful wine.”
Mallie would like to have Beaujolais “finally overcome the stigma and identity crisis created by decades of marketing Nouveau, and take its rightful place on wine lists and dinner tables. Few wines are more charming or satisfying. It’s the one region absolutely everybody has heard of, the wines of which nobody drinks.”
Others are championing a similar kind of rethinking. Take riesling, Perrier Briggs said. “Yes, I know that big blue bottle Grandma had of Blue Nun back in the ’80s is what comes to a lot of our minds when we hear ‘riesling.’ Oh, how wrong we were,” she said. “Riesling doesn’t have to be syrupy-sweet. Many are different levels of dry and fantastic, and pair well with so many types of cuisines.”
Similarly, Slapnicher is hoping for a Lambrusco 2.0 recalibration, with consumers coming to realize that today’s offerings are not the treacly plonk of yore. “It may just become the new rosé,” she said.
In a somewhat similar vein, Brown would like to see us “revisit the tried and true varietals. I still have customers who think Chianti is a grape. People should go back and try Chianti, Burgundy and Bordeaux. So many people don’t understand those wines. There’s some crazy-good bottles out there and no reason people shouldn’t be looking at those.”
What Brown is certain will happen is for consumers to seek out bargains — “wines that are value-driven and better than their price points,” he said, “whether it’s white, red, imports, domestics, things that are more bang for the buck.”
At Lunds & Byerlys, wine and spirits category manager Bill Belkin is noticing the same tendencies.
“We’re talking about things from Portugal, Spain, a little from Chile in the $12 to $15 range. These Portugal reds from the Dao are phenomenal,” he said. “We’re seeing people wanting to try other bubbles, cavas and some South African and California bubbles. The trend is still toward getting a lot of wine for just a little bit of money.”
Of course, that could be cited as “en vogue” most any year. Good thing there are exponentially more such offerings available locally than in years past.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.