Predicting the future can devolve into more of a wish list than educated conjecture.

For instance, I would love to foretell that the Twin Cities will get more wine bars that are really serious about wine. That the ever-improving array of Italian whites will take off commercially, as rosés finally did the past couple of years. That every restaurant would institute a policy of no corkage fees for patrons who also buy a bottle from the house list.

Such wishful thinking has less value in intuiting what 2012 will bring than talking to merchants about the trends they're actually seeing:

Malbec is not going away: "Malbec just keeps gaining in popularity," said Tim O'Connell, manager of the Big Top in St. Paul, "and the wines are getting better without the prices going up." Surdyk's wine buyer Andy Hall said malbec "continues to be strong" at his store. In a year in which the Twins aren't sure what they'll get from their M&M boys (Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau), the viniferous M&Ms -- malbec and moscato -- will remain solid performers.

Moscato's ripple effect: O'Connell foresees "the moscato craze really tapering off," but the consensus is that sweet wines are ascending. Dave Perrier, owner of Perrier Wine & Liquors in Eagan, said customers who came to wine via moscato have gone for late-harvest rieslings from Washington and pinot grigios from Italy. Another potential beneficiary, said Duane Wienke, owner of Liquor Barrels in Golden Valley and Crystal: "classic California chardonnays in the Kendall-Jackson style, that oaky, buttery thing. If you look at historical trends, after the rise of white zin, that was where a lot of consumers went."

Sweetness of a different color: "More powerful than moscato is the trend toward sweet red wines," Hall said. "A lot of them have 'sweet' on the label, and I like this. These are going to introduce a lot of drinkers to red wine, and get them accustomed to enjoying a [sweeter] glass of red wine and not just pink wines." Even without the word on the label, reds with a lot of residual sugar, especially blends such as Apothic, are rising in popularity, Hall said. Red blends and jammy zins are hot at Perrier's store, too.

Reverting to archetype: "I think people are coming back to some of the classics," Wienke said. "Good, solid California cabs are coming back, and even Chateauneuf-du-Papes, the wines that were big five, six years ago." Bill Belkin, wine buyer for Byerly's/Lunds, said his stores' cabernet business has been "off the charts. After the malaise, people are coming back to cabernet. And they want big cabernets, but they're not looking to spend 50, 60 bucks anymore. ... Everything old is new again."

Vive la France: Speaking of venerable classics, Hall is very optimistic about the 2009 French wines, just arriving in stores. He said '09 was "a great vintage across the board."

That would make 2012 a very good year, across the board, on the wine-buying front.

Bill Ward •