As the world inches its way towards normality, the post pandemic wine world – much like many other industries – is certainly looking like a very different beast now.
Much like how the coronavirus epidemic was the harbinger of digitalisation, global events have led to interesting developments in a post pandemic wine world.
It’s no secret that many of the purported trends that have been touted over the years haven’t quite exploded into the mainstream but in some ways, the seemingly premature announcements could partly be down in part by authoritative figures wanting to establish themselves as the eminent Nostradamus of the age; they’re way ahead of the curve, and it’s not their fault that we’re slow to keep up. But it will happen.
While it’s hard to comb through the many factors that are happening concurrently, I think a catchphrase best encapsulates the biggest factors that will influence the future: Value and values.
Value-driven and values-driven. The immediate future will be determined by competitive prices and accessibility as well as a growing consciousness about responsibility towards the environment and one’s health.
There’s nothing here that hasn’t been raised before, but every microcosm of activity points towards this big picture.
The push for value
The likes of Bordeaux remain the pinnacle for wine enthusiasts and the finest of the breed will remain out of reach for all but the most lavish and devoted who are willing to pay top dollar for the best examples.
At the same time, young, new wine drinkers enter this sinkhole but they have an interesting perspective that previous generations do not – they’re likely more discerning consumers, more likely to appreciate the finer things in life despite their tender age; they’ve probably been exposed to more examples of drinks, and are aware of the wealth of options at their fingertips. One Google search, one tap of the finger to an online merchant, and one tap to make a payment, and Bob’s your uncle. They won’t get that reference.
That’s not to say that the revered name of Bordeaux is lost on Gen Z drinkers; many a spirited review can be found extolling the virtues of first-growth vines and the veneration of terroir. They’ve seen the prices too. So with exception of those who can easily afford it and those who have studiously worked their way towards appreciating fine wine, it’s far easier to move on to something else. And there’s always something else out there.
A higher consciousness toward consumption
Amongst a veritable sea of options, is a category of wines that have been talked about for many years: natural wines and biodynamic wines. Touted to be the next big thing without becoming one, it’s only a matter of time before the movement has the legs to get across the line.
And perhaps what it takes is a generational change more than anything else. The youth of today are increasingly idealistic and more aware of their health as well as their impact on the environment. While they may not have the spending power of their parents, they are open to alternatives that offer value and fall in line with their values.
Again, the concepts behind organic, natural and biodynamic wines aren’t new. but as demand for organic produce and better quality food sources gains traction, the idea of wines that have been made with more care becomes more attractive as well.
Basically – buy less, but buy better.
In other words, there’s a seemingly innate symbiosis of the desire for a healthy environment and better individual health. For example, biodynamic wines with Demeter certifications are naturally low-sulphite wines so those who are particular about their sulphite intake can have a ready-made solution, which is a win-win if you subscribe to that way of life.
A wealth of alternatives
“Problems are only opportunities with thorns on them” – attributed to Hugh Miller
If anything, limitations and shortages have opened doors erstwhile unseen. Champagne shortages have turned the public eye, and interest, to alternatives, leading to new opportunities for many producers waiting in the shadows, including affordable alternatives made in the ‘classic’ style like House of Arras from Tasmania. And there’s plenty more when you consider Cava, Prosecco and Crémants, of which Rosé is arguably its most recognisable member, and is amid a resurgence.
In the same vein, prices for top French picks are never going to drop, so what’s the next best thing for the majority of wine drinkers? Head to the unfamiliar territory, where unfashionable grape varieties and underrated wine regions remain largely unexplored, and prices are far more palatable. The discovery is in itself its incentive – you enjoy the good ones far longer at fair prices before they inevitably become scarce due to increasing demand.
For example, perhaps it’s a good time to seek out Bouzeron, arguably the most unusual appellation from Côte Chalonnais in Burgundy and still under the radar. Falanghina from Italy has been knocking on the door for a while, so perhaps it’s finally time to take that first step? Ditto for the likes of Trepat; still relatively unknown and showing great promise both as a still wine and Cava.
New circumstances lead to new experiences
At the risk of belabouring the point, sometimes, all it takes are circumstances to shake our unwillingness to try new things – or ‘new’ old things, more like.
For example, you almost always associate Bordeaux with reds. White Bordeaux accounts for roughly 10% of Bordeaux’s total production. But at one point in history, white wine ruled Bordeaux. With challenging climate conditions, white grapes are faring well in comparison to reds, and people are starting to take notice. It will remain in the shadow of its more illustrious sibling, but for now, at the very least, you can expect it to offer tremendous value.
Because we live in the tropics, we need to chill our wines to some degree for serving, but serving wines cold – especially reds in this context – is starting to catch on, what with the hot days being more unbearable. Lighter styles of reds like Beaujolais and Dolcetto, for example, lend themselves well to this purpose and are worth exploring.
A generational change is a-comin’
Younger wine drinkers, it seems, might be key to paving the way for the wine world’s less hermetic offerings. They are more receptive to drinking wines in an untraditional way and not (yet) sunk into the rabbit hole of devoting their life to chasing ‘unobtainium’ bottles.
This also means that more than ever, the values of a vineyard and its practices have become selling points. Much of what is driving the natural wine and biodynamic movement stems from traditional practices that are far more sustainable and healthier for the environment, and tend to draw the attention of a younger generation. It will not be a surprise if this becomes the new norm if more and more young people make wine their tipple of choice.
In that respect, other traditional wines or processes flying under the radar have somewhat surfaced (or edging away from outright obscurity) into the public eye as a result of two years of enforced digitalisation. Wines from hitherto unknown regions are often the first port of call – most people probably didn’t know that Ukraine had a wine industry – and offer something a little different. Baja California, Croatia and Bulgaria are some names on a list that’s growing steadily by the day.
Georgia will likely be the most fashionable name on that list. It is perhaps the oldest winemaking region in the world, dating back to around 6,000 BC, and it is still practising some of its traditions today. It is perhaps best known for amber wines (usually referred to as orange wines) that are made from local grape varieties like Saperavi, Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane, which are aged in large earthenware vessels (qvevri).
The more things change…
Other old practices that are somewhat finding a resurgence include infused wines. It isn’t new, of course, and is one of the ways people in the past have used to preserve wines – the vermouth that we know and love today originated from this practice. But more wines like Bojo do Luar from Portugal, are making a case for this ‘forgotten’ style. And in the case of Bojo do Luar, the addition of chestnut flowers also helps in stabilising the wine and minimising sulphites, which may sound more appealing to a health-conscious generation.
Despite the pretty picture I’m painting about the immeasurable potential for new and engaging wine experiences, the reality is that most people are not going to be actively searching high and low to find the next big thing before anyone else does. Even if they rely entirely on new media to feed them information, it requires winemakers or other stakeholders to directly engage with their potential markets. In other words, there is still a need for distributors and aggregators who can fill these gaps; experts who know their market and can devote their efforts to filling those niches.
For the longest time, wine was (and still is) essentially an experiential affair. Trade shows like ProWine Singapore (they’re resuming their shows this year) and consumer-centric wine fairs like Ewine Asia’s tasting events were the primary ways to create new relationships. At its heart, it is the most succinct answer to the question: why would you buy something without trying? While the global pandemic did not change people’s desire for a drink, it has reframed the question somewhat: why would you buy something without checking out reviews first?
It’s perfectly fine for established wine labels; for the road less travelled, it is still pretty much a stab in the dark, even for an educated guess. And that’s where these somewhat traditional institutions still have a part to play in the process of discovery. It’s a slightly more refined process these days, but it is essentially the same. I’ll resist the urge to drop that French cliché about history’s biggest cliché.
It’s even more apparent when you keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. Given how saturated and frenetic the modern news cycle is, nothing is truly groundbreaking; the next big thing is always in the periphery, always waiting in the wings, watching for the moment the levee breaks.
But that feels like a dreadfully cynical way to look at life’s machinations, especially when you consider that the best time in history to be a wine enthusiast, might well be this very moment. So with all that is said and done, is old is the new new?
As far as we’re concerned in this post pandemic wine world – absolutely, without question.
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