The wine business is eagerly looking forward to 2012, if only because it sees prices recovering (and more about that on Thursday). But the New Year will also bring other changes, not all of which will be good for the business -- or for consumers. After the jump, a few thoughts about those changes and what they will mean.
• Lighter wines: People who are supposed to know about these things say producers will make ligher, more reasonable wines that are centered around the grapes and that aren't about amping up the alochol and fruit. I'll believe it when I see it. There is still too much critical acclaim for those who make 15 percent pinot noir and 14.8 percent chardonnay. And, frankly, those wines, which have sweet fruit flavors, tie in very nicely with the sweet wine trend, allowing wine snobs to drink sweet wines that get 95 points but still be a wine snob.
• The continuing fragmentation of the wine market: One of the leading Winestream media types wrote of the sweet wine trend: "Who cares?" This is just another example of something I've noticed over the past couple of years, and it's getting worse. Those of us who write about wine don't necessarily reflect -- or address -- the concerns of most wine drinkers. We're not doing anything to advance the cause of wine; rather, we're reinforcing the stereotypes that stop most people from drinking wine. It's like a movie critic refusing to review a Disney picture because it's beneath them. How often does that happen?
• Local wine. The good news is that local wine has made great strides in consumer acceptance, and I like to think I've done my part. But local wine still has tremendous work to do. It must focus on producing local wines, and not California wines masquerading as local. The industry must mature, not only in its winemaking, but in its marketing and professionalism. It's not enough any more to expect consumers to buy local just because it's local. The local industry must learn that consumers are pickier than that.
• Value vs. cheap: If cheap wine has been the consumer criteria since the beginning of the recession, wine that offers value will be the new $10 wine. Value could come at $10, and it could come at $40. Hopefully, the one lesson that the wine business learned from the recession is that consumers are much less interested in buying expensive wine just because it's expensive. They want a better reason, and that's quality.
• The next big wine region: Your guess is as good as mine. We've seen Australia, Chile and Argentina; who's next (and it's not like Argentina and Chile are going to go away)? My feeling is that value will answer that question. Whichever part of the world can deliver quality wine at a good price -- as opposed to just cheap wine -- will earn the honor. Maybe Spain? Maybe Sicily? Maybe southern France?
The photo is from Photos8 of the United States, using a Creative Commons license