Your Sommelier’s Predictions For 2009

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - December 31, 2008
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Happy New Year to you and yours! While you’ve been shopping and wrapping all your gifts, I have been peering into my crystal wine glass and discerning what next year will bring for the wine world. Here are my top predictions for 2009.

* Prices for all but the top wines will decrease. At the end of 2008 we already see a softening of the auction market and prices. Combine this with backed-up inventories in the retail and restaurant channels due to economic struggles, producers will have no other choice but to reconsider their upcoming release prices. It will be especially felt in areas where growing seasons have not been kind, including pockets of France and Australia. Bordeaux, for instance, had the awesome 2005 vintage that was followed by an OK vintage in 2006 and a mediocre vintage with 2007.

This is really good thing for consumers. There should be great deals to be had if you are a savvy buyer.

* Consumers will trade down and drink less. As a result, people will fall back on wines that are familiar to them. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay will benefit from this. They are already the most popular red and white wines respectively, but they will distance themselves even further from the pack. Conversely, lesser-known grapes will suffer as people will become unwilling to venture outside of their comfort zone. (My plea: Don’t stop trying new wines!)

* In the realm of food and wine, comfort food will be the “special of the day.” High-end restaurants will be most affected by the downturn in the economy. There is always room for innovation and creativity, but restaurants that offer good comfort food at reasonable prices will be the most successful. These are often restaurants that do not offer a wide variety of wines. If so, call ahead and ask if they have a corkage fee if you want to bring some nice wine to drink with your comfort food.

* 2009 will be the year of the “value menu” - even on wine lists. Keep your eyes peeled for “special” sections on wine lists for restaurateurs to feature good deals.

* The alcohol content in wines will continue to rise. As more winemakers put more emphasis on getting good ratings from wine critics, they will “chase” flavor by harvesting even riper grapes. These will result in wines with higher alcohols. The second part of this prediction is that more and more wineries will employ technologies that concentrate grape must and/or remove alcohol from the wine.

* Winemakers will begin to blame global warming for making out-of-balance and over-alcoholic wines. They will say that they have to deal with what they are dealt. But there is a plethora of ways for winemakers to make more-balanced wines, including technology. But how about starting in the vineyard instead of trying to fix it in the winery?

* I will start my own website. (Watch this space.)

Recommendations: 2002 Diebolt Vallois Fleur de Passion ($139) This is the finest 2002 vintage Champagne I have tasted to date. Unbelievably concentrated and complex, it is one to search for like a fiend!

2006 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay ($16) I was pleasantly surprised at the wonderful quality in this bottle, evenly balanced with lusciously ripe fruit and a long finish. It easily satisfies my desire for flavor and refreshment.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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