On Wine: The Trend Report

2624

Can you think of a more talked-about beverage than wine? From dinner parties to online blogs, words about wine flow like Pinot Grigio from a box at a tailgate party. Historically, what began as a spontaneous act of biology quickly became inseparable from human culture. And the moment wine turned from simple fermentation to topic of conversation, the wine trend was born.

It seems that there’s always a wine that’s in and a wine that’s out. Despite the infinite variation in grape varieties, growing regions and cellar techniques, wine lovers, winemakers and wine writers move in noisy packs, dribbling the wine du jour in a sticky trail behind them.

Imagine fads in ancient wine markets: Did the Sumerians feel insecure about what to order and just point to the menu? Did the Greeks favor the easiest wine to pronounce? Did the celebrity enologist to Ramses II throw in a little fenugreek seed at fermentation, inspiring imitators all along the Nile?

More recently, who convinced us that Merlot was all that in the first place? And for that matter, who decreed that White Zinfandel isn’t cool anymore? The Merlot people? And what will happen to Pinot Noir now that Hollywood has given it a Sideways compliment and sales have soared? Longtime Pinotphiliacs wring their hands at the thought of mass production or even (the horror) critter labels for Pinot Noir. They have a point. But I suspect Merlot’s passing the baton to Pinot Noir could do for Pinot what Madonna’s kiss did for Britney Spears at the Grammy Awards: not much.

So what’s trendy, what’s not and what’s The Next Big Thing? Read on.

The It Girl: Pinot Noir&emdash;

The buzz from the movie Sideways has lasted longer than the finish on an old Romane-Conti. Industry analysts report 30 percent annual growth in sales of Pinot Noir in both 2005 and 2006. Why? Consumers now are comfortable asking for it, that’s why. Cool spots include the Russian River, Carneros, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Lucia, Oregon, Burgundy, of course, and even New Zealand.

• 2005 Red Truck Pinot Noir California: soft and simple, a Pinot with training wheels ($10)
• 2004 Tolosa Pinot Noir Estate Central Coast: bright, cheerful fruit and spice at a great price ($17)
• 2005 Scott Paul La Paule Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: all about flirty finesse ($40)
• 2003 Dog Point Vineyards Pinot Noir Marlborough: my fave PN on my recent trip to New Zealand ($40)
• 2004 Domaine Lamarche Echezeaux Grand Cru: wows now, and will likely improve over the next 10 to 20 years ($65)

Sneaky Success: Riesling&emdash;

Finally throwing over the Curse of the Blue Nun, Rieslings both dry and sweet have enjoyed the backing of restaurant wine buyers looking to pair wines with Asian and fusion cuisines, leading to a sales growth of 29 percent last year that rivaled showy Pinot Noir.

• 2005 Genesis by Hogue Riesling from Washington: just a tad sweet, divine with curry ($15)
• 2004 Amity Estate Riesling Willamette Valley: a stunner worth seeking out ($20)
• 2004 Domaine Schlumberger Saering Grand Cru Riesling Alsace: the real thing ($19)

Never Made It: Viognier&emdash;

The Viognier Guild once promoted this Rhone white grape as the heir to Chardonnay, but Americans find it hard to say. (All together now: vee-ohn-YAY’!)

• 2005 Capay Valley Viognier: from Yolo County, a juicy white with 13 percent alcohol, unusually balanced for warm-climate Viognier ($13)
• 2005 Cold Heaven Viognier Le Bon Climat Vineyard: from chilly Santa Barbara County; sets the standard for California; crisp and aromatic ($27)

Death by White Zin: Dry Ros&emdash;

Dry Ros is delish, but everyone is afraid to be spotted with girly-man pink on the table.

• 2005 Chateau de Trinquevedel Tavel: a full-bodied, deep-magenta-colored dry Ros that tastes like a strawberry pie eaten on a Capitol Park rose garden bench in June ($15)

Be Immune: Chenin Blanc&emdash;

Chenin Blanc vines retain their meager acreage in California, thanks to the love of vintners, not their accountants. A veritable flu shot against trendiness, this grape is made into still, sparkling and dessert wines. Clarksburg, right here in Yolo County, is one of the best growing regions for Chenin.

• 2005 Bogle Chenin Blanc Clarksburg: great with melon and prosciutto ($9)

Want to be hip?

Focus on a wine that’s delicious but out of the limelight, and thus available and affordable. You might just find yourself ahead of the trends. Consider Argentine Malbec, Nero d’Avola from Sicily, California Grenache or aged whites from the Loire Valley.

Wine Trivia Contest

>>  Pinot Noir is growing fast, but Chardonnay still rules the crush pad; California vintners laid in 742,299 tons of it in 2005. Which wine-grape variety did California vintners crush the most in 1990?
a. French Colombard   
b. Chenin Blanc
c. Cabernet Sauvignon   
d. Zinfandel

E-mail your answer to wine@sacmag.com by April 15. The winner will receive an insulated wine tote. Make sure to include your name, address and telephone number. The winner will be selected by random drawing from all the correct responses.

We’ve got a winner! In February, we asked: What rock band recorded a catchy song about being a supertaster? The correct answer: They Might Be Giants. (The band recorded John Lee Supertaster on its children’s album, No!) The winner, Anne Brunette of Davis, received an insulated wine tote.