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Top Wine Trends and Producers of 2015

Just in time for the holidays, prominent oenophiles sound off on the most noteworthy highlights from a standout year for wine lovers


Bigger is Better

“What is more fun than magnums, and jeroboams and even larger bottles?” says Cedric Nicaise, wine director of legendary New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park. “Where cocktails have always been a big part socializing, wine seems to be moving in on that territory. And what better way to share wine with friends than from a really big bottle. Even in restaurants, where people would sometimes be reluctant to order one bottle, now people are ordering magnums. There also seems to be less and less half bottles available, and more and more large format.”

Champagne’s Effervescent Rise

“I loved in 2015 was how much champagne is growing,” says Nicaise. “To me, we are really in the middle of champagne’s rise from celebratory drink to serious everyday drink. The Grand Marques are producing better wines than ever, and are really pushing into everyday life. And the grower champagne movement has fully taken hold. There is more and better champagne available in the market than ever. Classic producers like Krug are seemingly everywhere; Bollinger was again on the big screen with James Bond. But the real growth is from small producers— Jérôme Prévost is a grower of Meunier from the [French] village of Gueux, which makes amazing wines. There is also a lot of relative value in champagne, with so many reasonably priced options.”

The Hipster Effect

“I want to talk about hipsters and their influence on the wine business,” says Stephen Meuse, senior wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Mass., and a regular contributor to America’s Test Kitchen Radio. “I’m using the word ‘hipster’ not really in a derogatory way, but in order to describe a real influx of younger people with an interest in wine who are typically not young professionals—they’re not in hedge funds or financial services. What we’re talking about is a small group of trend-conscious young people. One of my theories about hipsters is: You don’t have hipster cred unless you’re a connoisseur of something. It could chocolate, it could be coffee, it could be tea. Often it’s food related. And what we’ve seen is how this whole group has turned the wine world on its head, saying, ‘We don’t care about what’s on the cover of the Wine Spectator; we’re interested in finding small, artisanal, conscientious producers—wherever they are in the world.’

For example, after having been in the wine business for decades and watching the sales of sherry dwindle to just about nothing. Along come the hipsters, and they get interested in sherry. And suddenly you go into a cool bar or restaurant and they have a sherry program. They’re interested in obscure properties, obscure varietals, obscure regions, obscure categories—including sherry—but they’re also interested in the whole area of naturally made wine.”

Natural Wine’s Big Splash

“In the U.S., there has been for a long time an interest in organically farmed stuff. And so we’ve seen a number of properties in California and in Europe start to grow grapes organically,” says Meuse. “There’s this new-ish category that we’re calling ‘natural wine,’ for want of a better term, and this usually begins with organic farming. Has the wine pretty much made itself? The model of this crowd is nothing added, nothing taken away. We used to call it ‘farm wine.’ It had a certain charm, but today the whole idea is that this category has become an insurgency.

I think they’re absolutely a lot of fun. I say, ‘Maybe sometimes you want to ride in a Lincoln town car, but from day to day, I’d rather drive a sports car.’ And these wines are sports cars. They’re kind of hot-rod-y and they can be genuinely beautiful.

There are some caveats. One of the things that makes bright fruity establishment wines are the additions of sulfur, which kills bacteria and any funky smells. But among the naturalists now, there’s a strong movement toward no or minimal use of sulfur—a tiny bit—which means that biology that would’ve been dead is now alive in the bottle. As recently as ten years ago, we would’ve said this wine is faulty and sent it back. Now comes along this new approach to making wines and the old guidelines about what constitutes a fault just don’t work anymore. We think of them now as ‘complexing elements.’

Our challenge in the wine business is to find the people who can make wine this way competently. It’s a learning curve for winemakers. It’s an appreciation curve for consumers.”


Twomey Pinot Noir

This year saw pinot noir’s continued rise in popularity among connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. And few wines embodied the glowing attention being lavished on the variety more than that coming from Twomey Cellars.  The label’s producers, the Duncan family, recently acquired some of the most acclaimed cool-climate pinot noir vineyards in California—Monument Tree, Last Stop, among them. The Duncans’ pointed efforts have seemingly paid off. Twomey was named one of Wine & Spirits magazine’s top-100 wineries of 2015 (one of just 38 U.S. vineyards on the list), and New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov calls Twomey Anderson Valley Pinot Noir “one of our favorites.”

Grüner Veltliner from Weingut Franz Hirtzberger 

“He’s one of the premier producers in the Wachau region in Austria,” explains Morgan Harris, New York sommelier and wine writer. “The variety is the country’s calling-card grape—it’s about 60 percent of their vineyard acreage. Good for anybody who likes Chablis or high-quality Italian pinot grigio. Austrian wines sort of unfairly get lumped in with German wines, because they have cultural similarities. But they pretty much make only dry wine in country. It’s really savory—this spicy vegetable quality, like arugula or wasabi or parsnip. It makes it super flexible at the table. Any time a sommelier asks, ‘What do we pair with this savory vegetable dish?’ Grüner is often the go-to answer.”

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