As I peer in my crystal glass to puzzle out where the wine world is going next, I see one constant: climate change. It challenged winemakers in 2023, the hottest year in history, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Wildfires in Greece; massive heat and drought in Spain; and floods, frost, and hail elsewhere in Europe all took their toll last year, resulting in one of the smallest harvests ever. But Napa, subject to wildfires and heat waves in the recent past, escaped with one of the best vintages ever. You could argue that global warming has been good for the UK, as well as fledgling vineyard efforts in Norway and Sweden—places where, in the past, it would have been too cold and rainy to ripen grapes sufficiently. All of this makes its impact very hard to predict for the coming year.
But there’s other big news in the wine world for 2024. Here are the six major trends I’m watching:
You’ll be drinking more sauvignon blanc. Taste preferences are shifting: More than half the wine consumed globally, as of 2021, was either white or rosé. US drinkers are leading the way with whites, according to data from the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV). Now, top regions known for reds, such as Italy’s Mt. Etna and the Rhône Valley, are putting more emphasis on their less well-known whites.
I see more crisp, tart sauvignon blanc from everywhere in 2024, and not just New Zealand, which has a 63% share of sales of the varietal on Boston-based online alcohol delivery platform Drizly.
Oregon is now in the game, with top names such as Andrew Rich and Patricia Green. And although Chile’s boom in the grape started two decades ago—the country is the third-largest producer of the white wine in the world, behind France (first) and New Zealand—the latest examples from ambitious wineries such as Laberinto, Tabali and Viña Leyda are better than ever.
In California, vineyard acreage of the grape has more than doubled since 2022, so expect many more superb bottlings, both inexpensive and luxury-tier, to hit the shelves.
Sparkling wine will pop even further. The French drank less Champagne last year, because of inflation. But they still like fizz, and everyone else is in love with wine with bubbles, too. Drinks industry analyst IWSR found the number of Americans who drink sparkling wine grew 30% from 2019 to 2022. About 25% choose bubbles at least twice a week.
But it’s not all Champagne. The boom is driven partly by the popularity of prosecco and pét-nats. Spritz cocktails and hard seltzers are also inspiring non-wine drinkers to search out more bubbly.
The category will get a further boost from a few new American sparkling cuvées. Last year I tasted about two dozen new ones from California, some from unusual grapes like picpoul blanc, a lesser-known variety originating from France’s Rhône Valley. The wines are tart and lemony. (The name translates as “lip stinger.”) And in Oregon, the number of winemakers producing at least one bubbly has quadrupled since 2018.
That’s on top of delicious sparkling wines from seemingly every part of the world—many top restaurants now also carry quality bottles of Italy’s Franciacorta and Trentodoc, Spain’s cava, France’s crémants and England’s sparklers. Sales at Kent-based Chapel Down winery, for example, rose 14% last year.
Expect more high-quality no- and low-alcohol wine, even in fancy restaurants. Health concerns about wine was a big topic in 2023. A July Gallup poll discovered that more than 50% of Americans 18 to 34 believe even moderate drinking is bad for your health. The latest Wine Opinions survey found nearly half of the 21- to 39-year-olds polled were interested or planned to participate in Dry January or Sober October.
That’s one of the reasons this age group of consumers is drinking less wine, according to the recently released 2024 State of the US Wine Industry Report from the Silicon Valley Bank Wine division of First Citizens Bank. No wonder IWSR drinks market analysis predicted the no- and low-alcohol category will grow 15% in the US between 2023 and 2027.
Top winemakers are already on it. About 100 German wineries now produce at least one no-alcohol bottling. Prosecco maker Mionetto just launched an “ alcohol-removed” sparkler. Renowned Argentine winemaker Susana Balbo is experimenting with low-alcohol cuvées: Her delicious, just-released 2022 Crios Sustentia Chardonnay contains only 9% alcohol.
We’ll ponder the question: What is wine? We’ve seen surprising new wine regions (Sweden, Vermont), new wine styles (orange, pét-nat, piquette) and new grapes with unfamiliar names such as Goruli Mtsvane (pronounced Go-roo-lee Mah-ts-vah-nay) which is a white variety from the Republic of Georgia. Now winemakers are pushing the boundaries of what a wine is—and, in the process, finding a way to survive the extreme weather of climate change.
Many are doing co-ferments, which today often means fermenting red and white grapes together to make a lighter-style, chillable red. Others, such as Oregon’s Art Science winery, are fermenting Grüner Veltliner with apples. The versatility means that if the grape crop is down because of frost or drought, vintners can still make something.
Others are inspired by ancestral traditions. Vermont’s Kalche Wine Co. has blended grape skins, water, and cranberries to make a piquette wine called Vib-Ur-Num.
Still others infuse grape wines with flavorings, like the white wine blend of several vintages steeped with dried botanicals from Scar of the Sea, on California’s Central Coast. Not all are labeled wine. Sometimes they’re simply called co-ferments, or, if they include apples, cider.
Rewards programs for wine will mature. One 2024 trend on London-based importer and distributor Bibendum Wine’s annual list is that more wineries and retailers will start offering unique perks for loyal customers based on how much they spend on wine.
Some such programs already exist: Jordan winery in Sonoma has an elaborate program, with points for wine purchases that can be redeemed for discounts on overnight stays in the winery’s lavish guest suites and special tastings for free. Napa’s Lamborn Family Vineyards invites club members to an annual wine and fly-fishing event. Oregon’s Domaine Serene also owns Chateau de la Crée in Burgundy. Rack up 300,000 points in purchases and you get a stay at the chateau, with six rooms for 12 people.
AI will shape the wines you drink and how you taste it. The buzzword of the year is AI, and it’s revolutionising everything from the vineyard to the glass. Wineries have used artificial intelligence for years, especially when it comes to vineyard management—sensors gather real-time information on everything from light intensity to soil temperature. Robots are mowing, spraying, even ferrying pickers’ grapes to the winery.
It may soon have a big role in tasting rooms and in offering advice, too. In Napa’s Maria Concetto winery tasting room, a robot sommelier named RobinoVino has been pouring cabernet and may eventually be programmed to recommend wines. Last year, OpenAI’s US developer reported that ChatGPT-4 had passed three levels of the Master Sommelier exam—although it wasn’t the tasting part of the test, only the theory section.
Written by Elin McCoy, the wine critic for Bloomberg.