The trendy wines of 2016: natural, orange, new wave Aussie, English sparkling, and more
Drinkers are branching out to try Greek, eastern European and Turkish vintages, while premium rosé continues its ascent and North Americans experiment with red blends
Sparkling wine and rosé are setting the world on fire, and beneath the surface froth you’ll find some unusual varieties and creative producers. I asked some of the world’s leading wine experts to share a few of their favourite trends. From New York to London, Kansas to Tokyo, let their tips guide you on your next wine adventure
Master of Wine Jancis Robinson influences an audience of millions through her books, columns, the JancisRobinson.com website and social media. She says the hottest trends in the UK this year are natural and orange wines (an orange wine is often “natural”, but not always). New to most, modern-day orange wine is made by leaving white wine grape juice in contact with the grape skins and seeds to produce an amber tint.
Amber- or orange-wine styles have been reinvigorated in the last two decades, but have roots that date back thousands of years to the cradle of wine civilisation – Georgia. Californian wine educator, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW describes orange wine as intellectual and highlights Montefalco’s Paolo Bea Santa Chiara as a standout example: “It has so many layers of flavours, it goes on forever,” she says.
As the name suggests, natural wines (orange and otherwise) are produced organically, with very few protective additives, sometimes to their detriment when travelling long distances. New York-based MW Mary Gorman-McAdams says the natural wine trend is part of the growing appeal of organic and biodynamic wines.
Japan is another market embracing all things natural. “The popularity of New World natural wine is on the rise in Japan this year, a trend I look forward to sharing,” says Kenichi Ohashi MW, a Tokyo-based wine and sake expert. “But daring drinkers might be more enticed by eastern European natural wines from Bulgaria and Slovakia.”
Wines from Greece, another of its historic heartlands, is also making a comeback. “To a particularly adventurous wine enthusiast, I would recommend assyrtiko,” says Robinson. Assyrtiko is a dry, minerally white wine produced on the whitewashed island of Santorini.
Doug Frost, an author and broadcaster based in Kansas City, who is a Master Sommelier in addition to being an MW, says the rising popularity of assyrtiko is a sign of wine drinkers’ growing confidence. “Wine buyers are no longer intimidated by a grape name they can’t pronounce,” he says. “They want to try new and unknown grape varieties, and that open the door to a host of countries with wine legacies and histories, like Greece, Portugal and even Turkey.”
British wine judge, journalist and consultant Natasha Hughes MW says there is also growing excitement about nearby Mediterranean wines due to their rising quality. “The eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans are becoming increasingly exciting sources of wines,” she says. “Adventurous drinkers are catching on quick.”
While Europe is reinvigorating ancient traditions, hot young Aussies are reinterpreting them. “If you haven’t tasted the new wave of Aussie wines, I urge you to give them a try,” says Hughes. “Dynamic young winemakers have taken on board trends they’ve seen overseas and the results are wines of great personality and charm.”
Barry Dick, a UK-based MW and consultant winemaker, also appreciates what’s rising up from down under. “Exciting wines are being produced in Australia’s Yarra Valley by talented winemakers such as Mac Forbes and Luke Lambert, from funky natural wines to brilliantly drinkable, refreshing styles.”
There is no mistaking the dominant global trendsetter, though – drinkers’ love of bubbly. Robinson confirms sparkling wine is the wine world’s current darling, but with a twist. “Sparkling is very popular and champagne no longer has a monopoly,” she observes. “English sparkling wine is coming on in leaps and bounds – both quantity and, most importantly, quality.”
Rosé is the other sweetheart of the wine world. Richard Bampfield MW, a UK-based consultant, says, “The premium dry rosé category has grown from virtually nothing in the last five years.”
Gorman-McAdams says the popularity of sparkling wine and rosé is having an exciting effect. “While both categories include some major brands and styles, their growth has spawned all sorts of diversity and expanded drinking occasions beyond summer for rosé, and beyond major celebrations for sparkling wines.”
British author and speaker Robert Joseph agrees, saying novel approaches to serving sparkling wine add to the fun – Italian fizz on draught, anyone?
When it comes to reds, professor of wine at Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute Dr Liz Thach MW suggests red blends are the way of the future. Thach defines these as, “A cuvée of different American grapes crafted in a fruit-forward style with big, velvety tannins.”
Canadian wine judge, educator and consultant James Cluer MW says there are some beautiful meritage wines (a blend of Bordeaux varieties) being produced in British Columbia’s Okanagan region. Simonetti-Bryan says affordable red blends are more than just Bordeaux or zinfandel blends. She has seen blending in grape varieties like grenache, mourvèdre, sangiovese, barbera, primitivo and tempranillo from warmer European regions such as Italy, southern France, and Spain.
Still not convinced? Launch your own adventure into wine’s wild side at Test Your Palate (October 4-6 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre – tickets at hkticketing.com/events/WCTESTY1016), where you can try 300 wines per day for three days. Test Your Palate is a tasting and exploration extravaganza and provides the perfect forum to try something unexpected and discover a new favourite.