The Boston Phoenix
January 6 - 13, 2000


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Wine 2K

2000 and wine: A taste odyssey

by David Marglin

As I look into my Riedel crystal ball, it is my distinct pleasure to share with you my predictions and predilections for wine circa 2000. The first thing to keep in mind is that these are highly subjective -- albeit educated -- guesses about what will be important in the wine world. The second thing you should realize is that I am uncannily good at making predictions. You can pretty much take these auguries to the bank.

Burgundian dominance

I cut my wine teeth on red and white Burgundies, so I'm pleased that the two most important varietals right now are the original Burgundian pair: pinot noir and chardonnay. Winemakers love the challenge of making exceptional pinot noir, and consumers are hearing its siren call. Nothing is quite so inspiring as good pinot noir, and the US and New Zealand/Australia are coming into their own as regions where this varietal excels. In the US, it is Sonoma that's coming on strong -- particularly the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast (producers to watch: Flowers, Littorai, Rochioli, Kistler, and Gary Farrell). Monterey, Santa Maria/Santa Ynez Valleys, and Anderson Valley are also doing well, and both the 1998 and 1999 vintages will prove that Oregon is going to continue to dominate.

Speaking of domination, chardonnay's position as America's leading varietal -- red or white -- looks fairly solid. Chardonnays will become a little more focused; we will be tasting less oak, and more wineries will resist malolactic fermentation. It will continue to be the safest choice on most wine lists in terms of quality.

Beginning of the blend

Pinot noir and chardonnay are winners, unblended. Still, more winemakers are going to blend wines, whether it's different clones (as in Staglin Family's excellent blended chardonnay), different varietals (think Sean Thackrey, Marietta, Ridge Geyserville), different years (Champagnes), or different vineyards. While single-vineyard-designate wines will continue to command big dollars, a trend toward blends will prevail.

Varietal variety

This would seem to contradict the prediction about pinots and chards, but it's actually complementary. To get away from Burgundian dominance, folks are going to explore and be seduced by both white and red Rhône varietals (viognier and roussanne for whites; syrah, grenache, and carignane for reds). Merlot and cab will share center stage with zinfandel, cabernet franc, sangiovese, and nebbiolo; sauvignon blanc is going to cede ground to pinot gris and chenin blanc. But the broader trend is simple: more varietals as public exposure grows.

Making the winemakers

Quick, how many winemakers can you name? That's going to change. Winemakers, like chefs, are going to become celebrities -- at least among wine lovers. In great years, wines almost make themselves, and the winemakers' interventions are meant to be minimal. But throughout much of the world, 1998 and 1999 were difficult vintages -- the kind of years when winemakers earn their money. More and more wine drinkers are going to look out for wines being made by the Heidi Peterson Barretts, Michel Rollands, and Helen Turleys of the world.

How sweet it is

This is a two-pronged limb I'm going out on, but it feels solid. Dry wines will be made "sweeter," and people will consume more sweet wines. Syrahs and zins are already tasting sweeter; and wines like Ariadne (from Clos du Val, a sweetish blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon) and Spring Mountain's white (a blend of sauvignon blanc and everything but the kitchen sink) are perfect examples of how winemakers are not afraid to make dry wines with some sweetness up front. And as it becomes acceptable to indulge, more people will order ports and after-dinner wines -- what the Aussies call "stickies." The sweet thang is definitely on.

North by Northwest

Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia have spent too long playing second fiddle to California. But no longer: 1998 and 1999 were both exceptional years in the Northwest. Just hope that prices remain level.

Twinkle, twinkle little sparkle

After all that sparkling wine on New Year's Eve 2000, people are going to remember how amazing sparklers are on any occasion. Champagne prices will drop; meanwhile, the quality of other sparklers from around the world has gone up.

Hot spots

Finally, some dynamic regions to watch: Italy, all over; in France, Alsace and the Languedoc-Roussillon; in Spain, the Ribera and Sardon del Duero regions; in Chile, Casablanca and Colchagua Valleys; in South Africa, the Franschhoek Valley in Stellenbosch, as well as Paarl and Westchester Valleys; and in California, Paso Robles, Monterey, the Sonoma Coast, and Mendocino/Anderson Valley.

More people are going to spend more money on fine wine next year. We'll help you get the most for your wine dollars.

David Marglin can be reached at wine[a]

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