From the crystal ball

Few days before writing this article, i came across an old piece by Robert Parker, written in 2004, in which he made 12 bold assertions about how wine would look by 2015.

It’s remarkable how astute most of them turned out to be. None of the 12 is glaringly wrong, although corks are not yet the minority closure and Spain isn’t quite the star (in my view) that Parker anticipated. But Malbec, Central Coast California, unoaked wines, and the rise of the wine web, among other things, have all come to pass more or less exactly as he said they would.

All of which made me wonder how wine is likely to change in the next decade or so. What will wine look like by the end of the 2020s? What are the coming regions and grape varieties? What is likely to shake up the way wine is sold and consumed?

THE END OF THE BOTTLE: Climate change is already having an enormous influence on wine style and wreaking havoc in terms of the frequency of extreme weather events in wine regions (from hail storms and floods to forest fires) – trends that will only escalate. Government incentives (and possibly sanctions) to encourage not just the shipping but the retail of wine in bulk (with consumers using high-quality, reusable vessels) seem inevitable. Producers will have to be smart to adjust to the loss of their main marketing tool – the bottle and its label.

ALBARIÑO GOES GLOBAL: Wherever I go in the wine world, it sometimes seems, somebody is planting Albariño. The Galician grape has already proved a hit in Rías Baixas, of course, with plantings soaring in the past two decades. But with winemakers from New Zealand and Australia to California, Uruguay and the Languedoc getting increasingly excellent results, and with a wave of new plantings all over the world about to come on stream, its easy-drinking style makes it well placed to be the next Sauvignon Blanc.

THE RETURN OF OAK AND BIGNESS: In the past 10 years, there has been a pronounced swing towards early picking, freshness and drinkability as a reaction to the kind of big, oaky wine loved by Parker in the 1990s and 2000s. I don’t think I’m the only one who can sense a backlash, however, with complaints that things have gone too far, that a certain weediness has become common. Could it be that by the end of the next decade, big Barossa Shiraz and souped-up Zinfandel will be being revived by the world’s hipster wine-makers? Stranger things have happened.

CHINA BECOMES A GENUINE FINE WINE PLAYER: I’ve yet to taste a genuinely world-class wine from China, but the sheer scale of planting and investment, the import of expertise and the growth (in number and vinous sophistication) of Chinese wine consumers, suggests we’re not far from having one. How much will reach the rest of the world remains to be seen.

SOMEONE WILL CRACK NO-ALCOHOL: with an increasingly emboldened health lobby, and with younger drinkers in the west drinking much less than previous generations, it’s no surprise the alcohol industry is fearful of going the way of tobacco. but just as the soft-drink industry developed low and no-sugar alternatives as a way of coping with increasingly severe anti-obesity legislation, so the alcohol industry will surely put more investment into high-quality low and no-alcohol drinks. wine is miles behind beer in this respect. but i fully expect 0% wines that taste of wine, rather than vinegary fruit juice, to be among the category’s biggest sellers by 2030.