Photo: niallkennedy, Flickr
How did 2010 stack up in terms of wine? Despite the economic recession, winemakers, wineries and wine bars came up with more than a few innovations -- making sure we keep our consumption up and our interest high. Here, our picks for notable wine trends.
1. Improvement in the quality of box wines
It used to be that boxed wines were just that -- boxed wines. End of story. Now, however, we are seeing wineries that formerly bottled only in glass switching to Tetra Pak. One such example is Big House Red and Big House White, both from California. [See our post "Boxed Wines for the Holidays."]
Packaging in a box is also an eco-friendly move for many reasons, including that the wine lasts up to 3-4 weeks (as opposed to 3-4 days in the bottle) and it costs less to ship paper than it does glass (bringing the cost savings to you). Some steller examples of vino-in-a-box include Black Box Wines (Wine Spectator gave the Chardonnay 87 points) and Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel earned 95 points and a gold medal at this year's California State Fair.
2. Innovative bottle enclosures
R. Stuart & Co., a winery in Oregon, is one of the few wineries that has gone crystal. What, you say? Basically, no cork and no synthetic cork either. Instead, a crystal stopper, much like the ones used for cooking oils, is snug inside the bottle. Classy.
3. Upmarketing from some wine labels
Now before you flash back into your college years where you probably drank a lot of Yellow Tail, Alice White and Gallo (in a jug), hear us out. The famed budget label from the Casella family in Australia (we're talking about Yellow Tail) unveiled a reserve line this year. It costs a few bucks more but it's worth it. We tried the Shiraz and liked it. Due to increasing economic concerns on behalf of consumers -- coupled with more and more sophisticated palates -- it is very likely that we will see more budget wineries going upper-end with a few of their wines.
4. Wine kegs at wine bars
Last month we reported on what's shaking at wine bars -- and it's not the cocktail shaker. Boutique, smaller-sized wineries are reaching out to local wine bars and selling them on the idea of pouring wines from kegs behind the bar. This is happening all across the country. Think of it this way. You get to try a wine that isn't sold at your local liquor store or featured on a restaurant's wine list.
5. BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine) continues
Due to cumbersome liquor-license laws in some cities, restaurants are adopting a BYOW attitude: A patron brings his or her own wine and no corkage fee is charged. It's happening in Montreal, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, New York City, New Jersey and other areas. For wine lovers, this is a dream come true. You aren't forced to pay more money on a fine bottle of wine (whether it's the 200% markup on the wine list or the $15-$25 corkage fee for a wine you've brought along).
6. Casual eateries offer wine
We are continually amazed at how easy it is to order a glass of wine -- or even a bottle -- at an upscale fast-food retail chain, such as Noodles & Company. Wisconsin Mac & Cheese (an actual menu item) with Chardonnay? We are so in. And did you know that you can now wash down a burrito at Chipotle with a margarita prepared behind the counter? In April we reported on a Starbucks test project in Seattle (Roy Street Coffee & Tea), where not only can you get a Frappuccino or a skinny latte but you can also share a bottle of J Vineyards Cuvée 20 Brut (California) with your table companions. We are hoping, hoping, hoping that our local coffee shops are listening and know about this trend, ahem.
7. Wineries embrace Twitter
Not all of us are so lucky to be on the ground at our favorite winery during harvest time, or able to fly out for a sipping tour in the tasting room. Fortunately, with Twitter, we can virtually be there. Winemakers are taking their personalities onto Twitter, pumping out tweets that tell us what to expect from a particular vintage after a barrel tasting, whether the sun in shining on a vineyard block today, and what to pair with a specific wine. The number of wineries on Twitter is too vast to mention here, but we bet if you dial up a winery's web site you will see a little "t" that tells you what its Twitter handle is. [See our post "#Wine Wednesday -- Tweet-Ups for Wine Lovers."]