Wow! What a year 2013 has been. For me, it was, unfortunately, the year of an unpredictable set back in my health (to read about that click here). But, fortunately, I am getting very much back to normal (whatever that is) and I am certainly looking forward to 2014.
The new year 2014 is the road ahead. This is our 5th year as an on line publication and the 35th year since the first Underground debuted. I would like to take a moment here at the outset to thank all of you who have joined the on line Underground to pursue the wine road ahead. Also, I would like to encourage you to please pass along the Underground articles to your friends and encourage them to subscribe. It is easy. All you have to do is click the button here, enter the email address, and forward to as many friends as you would like. The wine road is never ending as we are always learning and it is also a lot of fun. That’s a win/win!
As we begin 2014 I am taking the opportunity to review what the Underground stands for, our focus on the consumer, a review of the Underground’s early focus on wine fraud, and a review of the wine predictions for 2013 and the outlook for 2014. Included are links to supporting articles on all these subjects. I encourage you to take a look at these by following the links. Also, there are over 300 articles on the website for your perusal (including the first 3 years – 1979/1982 – of each issue in its entirety, including an update on everything written, of the print version of The Underground Wineletter). Take a look and please forward the articles to your friends!
From the very beginning, the Underground’s goal has been to provide accurate wine commentary as honestly and simply as it can be presented. Also, we want to de-mystify wine and present it in the context of another food group. And, I am very proud of the experienced and extremely knowledgeable group of people who are affiliated with the Underground. (To view the Underground mission and history and the people and biographies click here).
The Underground is solely dedicated to providing clear and accurate information to the consumer. This is set forth in The Underground Wine Consumers Bill of Rights.
THE UNDERGROUND’S WINE CONSUMER BILL OF RIGHTS
- The right to know all the ingredients in each bottle of wine available for sale.
- The right to have full disclosure of all ingredients on the back label of every wine available for sale.
- The right to question anything about wine that is presented in an inaccurate or understandable manner (including wine descriptions).
- The right to know how wines are tasted and evaluated by wine publications and wine writers.
- The right to know if the person tasting the wine is also writing the evaluation.
Also, beginning some 30 years ago the Underground began writing about wine fraud. No one paid much attention then, but today people have finally recognized it is a big problem. Here is the Underground view on what needs to be done to help prevent wine fraud.
THE UNDERGROUND VIEW OF ISSUES THAT NEED IMPLEMENTATION TO PREVENT WINE FRAUD
- Wine sellers, including auction houses, should disclose the provenance of all wines being sold. This is the most important thing to know in buying old wine. As I have said, in real estate it is location, location, and location. In buying old wine, it is provenance, provenance, provenance. (To read the article on this subject click here).
- Wine producers should disclose any changes made in the labels, corks, bottles, and capsules over the years. This could easily be done on their websites and would enable fraudulent bottles to be identified more readily.
- More transparency in the entire market for selling old wines is needed. All auction houses should clearly disclose their auction practices. There are many things that are involved here such the use of third party bidders, bids on behalf of the house, the accounting for and implementation of written bids, and full disclosure of the sales results. Also, conditions of sale should be uniformly revised to protect the buyer if fraudulent wine was purchased. This should cause the sellers to do a more diligent job in screening for fraud before offering wine for sale.
- All producers of premium priced wines that might be subject to counterfeiting should immediately implement procedures to prevent counterfeiting. These include such things as labels with watermarks like bank notes, embossed bottles, seals between the glass and capsule, and a unique code on each bottle that can be matched against a list on the internet to verify the authenticity of the wine.
So there are several issues that still need to be addressed to provide more clarity to wine consumers buying old wines and, totally unknown to most wine consumers, this also extends to newly produced wines. Today many wines are overly manipulated and too many wines have an excessive amount of additives. Since there is currently no system to determine what ingredients are in a bottle of wine, the consumer is clueless about the ingredients added to wine (to read my article “What Is Wine” click here). This is wrong and, like set forth in The Underground’s Wine Consumer Bill of Rights, wine consumers should demand to have full disclosure of all the ingredients in wine offered for sale. This is an issue that will be increasingly important as consumers continue to pay closer attention to ingredients in food. And, since I believe wine is another food, it logically follows that over time more and more attention will be focused on what is in wine. Today, people assume wine is just fermented grapes and little else. This is an assumption based on a total lack of any transparency. And, just as many paid no attention to the issues of wine fraud when the Underground first started writing about it some 30 years ago, few are paying attention to the ingredients going into wine being produced today. This will change. And, like the fraud issue, will provide the Underground some day in the future to have another “We told you so” moment!
In short, The Underground will continue to advocate anything that will help the consumer. The Underground was a pioneer in writing about the problem of wine fraud. Today the Underground is pioneering the right of the consumer to know the ingredients in wine. In the future, this will be an even bigger story and affect many more people than wine fraud. So please continue to be with us in this journey and, again, please pass the Underground on to your friends. But, most importantly, along the way, be sure to “Drink What You Like & Like What You Drink” (To read that article click here)
NEW YEAR WINE PREDICTIONS
For the past few years I have written an outlook for the New Year and a review of the last year’s predictions. This year I am only going review my 2013 predictions as I think most will be continuing trends in 2014. However, I encourage you to read last year’s article which reviews the Underground view of what is important to know about wine and also outlines all the articles posted in 2012 (to read that article click here).
- Wine fraud will continue to be a focus of the wine world as the Rudy Kurniwan trial moves forward. There are likely to be more disclosures and information regarding the details of the wine fraud. These will include how it was perpetrated and by whom.
This is true. The verdict is just in on the Rudy Kurniwan case and the verdict is Guilty (to read an earlier article on Rudy Kurniwan and wine fraud click here) But, unfortunately, Rudy Kurniwan is not the only perpetrator of wine fraud. He is just the one that got caught. There are many others out there (some of whom who have been faking old wines for many years) and it looks like the ever increasing prices for rare old wines will result in even more fraudulent bottles. There are things to do to help prevent wine fraud which have been set forth. But, for wine consumers, my advice continues to be to be certain of the provenance of any bottle of old wine purchased and be very skeptical of any bottles of old wine that look new! This is the same advice that the Underground has advocated since we first started reporting on wine fraud in the 1980s long before anyone was paying attention (to read that article click here).
- The trend to more disclosure on wine labels will accelerate. Krug has moved aggressively to include information on their Champagne labels (to read the article on the Underground’s history in advocating information on Champagne labels click here). This will prompt more and more large Champagne houses to do the same (to read my article on Krug Champagne and information on their wine labels click here).
But, so far, I am not aware of any large Champagne houses that have followed Krug. The Champagne houses offering full disclosure wine labeling are mostly small houses, but there is no question in my mind that, over time, there will be more and more Champagne houses offering more disclosure on their labels because the market will demand it.
- Ridge Vineyards will introduce ingredient labeling on its wines and thus prompt more California wineries to follow suit. This has happened. Ridge has introduced ingredient labeling on all of their wines (to read my article click here). But, so far, I am not aware of any other California wineries that have followed Ridge. But, like with Champagne labeling, there is also no question in my mind that, over time, there will be more and more California wineries offering ingredient labeling on their wines because the market will demand it.
- Trends toward “Affordable Drinkable Wine” (AWD) will continue. The increasing world wide production of wine will assure that consumer demands for moderately priced wines of high quality will be met.
This is true and, to me, a no brainer going forward. The talk of a “scarcity of wine” which was recently widely reported is a joke. There is no shortage of vineyard land yet to be planted. Of course, this will be mostly for AWD as there is a scarcity of land to produce the finest wines such as classified growth Bordeaux and grand cru Burgundy.
- Rosés are here to stay in a big way and will continue to grow in availability as demand increases.
Here is another no brainer. These wines are so delicious, affordable, food friendly, and easy to drink that there continued popularity is sure to increase. If you have tried the great rosés that I love and have written so much about (to read a recent article click here), then you know what I am talking about. If you have not yet tried rosé, now is the time to start. This will be your greatest wine discovery of the new year!
- The trend to less oak and less alcohol will continue, but will move slowly as consumer tastes evolve.
This is true. But, for the wine drinking crowd who is substituting wine for cocktails there will be continuing demand for wines that produce a big wallop whether it be heavy oak, alcohol, or things that are added to increase the intensity of the wine. So I expect a continued two tier market, but with a strong distinction between wines that are made naturally to go with food and wines that are made to be bigger and more intense for those mainly just want to drink.
- More transparency in wine writing is not likely to happen until the market demands it. The “retirement” of a leading big numbers critic and the movement of the business to Singapore (with what looks to be perhaps a new cast of characters) may shed some light on this subject.
Sadly, this continues to be true. So far the market (including retailers and consumers) has not demanded transparency in wine writing. Most, but thankfully not all, wine retailers seem very contented to just scroll through data banks and pick out the biggest number to sell wine. Many wine retailers do not care how or when the wine was tasted or even by whom and they do not care if the tasting note bears any resemblance to the wine (to read an article on laughable wine descriptions click here). And many wine drinkers only care about a number (to read an article on why this makes no sense click here). But, as wine consumers become more informed and confident in their own taste, they will become less reliant on a number from someone whose tastes may be very different that theirs. When will that happen? I don’t know, but I hope sooner rather than later as it will make the wine world a better place.
- There will be continued increasing interest in California wines from historical vineyards. These wines (made from field blend grapes harvested from old vines) will bring more attention to the real character of California wines.
This is happening, but, unfortunately, there are not a lot of these wines being made because there are very few historical vineyards (to read an article on these vineyards click here). But, nonetheless, it is important to have a knowledge of how these wines taste to contrast with the new wave of overly extracted and manipulated wines (to read an article on this subject click here).
- The demand for more and more “collector” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons will wane. With the number of different labels for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon now reportedly around 6500, it does not seem possible that it can go much higher unless the Napa Valley appellation is expanded.
I do not know if this is happening because I can find no information on the number of “collector” wines. But, based on results at auctions where a lot of these wines are “flipped” (sold right after purchase for a higher price), there are realtively few high triple digit price California Cabernets that have an auction value higher that the release price.
- The issue of premox (premature aging) in White Burgundies will continue to plague these wines. Potential solutions to the problem are now in place, but it remains to be seen if they work. And, the supply of older wines from the 1996 vintage forward that are affected by premox is still an unknown.
Sadly, this is true. Premox has shown up in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 vintages. In a short time it will probably start to show up in the 2009s, 2010s, and 2011s. We can only hope that most of the producers have stopped the practices that caused premox (to read my article on premox click here), but, at the point, I am only willing to guess that some have, but that, sadly, others have not (to read an article on this click here).
- Wine pricing at the very top levels is likely to show a wider variation. Big numbers are having less of an impact on the pricing of wines at the top level and the market is becoming increasingly selective in what wines get the top prices. The prices for the top Red Burgundies are likely to stay very high for some time driven by demand that is far out stripping supply. But, for many of the others, this is not likely to be the case.
This is true. Bordeaux prices, except for a very few, not only seem to have topped out, but to have declined. Perfect scores for wines tasted from barrel (or at a very young age) seem to have less an influence on wines below the level of first growth (which is the great majority of all Bordeaux wine). For the moment, it looks like supply has outstripped supply. For Burgundy, it is the opposite. The supply of top Burgundy is down and demand is up. Hence, the prices are higher and seem headed even higher. Pricing for most other French wines seems to have stabilized with some up and some down. The same is true for most other European wines as well as California wines. In short, contrary to some proclamations of a “wine shortage”, it is hard to see the shortage in the marketplace.
So there you have it – a review of the Underground as we head into our 35th year and a look at the predicted trends of the future. Be well and drink and eat well. Enjoy yourself and the time with your family and friends. Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year!
In Vino Veritas,