- The Underground Wine Letter - http://www.undergroundwineletter.com -


happy new year [1]

It’s hard to believe, but the New Year is nearly here. And, for most of us, that means a grand celebration to start the New Year.

New years and champagne bottle [2]

So this is yet another one of those times to bring out the Champagne. And, go ahead and make a new year’s resolution, like we did many years ago. That is to drink more Champagne! Remember every day is a reason to celebrate. And, what better way to enjoy life than with a glass of Champagne? Besides, it has other benefits (to read about them click here [3])

the road ahead 5 [4]

The New Year 2015 is the road ahead. This is our 6th year as an on line publication and the 36th year since the first Underground debuted. Once again, I would like to take a moment to thank all of you who have joined the on line Underground to pursue the wine road ahead. Also, I would like to encourage all of you to please pass along the Underground to your friends. The wine road is never ending and there’s always something new. We are always learning and the journey is a lot of fun. That’s a win/win!

In a New Year’s article three years ago I made predictions about the world of wine in the coming year (to read that article click here [5]). The next year I reviewed my earlier predictions and made a few more (To read that article click here [6]). Last year I reviewed the earlier predictions and decided that enough of the earlier predictions were still evolving that I would take a break from issuing new ones (to read that article click here [7]).

So this year, and until I see a new trend evolving, here are my lists of predictions as they were originally presented along with an updated commentary on the predictions and the out look for the future.



1. The Chinese miracle will continue to roll on driving up prices for selected wines that are in very limited supply. But, by the end of the year this trend of ever increasing prices for selected wines will be waning.
The Chinese continue to be the 800 pound gorilla in the room for not just wine, but virtually everything else you can think of. In fact, the year 2014 will be known as the year that the Chinese economy, on the basis of purchasing power, surpassed the US. The US had held this position since 1872! And, this gap is expected to continue to widen significantly in future years. So over time, China will consume a larger and larger share of the world’s wine as well as most other things. However, at least for now, the trend of the Chinese driving up the price of many of the world’s greatest wines seems to have paused.
2. The Chinese market for wines will show more signs of expanding as more different types of wines become familiar.
Given the economic facts mentioned previously, this seems to be a no brainer for a very long time. Short of an economic melt down this is here to stay.
3. The world wide wine glut will continue with falling prices for many very high priced wines. This will be driven by California wines and some classified growth Bordeaux in the $ triple digits.
Except for some very selected wines such as Grand Cru Burgundy and some limited production Pomerols, prices do seem to have flattened or trended down. Older California cult wines seem especially vulnerable to more downward pressure and old wine prices will continue to be impacted by fraudulent wines. Old wines of impeccable provenance will continue to command premiums.
4. World economic conditions and large production will continue to result in large numbers of inexpensive wines imported from South America and Spain with plenty of support from France and Italy. Other countries will need to lower prices to compete in the lower price segment of the market.
The large and growing wine consuming nations such as the US and China will continue to benefit for some time by increasing world wide production from the historic wine producing nations. Ultimately, increasing production in China may have an impact, but this seems to be a long way off.
5. Because of the large number of lower priced wines (wines priced at $10 and under), wine consumers will be more adventuresome. This will lead to more and more wine consumers turning to “The Blending Game” to salvage their mistakes.
US wine consumers are becoming more adventuresome, but “The Blending Game” as advocated by the Underground (click here [9] to read about “The Blending Game” and click here [10]to read more about blending  and click here [11] to read another article) has not caught on. But, for those in the know, blending is being used more and more to blend inexpensive red and white wines to make more palatable red and white wines as well as rosés. This trend should grow over time as more people discover “The Blending Game”. But, it will never be big until it is picked up by the mass media. Having said that, I am not sure it will be wine publications because of their dependence on advertising and fear of offending producers who do not like the fact that their wines are being used in “The Blending Game”. That’s short sighted since I think “The Blending Game” could lead to more wine consumption.
6. The trend to “Affordable Drinkable Wine” (ADW) will continue. Imported Rosés – especially from France and, in particular, Provence; along with Italy and Spain – will continue to gain favor.
People always love a bargain so no matter where you find them “Affordable Drinking Wine (ADW) will be increasingly popular in the US. It seems no coincidence that Costco with its low price policy is the largest retailer of wine in the US. And, expect French Rosés to continue to gain in popularity. Price, drinkability, and compatibility with almost any kind of food are strong consumer drivers.
7. The Rosé trend will accelerate in California offerings as many producers will find it economically viable to turn more and more red grapes into a “cash crop”.  Prices will have to compete with the large supply of imports that generally are priced in a range of $10-$30.
There are more and more California rosés being made in small quantities. They still suffer from the carry over of the White Zinfandel craze, but are gaining in popularity. A limited factor may be price. Many are in the $20-$35 price range which makes them not very competitive with a large number of really good imported rosés in the $10-$20 category.
8. The trend to ADW will continue to spread in California and include more Chardonnays and Cabernets as well as Sauvignon Blancs, Syrahs, Merlots, and Zinfandels. There will be a lot of wine in the $10-$15 range with even more in the $10-$20 range.
Maybe. But, the cost of production in California may be a limiting factor here. After all there are a lot of very good quality imports in this price range. And, this type of wine is not at all comparable to really inexpensive California wines that sell for $5 or under.
9. New Zealand wines – particularly Sauvignon Blancs – will gain appeal as a result of their compatibility with lighter foods and competitive pricing.
This trend seems to have waned. Maybe it was a case of too many different wines at once. No matter, the wines are consistently very good and are attractively priced. Expect an upward trend to resume.
10. The trends of less oak and less alcohol will continue. This will be particularly noticeable in California wines as time goes on.
Except for big point fruit bombs. this trend seems to be well in place. It should continue as people drink more and more wine with food.
11. It is probably too early to predict an end to the “big wine” syndrome, but expect it to come under more criticism as the year progresses. This will be driven by the trend to ADW and more experienced wine drinkers changing taste preferences.
It is still too early to predict an end to the “big wine” syndrome. In fact, it will probably never go away. But, over time, greater consumer awareness of how wine is made and what ingredients are going into wine as well as changing consumer tastes will result in a trend reversal. It may have already started. But, to know for sure, will take time.
12. Driven by the flood of “big wines” in recent years and questions about “what is wine” will drive more and more consumers to ask for more transparency in terms of ingredients in wine. Wineries such as Ridge Vineyards will list ingredients and others will follow.
Ridge did, in fact, initiate ingredient labeling (to read my article click here [12]). But, so far no one has followed. This too will take time, but it will happen. Consumers eventually will be curious about what is in wine and, once the facts become better known, consumer demand will result in more wineries adopting ingredient labeling.
13. Wine ingredient labeling will gradually move forward, but will not become a real issue until a “scandal” emerges.
This is usually the way that real change happens. Something has to go wrong first for a lot of people to get concerned. Whether or not there is a “scandal” I have no way of knowing or predicting. But, the gradual trend to wine ingredient labeling I believe will happen because it follows the trend in food and is the right thing to do.
14. The wine fraud issue will surface again driven by the disclosure of evidence from the ongoing lawsuits alleging wine fraud. The Underground was the first publication to speak to this subject and we will have more to say later.
Wine fraud continues to surface (to read a recent notice about fraudulent Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines that was put on the Romanée-Conti website click here [13]). Interesting because The Underground first reported on wine fraud way back in 1983 (to read that article click here [14]). It was a fraudulent bottle of 1947 Romanée-Conti. How did we know it was fraudulent? That’s easy. The vines at Romanée-Conti were pulled out after the 1945 harvest and no wine was made again until 1952!
15. While there will probably be more evidence of the existence of wine fraud, proving it may be another question.
Yes there is more and more fraudulent wine in the market, but tracking down the source and getting to the bottom of the fraud is proving elusive. This will continue so long as wine prices are high and there are gullible people.
16. Wine writers will gradually join the trend to transparency, but this is likely to take time and will be driven by unexpected news.
Sadly, it does not seem that wine writers as a group will embrace transparency any time soon. Everything has gotten too commercial and there is too much at stake. In fact, the trend to merging publications and adding more and more “wine writers” runs contrary to transparency. Names are less and less important and it is just the numbers that matter. But, even some of the numbers are losing steam. It takes a higher and higher number to really move the needle hence the inflation in wine scores. More and more perfect wines continue to surface and this will continue until consumers get tired of a new daily or hourly “perfect” wine review.
17. Fake wines and wine fraud will continue to be a fact of life in China and follow the long line of other products being knocked off there. Unscrupulous types will funnel these counterfeits back to the US to be sold to gullible consumers.
Faking goods in China is a long established trend. Despite some rumblings from the government of a “crack down” on faking goods this seems unlikely to happen. So there will be more and more fake wine in China. The question is how much of this wine will find its way back to the US? Can anyone get a count on the number of gullible people? Probably not.
18. Wine “Investment Trusts” will continue to be created. This will inevitably lead to a sharp correction as too much wine is accumulated, but this is unlikely until there are headline news articles on a regular basis about how investing in wine is a “no lose” proposition. This is not likely for several years.
“Wine Investment Trusts” seem to have had a short life. Fraud and the collapse in some wine prices (particularly Bordeaux) seem to have taken the bloom off the rose. Not surprising since large size “Wine Investment Trusts” are unlikely given that the most expensive and rapidly appreciating wines are in such short supply.
19. An over supply of “big numbers” New World Wines will result in a flattening of prices. The auction market for “flippers” will soften.
To the contrary, there is not yet an over supply of big numbers wines even as inflation in wine scores has exploded! It is taking higher and higher numbers to move the needle. Yet, even so, “perfect” wines are priced in a wide range. Certain wines seem to benefit more than others from a “perfect” score. The trend to flattening is inevitable, but the timing is unknown. The auction market for “flippers” has softened. The fact of the matter is that a lot of the cult wines cannot be resold for a price above the initial selling price. This sounds like a top!
20. More and more people here will turn to wine as the beverage of choice with food. This will be driven by life style changes and increased awareness.
Wine has long been an integral part of meals in many parts of the developed world. This trend is underway in the US and will continue to accelerate in China and the Far East. The trends driving it seem firmly on track.


This second list of predictions covers a few predictions from the first list and some new ones. I have also made updates here.

1. Wine fraud will continue to be a focus of the wine world as the Rudy Kurniawan 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.
Wine fraud is not going away anytime soon. There are too many expensive wines that are not that difficult to duplicate. This is compounded by the fact that a lot of people who buy these fake wines have no idea what they are supposed to taste like (and, yes, this includes many of the “experts”). But more and more producers are focused on making it more difficult to duplicate packaging and bottles so there is hope that there will not be as much fraudulent new wine in the future. However, old wines will continue to be a problem. The conviction of Rudy Kurniawan does not seem to have uncovered other frauds or implicated other people. We shall see. Maybe it isn’t over and maybe there will be more disclosure on the source of the frauds and identification of those who are involved in the selling.
2. The trend to more disclosure on wine labels will accelerate. Krug has moved aggressively to include information on their Champagne labels. This will prompt more and more large Champagne houses to do the same. Ridge Vineyards will introduce ingredient labeling on its wines and thus prompt more California wineries to follow suit.
Sadly, I am not sure that this has happened. A few Champagne houses have offered information on their labels and websites, but most have not. But, there is definitely a trend here for more disclosure so I expect it to continue albeit at a slow pace. As for California wines, it is even slower. No winery has yet followed Ridge’s example. But, make no mistake, leaders often receive an initial chilly response. Consumers will drive ingredient labeling for wine, but it will likely be a long process that involves a lot of communication and education.
3. 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 trend to “Affordable Drinking Wine (AWD) will continue driven by increased consumer awareness and economic considerations.
4. Rosés are here to stay in a big way and will continue to grow in availability as demand increases.
French Rosé sales in the US are just beginning to scratch the surface, but are growing rapidly. This trend will continue and also result in increasing sales of all imported rosés. For, unlike in the US where rosés are thought of as sweet White Zinfandel or sweet blush wines, in other parts of the world rosés are dry and very popular with food. Affordability, drinkability, and increasing supply and consumer awareness will drive demand.
5. The trend to less oak and less alcohol will continue, but will move slowly as consumer tastes evolve.
This is driven by consumer taste and drink-ability with food. As wines increasingly move from the bar and cocktail hour to the table, more food friendly wines will be in demand.
6. 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.
This hasn’t happened despite the changes in ownership of a major wine publication. In fact, consolidation has increased. More publications have been put together and new names are being added. And, while all this is happening, it seems that increasingly numbers are the only thing that matters – the bigger the better and the more the better. It will take a change in consumer attitudes for transparency in wine writing to happen. How long that takes is very difficult to predict. But maybe it will be when we get to the “perfect” wine of the hour! Kind of like multiple vintages of the century in the same decade!! There is, after all, a limit to everything!
7. 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.
Again, this is happening. But, there are not a lot of these vineyards and wines out there. That should mean higher prices over time.
8. 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.
Has the “collector” mania for California wines peaked? This is difficult to track since there are no good supply numbers. One thing that does seem obvious is what was mentioned earlier. Fewer and fewer of these “collector” wines can be resold for a price greater than the initial asking price.
9. 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, the issue of Premox continues. It has shown up in some 2008s including some from the great Domaine Leflaive. Are there more recent vintages from 2009 and earlier vintages that have also been impacted by Premox? Time will tell. For now, it is, as I have said, a game of Russian Roulette!
10. 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.
Wine pricing does seem to have gotten more selective at the higher levels. Small production Pomerols and Grand Cru Burgundies seem to have ever increasing prices. On the other hand, for many expensive wines prices seem to have flattened out or declined. And, some have become more difficult to sell. Short of an economic melt down the trend in the former is likely to continue for some time given a small fixed supply and increasing demand. Many of the other categories of wine do not enjoy the same dynamics or recognition and are likely to show more volatile ups and downs in pricing.

So there you have it. These are the trends that I have identified and predicted over the last few years. Most of the predictions have been accurate. Some have been partially accurate and a few have been wrong. Many are still trending and evolving. I have now updated the predictions and we shall see how they play out over time. However, it is a fact that things often take much longer than expected. And, the fact that something does not happen, or happens one way in one year, does not mean that it is a long term trend. So stay tuned! It’s a long road ahead.

As always, I welcome your comments. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson