Jancis Robinson on international wine trends

January 23, 2015
by Christian Eedes
in Opinion & Analysis
with 2 Comments
Jancis Robinson MW.

Jancis Robinson MW.

The speaker everyone wanted to hear at the 10th annual VinPro Information Day held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre yesterday was of course Jancis Robinson MW. Which kind of belied her contention that the “tyranny of points is receding” as consumers put less and less store in the opinion of critics but maybe she was just being gracious.

Her topic was “international wine trends” and she provided a summation of her presentation at the outset by saying the world is moving towards wines which “were lighter, fresher and had less oak” while “indigenous varieties” are featuring more and more.

She said soil was a “hot topic” and she gave the Mullineux Family Wines a shout-out for their Terroir Specific range. “Granite, Iron and Schist in huge letters on the bottle is spot on”. She did, however, add that there was a “heck of a lot to learn about the relationship between soil types and how wine tastes” and pointed to a “holy war between scientists and commentators” about the always controversial term of “minerality”.

As for grape varieties, she said there was a growing passion for recuperating indigenous or heritage varieties among winemakers, this because consumers wanted the “titillation” not provided by Cab, Merlot and Chardonnay.  She pointed out that there were between  6 000 and 10 000 known grape varieties and when she co-compiled her 2012 book Wine Grapes, 1 368 were found to be in commercial production.

Speaking about the “geeky market” specifically, she was positive about local Chenin, noting in particular how many had a “geographical message” or spoke of the place where they came from. She added Cinsaut and Grenache also had a bright future. “Put Cinsaut on the label in the US and you’ll instantly have a young, hipster following” was one memorable observation.

The emphasis is now on vineyard and not cellar as global consumers go in search of wines which express site and this is increasingly giving rise to single vineyard and even single block wines. Organic and biodynamic practices are definitely more to the fore but she said she was “wary” of wines where this was the main sales message.

The fundamental challenge for viticulturists right now was to “close the gap” between the two curves of sugar ripeness and phenolic ripeness” and hence get alcohols down. “Spinning cones seem wrong intuitively.”

Vinification technique was much less important than it used to be as consumers now want transparency. She noted the “demise of the barrique” as winemakers switched to bigger oak, older oak, concrete and amphorae and she wondered about the effect that this was having on the balance sheets of the world’s coopers.

Natural wines are a “big fad” but she said added a note of caution about going this route, saying the average consumer still wanted wines to taste good. “Fizzy wines that look like porridge and taste like cider” weren’t going to have a great following.

Bottle-fermented sparkling wines were doing spectacularly well in the UK, the “strangehold” of Champagne having finally been broken and Cava and Prosecco on the rise. “Pet-Nat” (petillant naturel) or wines made according methode ancestrale are “fun” and represent a small but growing category.

As for South Africa’s export prospects, she was “reasonably confident” about how we would continue to shape in the British market but was “gloomy” about how little impact we’d made in America market. “Do not under estimate China,” she added.

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2 Comments

  1. Kellie MacMillanJanuary 24, 2015 at 12:10 amReply

    As a sommelier I’ve always been a bit of maverick in my views on the Point System. I have a complete disregard for liquor establishments lazily placing a copy of the review on wine cubbies without educating the consumer on what those numbers mean. I think those in the wine profession need to adopt the attitude that wine isn’t a luxury item any more. It has actually become more mainstream than ever before and in my view should be thought of as a grocery item not a status symbol.

    • Christian EedesJanuary 26, 2015 at 4:58 amReplyAuthor

      Hi Kellie, While many contend that the era of the guru handing down opinions from on high is over, I hope there will always be value in a judgement made by a professional with knowledge and experience (which is not to say that points awarded any particular wine should be viewed in isolation or considered absolute). I agree that we should make every effort to get away from wine elitism but I would stop short of encouraging people to see it as just another “grocery item” – one of the things that I love about wine is that it largely defies commodification despite the best of efforts of supermarkets to do precisely this and I think this is because even the most novice consumer is looking for a little romance from wine, things like wanting one vintage to be different to another or that Constantia has a taste profile which is not the same as Stellenbosch and so on.

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