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.