COVID-19 upended all our oenophile habits, shifting how we buy wine (online more than ever), how we taste and learn about it (virtually), and where we end up drinking it. (Not at parties, bars, and restaurants.)
Surprisingly, the pandemic didn’t shift what we put in our glasses all that much. Rosé is still hot. So is hard seltzer, which, along with canned cocktails (both, ugh!), grew 43% during 2020. Bubbly is still going strong, with more countries than ever producing great examples (read: Brazil).
Expect many of 2020’s trends to evolve in 2021 — the health and wellness alcohol-free drinks boom, the canned and boxed wine movement, vino from extreme regions — helped along by new digital and AI technology innovations.
Here’s what else I see in my crystal glass:
Pink prosecco is the new new thing: Rosé. Just. Doesn’t. Stop. Retailer Wineaccess.com sold seven (!) times more bottles of rosé wine in 2020 than in summer 2019.
I’m betting 2021’s big pink drink will be prosecco rosé. At the end of November, the approved category launched in Italy, which already has a boom in big-value pink wines. John Gillespie, founder and chief executive officer of market research firm Wine Opinions, says that combining the prosecco trend with the rosé trend is as close to a sure thing for success in the U.S. as he’s seen. More than 100 labels have sought U.S. approval.
Online wine access will get way better: Online sales are booming with growth in the three digits. Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division, reports that for small producers, it’s 153%. Expect new and expanded shopping sites and search engines in 2021.
I have my eye on Pix.wine, from wine tech platform Emetry. It aims to be the ultimate one-stop online finding and buying spot, with plenty of deep data to help you decide what to pick. (Pix, get it?) It launches in April with links for more than 200,000 wines.
The wine country of 2021 will be Portugal: The thirst for discovery rolls on, and Portugal is becoming the latest hot spot. Why did sales of the country’s wines surge 35.1% in September alone in the U.S.?
It’s simple: quality-price ratio. They’re delicious, food-friendly, inexpensive, and more than worth the cost. Douro Valley reds are stunning, but for 2021 I’m also betting on newcomer region Alentejo, with its fresh, aromatic, savory whites and juicy, plush, smoky red blends, all from unusual varieties (antao vas, argonez), and some fermented in clay amphora. The region boasts rock-star winemakers, a fantastic sustainability program and one third of the world’s cork forests.
Wine seltzer will be the new hard seltzer: I remain mystified by the massive appeal of bland flavored sparkling water with an alcohol kick from malt or spirits. In 2021, expect more craft breweries and celebrities to offer their own interpretations of these dry, low-alcohol drinks.
But wine seltzers are more my style. In their annual predictions, U.K.-based market research firm Wine Intelligence sees a coming push by wine producers “to ride the hard seltzer wave.”
Virtual tastings will be the new company perks: Winery tasting room visits took a huge hit in 2020, and winemakers quickly pivoted to virtual tastings that allowed drinkers to get up close and personal with brands they love. These are not going away. But the more interesting development is the way corporations, which couldn’t lavish travel and entertainment money on reward retreats to Napa, tapped wineries to host special sessions for employee team-building and perks, a trend that’s also here to stay.
Sustainability will be the big eco-word: Once just a meaningless feel-good term in the wine industry, “sustainability” is starting to reflect serious commitment to organic vines, green winery design, carbon neutrality, and more.
But wineries are expanding sustainability to mean economic and social accountability, too, which includes promoting racial and gender diversity and taking care of workers—concerns especially important to younger drinkers.
Streaming live experiences will be the new oenotourism
Count on being transported to wine regions virtually, as new wine experiences vie with Netflix. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Michael Baum created an innovative tourism hub in Burgundy after buying his wine estate Château de Pommard. Now he’s launching Vivant, a platform streaming live wine experiences from wine regions around the world, with professional production values and a community of organic wine producers.
The rise of the Champagne robot sommelier: This month, in cooperation with Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon, two M group restaurants in London unleashed Bailey and Sage, which ferry bottles and glasses of bubbly to customers. Hotel Trio in Healdsburg, Calif., sends out Rosé the Robot butler (not as cute as Bailey) to deliver room service wines. “She” is sanitized after each delivery.