If 2016 was any indication, 2017 promises to be a tumultuous year. I, for one, will probably be drinking more than usual. But what and how I drink will be partly determined by trends in the food and wine industry. Based on stats and sales from previous years, there are a few overall trends that we can predict for 2017.
I'm certain, for example, that the popularity of biodynamic, organic and natural wines—the type that winemaker Evan Lewandowski produces here—will continue to blossom. As they are with their food purchases, consumers are becoming much more savvy about what goes into (or doesn't go into) their wines, and that will lead them more and more to natural products like those from Ruth Lewandowski Wines and others. This is particularly true when you factor in that an increasing sector of the market is impacted by millennials, who tend to be smart, informed consumers, and accounted for a whopping 36 percent of all wine purchases last year. "Biodynamic is the future for Champagne," Louis Roederer cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon says.
Sparkling wines other than Champagne will continue to be popular. The last couple of years showed an astonishing growth—estimated to be as much as 40 percent—of non-Champagne sparkling wine sales, with Italy's prosecco leading the charge. Prosecco, which is typically a great value and quite food friendly, will continue its climb in popularity. But, so will Spanish cavas and an up-and-coming wine category: sparkling reds.
Look for lesser-known white wine varietals from Europe in the stores and restaurants this year. Wine buyers, both professional and amateur, are getting smart about the relative bargains to be had with wines such as Portuguese whites (like Vinho Verde) and chardonnay-like varietals (such as Encruzado, Antão Vaz and Arinto). Likewise, I expect to see more Austrian Grüner Veltliner being poured, along with Albariño/Alvarino from Spain and Portugal, and Spain's verdejo-based Rueda wines. Look also for white rioja/rioja blanco, which is becoming a darling of some sommeliers around the world.
Personally, I find myself experimenting increasingly with more obscure wines and I think others will, too. It's not that I don't love pinot noir, chardonnay, Bordeaux and all the other rock stars of the wine world. But in addition to "orange" and pétillant wines, I'm enjoying tasting obscure wines like Picpouls, Mondeuse, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Viura, Silvaner, Mourvedre and Moschofilero—just to name a few.
Likewise, sommeliers and wine buyers are unearthing quality wines from little-known wine regions and stocking their stores and wine lists with them. So, look for interesting wines from countries like Croatia, Greece, Lebanon, Romania, Canada, Uruguay, Slovenia, Turkey (which has the fourth-largest vineyard acreage in the world) and Morocco. In the U.S., there's increasing interest in vino from the lesser-known regions of California—like Mendocino and Lake Counties, Santa Barbara County, the Sierra Foothills, Monterey County and others. Anyone can order a bottle of French burgundy, but you'll really impress your somm by knowing to order a California pinot noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands.
I think unpredictable food and wine pairings will become more acceptable and common this year. There's nothing wrong with classic pairings like sauvignon blanc and scallops or oysters with chablis. But there's a whole world of potential wine and food pairings that have yet to be discovered. Austrian white wines, for example, tend to be very clean and are a beautiful match for many fish and seafood dishes. And my brain nearly breaks when I think of the beauty of an unorthodox pairing like that of Leroy Bourgogne Rouge with black sea bass and hot-and-sour soup—the creation of the genius Le Bernardin sommelier, Aldo Sohm.
Whatever and however you're drinking, I hope your 2017 is spectacular!