When the leaves change color and the temperature drops, many drinkers look for something new. Just as the arrival of fall leads people to break out the cozy knit sweaters and jackets, folks are likely to trade in glasses of light and refreshing summer wine in favor of more robust and structured wines.
Red wine has long been a fan favorite for fall and winter drinking. Retail and online bottle shops typically up the ante on the Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Malbec around this time of year. This year, however, there are some signs that wine drinkers are moving to new styles and varieties.
“I think we’ll be heavy on the Cabernet Franc. It’s a nice alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s a great wine to introduce customers to something different that is still really interesting and unique,” says Derrick Westbrook, a sommelier and co-owner of the Chicago wine shop Juice @ 1340. “Great Cab Francs have this earthy, soily, funk vibe, and I think it lends itself really well to natural wine drinkers as well as people who like pretty things or wines. If you like California Cab, Cab Franc is that nice kind of bridge wine in a lot of ways.”
He adds, “I’ll definitely be drinking a lot of it this fall.”
Cab Franc isn’t the only red gaining favor with drinkers. Sales of Petit Verdot, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Brunello di Montalcino are also on the rise and were dubbed the fastest-growing red wine varietals to date in 2021, according to a BevAlc Insights report.
There’s also the expectation that some trends that emerged earlier in the year will keep going into the winter months.
Champagne all day
Champagne sales skyrocketed during 2020 and, according to a Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne report released in early October, are set to reach a four-year high this year, as consumers choose to drink bubbly beyond special occasions.
At Vinopolis in Portland, Oregon, management started stocking shelves in anticipation of the Champagne rush at the start of fall. But shopkeepers have begun to notice customer curiosity around smaller producers. “Our customers know their stuff, and they want to learn more,” says Suzanne Bayard, manager at Vinopolis.
“We always stock up on Champagne for the holiday season, and our offerings of big-time growers release in the early fall. We have about 150 different Champagnes in-house now, but that will nearly double by the holiday season as customers look to try wine from different producers and smaller growers.”
More socially aware
Customers also want to spend money on the things that matter to them. Wine lovers are taking the time to learn more about the people behind the bottles, how they morally align with a brand, and winery efforts surrounding sustainability and environmentalism.
“What I’m seeing this year, which has been building throughout the entire year, is more consumer interest and requests for things that we haven’t necessarily seen in previous years. There’s a lot of interest in wines made by female winemakers or female-owned wineries and wines made or owned by Black and Indigenous people of color. Looking back over the last two years, increased interest in who’s behind these labels is definitely noticeable,” says Vanessa Conlin MW, head of wine at Wine Access.
There’s also the growing thirst for transparency. The flood of flashy marketing of clean and vegan wine has caused customer confusion, and people want better answers. Customers are asking more questions, and they want answers they can understand and use when shopping for wine.
Across the pond in Europe, a project called the U-Label recently launched its first trial that would allow shoppers to scan QR codes on wine and spirits bottles, which will lead them to a website displaying the ingredients and nutritional information.
The project won’t be available for U.S. wineries to join, though European producers can join in on the project as of November 1. But there is growing interest in more detailed ingredient labeling in America.
“I would like for us to have better communication with consumers and to encourage consumers to keep asking questions,” Conlin says. “A lot of people have questions about the wine industry and what the wineries have done to be sustainable and environmentally conscious. The wine community has for decades — and in many cases, hundreds of years depending on the region — practiced sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming. People are interested in knowing why certifications and certain wording are becoming so prevalent now and what exactly do those certifications mean for their favorite wine.”
New World frenzy
“There’s this debate between Armenia and Georgia about which country was the first producer of wine. But either way, we’re talking about ancient origins of winemaking and customers are interested in learning more about that and drinking wine from those places,” says Conlin, who notes Wine Access has seen a significant increase in demand for bottles from less explored regions. “People who bought wines from these places absolutely loved the wines and rated them through the roof.”
Bayard has noticed similar demand at her store in Portland. “Although there is a growing interest in orange, natural, and biodynamic wines, our customers greatly appreciate access to up-and-coming winemakers from new regions, ancient and rare or nearly abandoned vines, or the next generation of a family winery,” she says.
Customer interest in wines from untapped places marks an especially exciting moment for retailers because it allows sommeliers, importers, and distributors the chance to explore new bottles and sharpen their knowledge of wines from smaller winemaking regions.
“Because we’re a bottle shop, we’re in a position where we can really push whatever we want. But it’s exciting to know that customers are becoming savvier. They’re open to trying more than just the same old same, and that keeps us on our toes,” says Westbrook.