As this is the last OLN of 2011, I’ve pulled my dusty crystal ball from my bottom drawer a little earlier than usual. Predicting anything is unwise at the moment – the euro is tottering, the weather is all over the place and the state of the UK economy is more depressing than an Ingmar Bergman movie. As ever, there’s more than an element of wishful thinking in my predictions, but here goes.
The £5 barrier falls at last
Wine consumption in the UK may be in decline (-2.2% MAT, according to Nielsen), but we are paying more for our wine and will be paying even more in 2012. It would be nice to think that consumers are trading up, but they are not. At least not yet. The increase in the average price (£4.48 to £4.73) is the result of duty and VAT increases in 2011. Another similar duty hike in the next budget, confirmed by the Chancellor recently, coupled with the weakness of the pound, will push the figure over £5 in 2012. Cue a modest round of applause. Surely even Asda can’t continue with three for £10 deals.
China generally and Hong Kong in particular will increasingly be regarded as the focus of the fine wine trade, but also for the middle and lower sections of the market. You only have to look at how many wine producers are now targeting their efforts there. Chinese consumption is small at less than a bottle a head, but that is growing fast. Imported wine sales rose from 15m to an estimated 22m bottles in 2011. By the end of next year, I predict they will hit 30m. Increasingly, China looks like the next great hope for a beleaguered global wine industry.
Bordeaux en primeur
Sales of Bordeaux – Asia’s fine wine of choice until now – appear to be dipping, which makes sense when you taste its reds with Asian cuisines, but Bordeaux remains the most powerful wine region on the planet. What I’d like to see in 2012 is an end to the way the en primeur system currently functions, whereby journalists taste and score wines before the châteaux fix their prices. This works against the interests of consumers, the very people we are supposed to represent. It needs concerted action, but it would change the market for the better
Oddbins and the high street
Back in the UK, I wish the new, slimmed-down Oddbins the best of luck. My first tasting of its new range was encouraging, so let’s hope it can join Wine Rack in championing the cause of high street retailing once more. I’ve also been encouraged by the dynamism of independent retailers, typified by tastings like the one held by the Dirty Dozen in 2011. I’d like to see more independents working together to put on tastings and (maybe) pool delivery costs in 2012.
Considering they represent such a small part of the market – try finding a bottle on a supermarket or high street shelf – natural wines made a lot of noise in 2011. Sometimes the wines are excellent – even if I find the “natural” tag a tad silly – but far too many of them are faulty. The wine trade as a whole needs to differentiate between the two and stop indulging producers whose wines suffer from oxidation, refermentation and/or brettanomyces. Less hype and more rigorous tasting in 2012, please.
After a few years in the doldrums, mostly because of over-production and the ensuing need to discount, Australia is set to become a force in the New World once more, thanks to a new generation of winemakers and an increased focus on terroir-driven wines of elegance and personality. If you don’t believe me, taste some of the Chardonnays coming out of the Yarra Valley, Margaret River, Tasmania and the Mornington Peninsula.
I’d like to see wine critics lead, rather than follow, the market once more. By all means recommend good supermarket wines on cut-price deals, but we also need to inspire our readers to trade up and drink better wines. Otherwise, a lengthening line of producers will sell their wines elsewhere.
And lastly, I’d like to see more bloggers writing about wine. Unlike some established wine writers, who seem to regard bloggers as a threat, I welcome the fact that there is more discussion than ever about wine. The rise and rise of social media and the internet also means that all wine critics are more accountable to their readers. Just look at the recent resignation of Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate, allegedly in the wake of revelations and pressure from the blogging community. The more wine filters into the main stream, the better for all of us: the wine trade, the consumer, producers and the press.
Happy Christmas, everyone.
See you soon for what promises to be an interesting 2012.
Originally published in Off Licence News