Happy New Year.
Below is a look at a selection of the top-line things that worked in the NYC beverage market in 2016, ‘fast and dirty’ style..with a few 2017 calls woven in.
- The Quiet Giant – Chablis
It has been on a run for a while, but Chablis killed it. Again. How is this category still undervalued? I am not sure, but I like it. You can still find mediocre Chablis, but it is a lot harder now than it was just a few years ago. The obvious components of well-priced coupled with the Burgundy obsession enable the wines to sell more than ever before, but I think the consumer is opening up to more savory wines and Chablis hits that bullseye. Fact is, Chablis still over-delivers as a category and even with some wonky availability coming via a rough vintage and a probable rise in price, I see Chablis having a strong 2017.
Broader category of note: Salty, mineral forward wines. Whether it was Ligurian, Corsican, Albariño, Muscadet..the market gravitated toward this style more than in previous years.
- The Grower and the.. – Sparkling wine
There is a real mania for sparkling reflected by expanded selections on lists and shelves. Everything in this category is still in growth mode. Prosecco grew, Domestic came on with some mid to upper-end allocated stuff, Pet-Nat made a move, alt-sparkling like Crémant and Austrian came forward. Even Grower champagne with unpronounceable names got serious play. It was pretty insane to witness and there is still a fair amount of runway here..
- Sommelier Kryptonite – Old Wine
There is an addiction to old wine that makes the wine buyer weak in the knees (me, too). As of this moment, anything of relative quality with depth of vintage is a serious play in this market. I would argue that the ‘provenance’ of the wine is a rare and fairly distant thought from the first reaction that comes from the old wine offer. The addiction to old wine is not so different from any previous year, but the availability of old wine grew…see the next mover:
- Fifty shades of.. – Outside the 3 tier
Was this the biggest year for wines outside the 3-tier system? Especially the consignment game? I would bet a bottle of 90 DRC RSV that it was. Collectors, (and others), are realizing that there is serious business to be had here. They can also have a seat at the table of a few of their preferred restaurants (or have ownership..), and see/drink their wines off the list. The business here is bigger than most think. And, since the SLA doesn’t want to touch this, it expands. Obviously this is upper-tier focused now, but watch it grow..
- WINNING – The Sommelier
Contrary to the well-written piece on Eater early this year about this being a “difficult year for Sommeliers”, 2016 was the absolute BEST year to be a Sommelier. Very simply: There has never been a more advantageous time to be in the beverage business as a Somm. There are just more opportunities/possibilities, and some are taking great advantage..Most notably via making wine brands. Also, there is more travel offered, more money, more notoriety. Is it easier to work in a restaurant? That is a whole other question.
- The ‘Well War’ – Spirits
Obviously, Craft Spirits as a broad category worked, but it is the ‘well war’ that is the most interesting and market moving. This is the first year I have seen the beginnings of a significant dent in the old standby well placements across the city. Since the Big Guys are focused on premium-ization, they have taken their eye slightly off the ball. In addition, the alternatives to the big, regular, brand-driven well placements abound relative to just a year ago. They are available from smaller distribution companies that are working with more agility than those that have dominated for a long, long time. This is not being taken lightly. The management at the Big Guys are huddled in a room thinking of some serious programming to unleash…Full on f’d up deals only they could put forward that will attempt to disrupt the small piece of business they are starting to lose (small to them..). I think it is most likely too late…the tide has turned.
- Natty, or not? – Natural Wine
If one more person calls this a trend I think I have to punch them in the mouth. It is not a trend, it is a tribe. The actual wine has something to do with it, but the tribe is the primary cause. And, because the ‘argument’ about Natural wine is strongly embraced by the press elite for a multitude of reasons (not the least of which is the strong reaction they get), this ‘category’ is a real runner. The craze for the wines on the West Coast also helps..Natural wine still feels nascent there. They also have less abundant availability. This dynamic creates a boomerang effect in interest from one coast to another, reinvigorating the overall dialogue and placing attention on certain growers. The big question: What happens to this ‘category’ when every real distributor in NYC has Natural wines in their book? We shall see..we are almost there now.
- The Wild Island – Sicily
Sicilian wines solidified this year into a vibrant mover in the Italian category. You have a spectrum of options in price and many styles including: Natural, old school, new school, slick, sweet, rustic..and from across the whole island. Overall, the quality varies wildly, but at their best the wines are scary good. The Etna has been touted often, and I am in complete agreement: I think it is the wine discovery of our time. It will be basically impossible to repeat the perfect storm of history, quality, age of vines, interest, and importation/distribution energy that made the magic of the Etna become so prominent, so quickly. Imagine the wines produced since the year 2000 on the Etna. It is incredible.
“ 2016 was a big year for Bordeaux, especially on-premise.
- Bordeaux – Travel sells..
The wines were always there, they were just lying somewhat dormant. There is significant library availability via distribution and other sources (see above), and because Bordeaux over the past few years has dwindled, we feel the resurgence strongly. The recent placement uptick is noticeable. The primary reason for the comeback is travel. Importers, Distributors, the Bordelaise, etc., have been investing in taking buyers on trips for a few seasons and this has had a build-up effect. On one hand, this is intelligent marketing to recalibrate the buyer focus, but at its core Bordeaux has the perfect storm of history, quantity and money on its side. They have serious hand and this was the first year I saw it taking hold. Looking ahead, there will be added attention on Bordeaux Blanc and that will work really, really well..