Remember when Chinon, Rosé, Txakoli and Muscadet were the underdogs? If you had told me fifteen years ago that the above categories would be something real today, I would have laughed.
So here goes: Some long shots and come back possibilities to spark your imagination. The below have absolutely no chance….or do they?
Côte Chalonnaise – the un ‘grammed Burgundy
Undeniably the least utilized of all in Burgtown. But, with where Burgundy is going (ascending prices, squeezed allocations, attention, high demand, blah blah blah, etc.), could the Chalonnaise move in as a real option? One major issue here is that wine buyers really want to buy the big $$$ unicorn bottles and be connected to the top producers of the Côte-d’Or. And can you blame them? Another issue is the long-held view that the wines from the Chalonnaise are generally lacking. However, recent tastings suggest there is a quality shift happening in the overlooked Côte. What happens when Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge from the big dog producers get even more “uncomfortable” to buy? This is probably the biggest long shot of the bunch, but I already see a few prominent pours in the city that could indicate a shift.
Austria – Beyond Liters and Cherries
There was a time not so long ago where Grüner graced almost every serious restaurant BTG, and store shelves were full and flowing. Austrian was on fire. I fondly remember incredibly talented wine buyers and sommeliers pivoting their customers towards Austrian wines, and away from Burgundy! Well, that was then, and this is now: Austria is outside the conversation. The liter bottle enabled the category to expand but also pushed it towards a retail focus. And, to further partition the category, the overall pricing on the non-liter selections ascended to a solidly uncomfortable level. But here is the thing: The wines can be transcendent. At the moment, the primary hurdle is that big-boned, slightly elevated in alcohol wines are difficult to get behind for most NYC wine buyers. If you look out into the market, lists and shelves are primarily made up of the top producer cherries, liters and very little else. AND, the red wines from Austria are in even worse shape.
Sherry – is this thing on?
What the f*^&% happened here? Has Sherry been relegated to the dusty corner bottle….again? Not quite. The sales are probably higher on the whole comparatively to a decade ago, but Sherry is certainly not in the dialogue like it was. We once had a ‘Queen of Sherry‘, and since she is not in NYC shouting from the rooftops anymore there isn’t a fervent ambassador at the buyer level. Commerce may have gotten in the way here: The Sherry D. O. appears to operate a lot like the Port aristocracy. This probably needs further overall examination, but I have to believe that there is enough stuffing for Sherry to stage a little comeback.
South America – The Meat in the Middle
Some would argue that Pedro Parra is single-handedly changing the conversation, but I definitely don’t see it translating into the NYC marketplace. A ‘sense of place‘ is a good start, but there seems to be a disconnect with buyers: They enjoy learning about South America but don’t enjoy buying South America. South America is still burdened with the value play one one side and a fantastically heavy bottled, old vine wine monster on the other. So, where’s the meat in the middle? Where is the real wine? That’s precisely where the magic can happen. I can’t believe that we have seen all that this category can offer. Distributors will have to broaden selections and challenge buyers for this one to fill out/grow. Right now, the cash generating value bottlings are easier to put on containers, even if sales are beginning to point downward.
“ Do the market underdogs of today give us hints about the possible trends of tomorrow?
Washington State – The ‘Never Seen’ State
This is the red-headed step child of the domestic wine scene. Find one restaurant in NYC outside USHG that has more than 5 producers listed and I will buy you a glass of Sherry. The downside is that the NYC wine buyers have the general view that the wines are monolithic and that the notable exceptions are going to cost you. The upside is that Washington has a myriad of wines to offer and the wines definitely have end consumer appeal. Could we be missing something?
Sweet wines – not sticking at all
Is there a more out of fashion overall category? Zachary Sussman wrote a piece covering this neglected group of wines that was spot on. Let me add further confirmation: At the street level, the wines are almost without exception a DOA mover. Could the category be poised for something more? Possibly. It is going to take a lot more than a giant vertical of d’Yquem to get this one going. Someone imaginative will have to take a position and really get beyond the cherries, and behind the category. We may need the aperitif move….
Alsace – Dry as a bone, sometimes
Alsace is the most confusing, annoying and at times exhilarating group of wines in the market. Are there more amazing values still available in France? I struggle to find better producers at relatively low prices in other appellations, and yet interest in the wines is elusive. I can tell you from experience that selling the non-sparklers from Alsace is a tough game to be in.
Valpolicella – Style blunders
This one is sad, actually. There is plenty of good wine, and takers are few and far between. Is it because a couple names dominate the category? Probably. Is it because no one cares about how varied the terroir and crus are? Maybe. The styles of the two dominant producers define the territory and shape market expectations here. For instance, showing a fresh-styled Valpol is typically met with a raised eyebrow or two. Until the frame is changed Valpolicella has a tough road ahead.
Cahors – Vader without the voice
All I have to say is: OUCH. This baby is in the corner. And, if you try and say that it is the “real Malbec” to buyers, the reaction you get is reminiscent of my face watching a Kanye performance. The mineral-driven ones are interesting, and the entry is not expensive. Maybe?
White Rhone – Flatlined forever?
About as en vogue as Carrot Top. Say the below words to a wine buyer and you will see what I mean.
Who am I kidding? This one is a Hail Mary….