Change can be a rejuvenating force or wrought with chaos and tragedy, as we’ve seen firsthand over the last couple of years. Climate change, supply chain issues, and consumer trends are factors that affect our daily lives, and those same factors are going to determine what we all drink in the year(s) to come.
A study comes out suggesting that even one drink a day is bad for you and suddenly low/no alcohol wines and spirits are popping up everywhere. I find it interesting that the bodies that fund this type of research are rarely disclosed but it’s worth considering that special interest groups spend lots of money funding.
The upside is that there are now credible options for those wanting a drink but without the effects of alcohol (Herald columnist Darren Oleksyn covered a selection of these in his column a few weeks back). For the record, there are places and cultures all over the world (Sardinia is one such example) where wine is part of daily life and their residents are among the healthiest and longest-lived on the planet. As much as I’d like to think it’s because they drink wine every day, it may help that they are not being exposed to things like stress, fast food, and off-gassing carcinogens, for example. Since we can’t all move to Sardinia (they don’t have a room, I checked) we must make the best of what’s to come, so here’s a brief look at what the wine future holds.
The RTD (ready to drink) category has taken a big bite out of the youth market who, in generations past, would be turning to wine, and not just in North America. Then cocktail culture is resurgent, even in such wine-centric places as France and Italy. That being said, wine sales are still very much on the rise in North America. The US, now the largest wine market in the world, saw sales of $340 billion in 2021 and growth is predicted to rise to S456.76 billion by 2028. France, bumped to the second-largest consumer of wine in the world, has been seen a steady decline in consumption since 2007 although the per capita numbers tell a much different story. In that regard, France is a solid No. 1 while the US comes in 44th (Canada is 39th). In Canada, Quebec is the largest market in terms of volume but when it comes to per capita consumption the Northwest Territories and Labrador are number one with Alberta at the top in the most densely populated provinces.
Stats can be interesting, but they don’t tell the whole story. There’s been a lot of talk about shortages and supply issues but, in Canada, things seem to be moving at a relatively normal pace. Climate change continues to wreak havoc in the wine world, and we’ve all seen the effects of that. In BC, Blue Mountain Vineyards – one of the Okanagan’s very best – made the difficult decision to not bottle any wines from the 2021 harvest due to smoke damage. There are currently 86 fires burning in BC, and the truly maddening part of that equation is that all but a couple were started by people (as was the case last year). In France’s Burgundy region, home to the world’s most sublime examples of chardonnay and pinot noir, factors like hail and frost are driving up prices and availability. In 2021, Burgundy lost half of its harvest due to severe frost at the start of the growing season, pushing prices up and availability down.
These combined factors mean that we are going to have to make some adjustments in our wine drinking habits, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Are you finding Burgundian wines too pricy and hard to find? There are good examples of pinot noir to be found from places like Germany, BC’s Okanagan Valley (more on that in next month’s column), Oregon, New Zealand, and beyond. Maybe you enjoy big, bold wines from Bordeaux and Napa Valley but are finding those prices difficult to swallow. Portugal’s Douro Valley – traditionally home to Port wine – makes loads of big, full-bodied reds from the same varieties employed for port and at very attractive price points. France’s Rhone Valley is one of the country’s most famous wine regions and prices have remained stable there, with loads of great value in the basic Cotes du Rhone category. Spain is another hub of value; you can find bottles of garnacha from 80-year-old vines for as little as $15, or nice bottles of crisp, vibrant albarino (called alvarinho in Portugal), a great summer white option that rarely crests the $20 mark. Rosé, the hottest category in the wine world right now, is flush with options from just about everywhere. Can’t afford Barolo? The wine of kings, as it has been called, is made entirely from the nebbiolo grape, and you can buy good nebbiolo for about $30, and you won’t have to wait 20 years before you can drink it.
Here are some recommended producers available at reputable wine shops around Calgary:
Nebbiolo (Piedmont, Italy): Vajra, Pelassa, Vietti, Conterno Fantino
Pinot noir – From BC: Meyer, 1 Mill Road, Spearhead, Tantalus
Portugal: Reserve Parakeet, Quinta do Crasto, Carm
Rhone Valley, France: Lafond, Chave (Mon Coeur), Usseglio, Les Vins de Vienne, Domaine des Lises
Geoff Last is a longtime Calgary wine merchant, writer, instructor and broadcaster. He can be heard on occasion on CJSW’s Road Pops program on Fridays at 4 pm firstname.lastname@example.org