2017: Good Things on the Horizon

This has become a tradition for us to give everyone an outline of what to expect out of the coming year.  Part of the reasoning is that we have the information because we rely upon this info as part of our yearly business plan seeing as there’s always a limit to the amount of money one can spend (even, of course, for the U.S. Government who can simply print it).  Since we have already done the homework, there’s no reason not to share it with you so you have the option of strategizing your own purchases and consider cellaring options.

Some years there is a lot going on, other years less so.  Last year (2016) had a few strong categories and a few big categories that were not so strong performance-wise.  We dare say 2017 has the possibility of being one of the best years for wine buyers in half a decade.  We say that without considering an improved economy which some are predicting.  We are merely talking about the quality and breadth of really good stuff we anticipate should hit the market.

While the domestic market is not near as volatile from a vintage perspective as Europe, particularly in California, the top domestic regions all seem to be on a continuing ’roll’.   California, Oregon and Washington will be mainly rolling out 2014s and 2015s, which are surprisingly uniform in quality, appealing and, from what we’ve seen from 2014, quite accessible.

Domestic quality is such that there should be a trickle down into the next level of players and even the ‘bargain’ producers should be able to find good juice to work with (provided they can find any juice).  That’s the one caveat… quantity.  It is low in certain areas, particularly in 2015, a consistent theme with most of the California producers we’ve spoken with.  What that means to you is that, if you see something that strikes your fancy (particularly among those 2015s), you should move in some haste as they may not be around long if they get any critical attention at all.

The big news of course is the ‘foreign’ 2015s.  The vintage promises to be a watershed for quality wines.  We haven’t seen this much uniform success across borders since 2010, and can only think of a few other times (1985, 1990, 2005) where so many folks from virtually anyplace that grew grapes had a smile on their face.

“The good times are going to roll.”

The good times are going to roll.  As northern Italy gets through the remainder of their rain-affected 2014 whites, they will be (and are being) replaced by the sensational 2015s.  We haven’t had anything this good since 2010, though the more fruit-driven profile is more specific to 2015.  Very tasty.  We have been pleased with some of the whites from the Rhone as well, but will admit that the 2015 whites from Burgundy, while quite good, are a little riper and lower in acidity that the outstanding 2014s.  They will however make for an excellent bridge for fans of domestic Chardonnays who are used to ‘fatter’ wines.  Buy up those 2015 Loire Valley whites as they arrive and the Cabernet Franc-based reds in particular appear to be the finest since the 2005s.

We have already talked at length about the 2015 Germans and Austrians which are both very special vintages.  For whatever reason, the media has not given these wines their due as yet (if they ever will…it’s a Cabernet and Bordeaux world…still).  This has afforded a longer buying window, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and we continue to tell anyone who will listen that this is a vintage of historic quality in both regions.

Bordeaux has the opportunity to really make a comeback, provided that they don’t lose sight of reason when it comes to prices.  The 2014s are delicious and should provide some really appealing earlier drinking, the 2015s are definitely vins de garde, and the 2016s, which should be offered as ‘futures’ this spring, are rumored to be spectacular in certain areas (clay soils, old vines) that were able to handle the unprecedented drought that hit the region.  Good times for Bordeaux lovers, particularly if the euro stays on the low side (the euro was around $1.35 back when the 2010s came out, it’s now around $1.05).

Sadly, the euro probably isn’t going to be much help in Burgundy because the highly anticipated 2015 vintage was also short on quantities (and because it’s Burgundy).  But the little red Burgundies we have tasted so far have been remarkably appealing as a group, which only means good things for the ‘bigger dogs’.  It’s definitely a vintage to keep an eye on the entry-level Bourgognes, well priced village bottlings, and places like the Cote Chalonnaise and Marsannnay as well as Beaujolais.  If you are super ‘brand conscious’, acquiring certain labels might be frustrating, but we anticipate there will be some opportunities if you love the genre and are looking for some very tasty juice.

There will be lots of ample southern Rhones and seriously good northern Rhones.  We suspect the 2015 Chateauneufs will require some attention as there hasn’t been a vintage this good since 2010.   As to the ‘top notch’ Cote Roties and Hermitages, etc., quality will be ‘amaze-balls’, but a lot of the small, famous names will be hens teeth when it comes to sourcing.

The great thing about 2015 reds is that they are generally gregarious and outgoing.  We have seen that all over France and in the ‘little’ reds from northern Italy.  If you can’t find something delicious, you’re not trying.  There will be those that will say that, because of their outgoing fruit, these wines aren’t structured enough to be considered ‘serious’.  They are ‘fat’, true, but also fresh, which bodes well for development.  We have tasted enough ‘super jammy’ vintages that have been declared ‘great’ that haven’t necessarily aged as well or as uniformly as some experts said they would.  Besides, what’s wrong with being pretty and precocious?

We expect South America will continue to be one of the biggest surprises.  We keep finding really compelling start-ups and producers previously unknown to us that have raised the bar considerably.  We said they same thing last year about Argentina and Chile, which at the time, probably raised a few eyebrows.  In fact, we ran across a lot of stuff that exceeded even our expectations and have to presume that there is a lot more to be found.  What is perhaps even more telling is that some of the labels that have been around a while have upped their games as well (just today a Malbec from Bodega Neomia showed a touch and fruit component that got us excited…we don’t recall something of this fineness from this source in the past).

Finally, our ‘dark horse’ prediction for 2017 is…South Africa.  Now we have been trying to create a niche for South African wines since the 90s.  The wines were often parochial, sometimes solid, and occasionally breakthroughs.  But sustainability of the genre proved to be elusive.  As soon as we stopped promoting them, they seemed to have little carry through on their own.  We have happened upon a few interesting, some maybe a little quirky but delicious items that indicate there is another tier of innovative South African small producers that we have not seen in this marketplace.

By ‘dark horse’ we kind of mean these South African boutiques haven’t had, nor do we expect that they will get much media exposure, and there are all kinds of marketing and distribution issues with small importers and unknown genres by definition.  In other words, we aren’t going to bet the grocery money on their success, but only because market mechanics kind of work against them.  The wines we are talking about got us really pumped, and we have to assume there are some others out there like them.  These wines definitely deserve an audience.

This promises to be a very exciting year for wine drinkers.  Besides all that we have alluded to thus far, there are still remnants of the 2010 Reserva and Gran Reserva Riojas from Spain to be had, and Italian reds will certainly have their share of successes (2013 Tuscans, 2015 Barbera and Dolcettos, 2015 ‘little’ Chianti Classico wines) on an individual basis. The only question we can’t answer yet is if this will be Australia’s time to recapture the market share they deserve, that will be up the consumer as the wines are better than ever.  We’ll also be on the lookout (and hoping) for ‘deals’ on the delicious 2014s from the southern Rhone and Burgundy, a vintage that got largely overlooked as buyers focused ahead on the more ‘newsworthy’ 2015s.  At reduced prices, we will be all over those wines.

Are we looking forward to 2017?  You bet!  Happy New Year…