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Decanter’s 1993 predictions for 2000, in retrospect

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I was rummaging through my bookshelves and came across an old copy of Decanter magazine from June 1993. The cover story was “What will you be drinking in the year 2000?

Decanter asked their “panel of experts” a series of questions. How did they do? Let’s see. (I’m eliminating two questions: “If you could own a winery anywhere in the world, where would it be?” and “With what do you hope to toast the arrival of the year 2000, where and with whom?” These are not predictive questions, but simply preferences.)

1. Which countries/wine regions will produce the best values? “Eastern Europe naturally appeared in most people’s answers.” Well, this didn’t happen in 2000 and it hasn’t happened in 2011, at least here in America, so the panel of 14 got that wrong.

2. Which countries/wine regions will produce the highest quality wines? “Most of those questioned felt that Bordeaux and Burgundy will continue” to lead the world in quality, “while some areas of the New World will be snapping at the heels of the Old.” Which new areas? “California (particularly Sonoma and the Napa Valley) and Australia (the Yarra Valley did well.” They got that right, although the experts didn’t foresee the rise of Santa Barbara County, which has a level of wine quality easily as high as that of Sonoma.

3. Which grape varieties/blends do you expect to be the most popular? “Few of those questioned see a loosening of the Cabernet Sauvignon/Chardonnay ‘stranglehold’,” the article said. So the experts got that right, too. However, “Steven Spurrier and Andrew Jefford…felt that Cabernet’s position would have been challenged by Syrah and Merlot.” That didn’t happen, did it? Syrah’s in perpetual trouble, and while a lot of Merlot is sold, it’s mainly low-end stuff. Particularly disastrous was this prediction: “Other varieties which many felt will come further to the fore [were] Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera, not just in Italy, but in many other countries all over the world.” That certainly hasn’t happened, in 2000 or today.

4. What will taste trends be–to even drier wines, or will richer, sweeter styles have made a comeback? “Opinion was split between those who saw the current fashion for fruity, oaky, rich, powerful wines continuing to grow and those who feel that by the year 2000 the consumer’s palate will ‘grow up’ to appreciate something that is considerably drier.” The predicters of “fruity, oaky” wines got it right: the consumer preferred those big, extracted, Parkeresque wines in 2000 and throughout the first decade of the 21st century. The question in 2011 is whether the consumer’s palate is ‘growing up.’”

5. Will the best sparkling wine made outside Champagne be as good as Champagne? “Responses ranged from simply ‘No’ to ‘yes.’” I think we’d have to say that, with rare exceptions, Champagne remains the definitive sparkling wine. California has great bubbly, as good as Champagne, IMHO, but nowhere near the range and diversity of Champagne.

6. Will there be any serious contenders for Bordeaux’s crown? “This question proved almost as contentious as the last.” A few experts suggested Eastern Europe [not!], Australia, the South of France and Chile. The only mention of California was this oddity: “…but for the phylloxera outbreak California might have been a contender.” I’m glad I wasn’t the one who made that utterly wrong prediction. Even in 1993, everybody knew that, while it would cost California wineries billions of dollars to replant to phylloxera-resistant rootstock, the end result would be a rise in quality, and relatively quickly. I remember; I was here, writing about it. We knew that growers would be able to more properly match varieties, clones and rootstocks to specific terroir conditions, and that they would improve their canopy management systems and, in some cases, even their row orientations.

So next time you see predictions, understand that it’s just some “expert” tossing a coin.

* * *

Tomorrow night, Thursday April 7, is Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town, at San Francisco City Hall. I hope to see you there!

  1. Margaret says:

    Regarding #4: Just who is the consumer? Seems like there’s a fair bit of stratification (more than in 1993 or 2000?)in the world of consumers. Kudos to Steve for contributing to the ‘growing up’ of palates (cf. Haas Biz School post), but at least in the U.S., an awful lot of consumers still drive demand for fruit(and residual sugar).

  2. It’s interesting that there were no questions about the future of wine criticism (professional evaluation), rating systems, or the potential impact of the Internet on wine marketing or education.

  3. Margaret, you’re right, a lot of consumers do demand fruit. But I think we’re seeing signs that some segments are looking for drier wines — younger drinkers especially.

  4. It seems to me that your analysis is based on a US consumer, I am fairly certain that Decanter in 1993 was trying to speak to its UK readers more than its US readers. I don’t think I have ever seen any wines from eastern europe wine in the US at best one or two brands very rarely seen but at the time in the UK theses wines were very popular and indeed they are still very widely available there today, so perhaps the Decanter prediction was not that far off in the correct context.

  5. Also regarding #4 I would say that there is no uniform consumer and there will never be one. P
    lenty of wines in the UK moved totally away from oak and highly extracted fruit characters in the nineties. Witness James Herrick Chardonnay (Southern France) which was eventually purchased by Southcorp. This has not been the case so much in the US. Again I believe the Decanter predictions were based on the UK market place and this market place is very different to the US market.

  6. “It’s interesting that there were no questions about the future of wine criticism (professional evaluation), rating systems, or the potential impact of the Internet on wine marketing or education.”

    The internet had not been invented in 1993..at least not in the UK!

  7. Ian, you may be right about that.

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