While the craft beer industry sometimes feels like a speed boat, turning from seasonal releases to short-lived hybrid styles on a dime, the wine industry is an oil tanker by comparison — set in its ways and not changing direction any time fast.
But in reviewing the past 10 years, we’ve realized things move a little faster in the wine world than one might first imagine. A lot has changed since we said goodbye to the aughts and moved into the 2010s.
A number of trends defined the decade, ranging from a surge in popularity for certain categories and styles, to innovative technology, packaging upgrades, and philosophical debates that not only divided wine enthusiasts but gripped the mainstream media.
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Here is VinePair’s list of the six most important wine trends of the decade.
Rosé comes from nowhere to become the ultimate summer crush.
In 2018, sales of Provençal rosé, the spiritual heart of the rosé category, topped 2 million cases in the U.S., according to French government agency Business-France. At the beginning of the decade, that figure stood at just 123,000 cases by comparison.
And it wasn’t just Provençal rosé that saw a surge. In the summer of 2017, Nielsen data valued the overall rosé category at $207 million in the U.S., following 53 percent growth in volume sales compared to the previous year. According to Bloomberg’s Elin McCoy, “one out of every 36 bottles of wine Americans drank in 2017 was a rosé.”
The surge in demand for pink wine was the product of a combination of factors. With attractive bottles and labels, and the dazzling pink hues of the wine inside, rosé became not just a drink, but a lifestyle for social-media-savvy drinkers to align themselves with. Rosé’s success soon brought frozen cocktails with clever names (frosé, anyone?) and summer pop-ups designed, in their very essence, to attract Instagram users.
This phenomenon was also aided by celebrity culture, with rosé dubbed “Hampton’s Water” due to its popularity in one of America’s most exclusive communities. Numerous high-profile names got in on the act, too, with releases from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, John Legend, and Jon Bon Jovi, who took the tongue-in-cheek moniker one step further, calling his release “Diving Into Hampton Water.”
The final year of the decade included notable acquisitions of two of the category’s leading brands. In December, French conglomerate LVMH acquired a majority stake in Chateau d’Esclans, the producer of top-selling Whispering Angel, placing it in a luxury portfolio along with such notable names as Château d’Yquem, Château Cheval Blanc, Krug, and Dom Pérignon. Whispering Angel had become the No. 1-selling French wine in the U.S. within a decade of its 2007 debut, according to Nielsen data. It now accounts for 20 percent of all Provençal rosé consumed in the country.
Meanwhile, in July 2019, the world’s largest beer producer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, announced it was buying White Girl Rosé. The brainchild of Instagram influencer Josh Ostrovsky, a.k.a. The Fat Jew, as well as Alexander Ferzan and brothers David Oliver Cohen and Tanner Cohen, the brand launched under the Swish Beverages umbrella in July 2015, and gained widespread success through the social media mastery of Ostrovsky and the Cohen brothers.
That the category’s two leading brands head into 2020 controlled by two of the world’s most powerful alcohol conglomerates is hardly surprising. But the fact that rosé has managed to transcend status and price points — exemplified by the two contrasting acquisitions — is a fate that was unthinkable at the beginning of the decade.
“Natural” becomes the most-argued term in the history of wine.
No other word in the history of vinified grape juice has incited as much division, debate, and dogma as the term “natural” wine. To even mention the unofficial category is to tread a line of impassioned response and online backlash; so let’s start by getting a few things clear: Yes, the term “natural wine” alludes to a philosophy of winemaking ideals whose roots delve much deeper than Jan. 1, 2010. And yes, “natural” means different things to different people, while currently holding no legal definition in the way that Champagne or grand cru Burgundy does.
(Loosely defined, those with an interest in natural wine accept the term as meaning wines made through minimal intervention, in both the vineyard and winery. Most wine professionals who champion the style would seek a “clean” style of wine, free of any flaws or “funky” notes.)
But from a cultural and data-driven perspective, the rise of natural wine can absolutely be linked to the past 10 years, specifically the final few years of the decade.
A look at Google Trends data stretching back to 2004 (the furthest the search engine allows) shows that between Jan. 1, 2004 and July of 2016, searches for the topic “Natural Wine” registered an unremarkable flatline on the graph. Then, following a dramatic spike in Sep. 2016, the term experienced a strong upward trend culminating in its current-day peak at the end of the decade.
Over the course of the 2010s, numerous written works, including books and articles from authors such as Alice Feiring and Marissa Ross, have sought to educate consumers on the style or category. Meanwhile, sommeliers like Pascaline Lepeltier MS led the natural revolution on the floor, at restaurants like NYC’s now-closed Rouge Tomate.
The decade also saw the successful launch, and subsequent expansion, of international natural wine fairs such as RAW WINE. Created and organized by Isabelle Legeron MW, this year marked the fair’s fourth edition in NYC.
The rise of natural wine also coincided with (or perhaps fueled?) a growing interest in ancient winemaking techniques, most notably skin-contact orange wines fermented in large amphorae. For some, an argument could be made for describing these techniques as minimal by design, while for others, the funky organoleptic profiles these processes provide misrepresents the natural category entirely.
With growing interest toward the end of the decade, multiple articles aimed to provide clarity to the term’s meaning. Instead, they brought more confusion while simultaneously fueling raging interest.
When a notable New York Times article tied natural wine to wellness culture in June 2019, many publications, including this one, questioned the many inaccuracies of this idea. (The Times article was later updated with three separate corrections.) Then, in what must surely be the decade’s last high-profile article on the topic (once again in The Times), the headline posed the question: “Is Natural Wine Dead?”
Penned by Feiring, despite the apparent claims of its headline, the article did not predict a waning in the trend, but instead shed light on some of the biggest issues faced by the category at the end of an eventful decade.
With no legal constraints, the term “natural” is quickly being adopted (or at least alluded to) by corporate and independent wine brands alike. As these companies cash in on the term’s popularity, those producers who are genuinely practicing low-intervention techniques now face an even bigger battle to distinguish themselves and their ideals. Perhaps they might benefit from adopting new, more specific terminology moving into 2020; but either way, this is a debate that will surely continue for years to come.
High-alcohol, high-residual-sugar red blends prove America has a sweet tooth.
In America, there’s a certain stigma around sweet wines and professing one’s preference for the category. But the nation’s sweet tooth was overwhelmingly revealed this decade through the rise and dominance of the “red blend” category.
By 2018, the category, which is dominated by wines containing high levels of alcohol and residual sugar, accounted for nearly 11 percent of off-premise wine sales by volume in the U.S., according to Nielsen data. In terms of red wine, it was the second most popular category behind Cabernet Sauvignon, and the third overall behind Chardonnay, which claimed top spot.
Brands like The Prisoner, which launched in 2003 with an SRP of around $40, helped pave the way for the category’s success. But it was the lower-priced supermarket staples, and the emergence of one brand in particular, that hit the saccharine home run.
Launched by E&J Gallo in 2010, Apothic is a California blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Arriving with a whopping 16 grams per liter of residual sugar, it embodies the rich, opulent wines that experienced repeated double-digit growth during the second half of the decade. Compared to The Prisoner, it retails at just $10 per bottle.
By 2017, Apothic became one of only four $10-and-up table wine brands to boast U.S. retail sales of above $400 million, according to Shanken News Daily. With sales of 3.4 million cases that same year, Apothic was “the largest [wine] brand by volume in the above-$10 segment.”
Who says we don’t like sweet wines in this country?
Sommeliers help rebrand entire regions.
Moving from broader consumer trends to a trade-focused phenomenon, the last decade also saw previously underappreciated wine regions gain international attention, following their popularity within the wine trade, particularly sommeliers.
The most notable was Beaujolais, which enjoyed a near-complete rebrand. Synonymous for decades with Nouveau (an annual, just-fermented release), within the last 10 years, the region has arguably become better associated with high-quality Cru Beaujolais wines.
Made from Gamay grapes grown across 10 appellations (or “Crus”), these wines — particularly those of the famous “Gang of Four” — transformed the global wine industry’s image of the region, elevating its reputation to one of a world-class terroir, capable of producing “serious” bottles.
For a while, Cru Beaujolais was an insider’s tip as an affordable alternative to the stratospherically priced red wines of Burgundy. But as its stock rose, bottles became harder to come by, and the prices of those from the best producers more than doubled. While somewhat disheartening, it provided evidence that the region’s rebrand was complete.
Other regions that also enjoyed the Midas touch of somm culture in the last decade included the Loire Valley and the Jura. Champagne, too, enjoyed considerable attention from sommeliers, especially smaller grower-producers who practice organic or biodynamic farming techniques.
Canned wine intros a packaging revolution that may just stand the test of time.
The canned wine sector announced itself as a serious category in the U.S. market in 2016, when Nielsen data reported a 125 percent increase in year-over-year sales. Though starting off an admittedly modest base (the category was barely three years old), the figures represented the fastest-growing wine segment in the U.S. Sales totaled $14.5 million in the year ending June 18, 2106, and the category’s value has more than doubled since then. At the end of the decade, it shows no sign of slowing down.
The category’s success can be attributed to a number of brands, including the Family Coppola-owned Sofia Wines, Underwood’s Union Wine Co., Infinite Monkey Theorem, and Bridge Lane. The packaging’s appeal, meanwhile, comes from its convenience, affordability, and lack of pretension.
Since 2017, VinePair has carried out an annual summer tasting of the most widely available canned wines. We can note that the quality of wine inside the innovative packaging has improved dramatically over that short space of time, though it still falls somewhat short of traditional bottles.
The convenience of the packaging, especially from brands offering 187- and 250-milliliter servings, currently makes up for this slight drawback. And if the quality continues to increase at its current rate, within the next decade, there’s no reason why we won’t arrive at the point where cans simply become a medium, rather than a category with an attached asterisk.
Democratization leads to premiumization.
For consumers, perhaps the most important trend of the decade has been the democratization of wine. The trend followed the emergence of a number of media outlets (including this one) that spoke to a younger audience using language that wasn’t alienating. Through easily accessible information, everyday drinkers were able to decode labels and decipher tasting notes on demand. Wine, which had previously been confined to the realm of sommeliers or connoisseurs, was now a democratized commodity.
This trend coincided with vastly improved supermarket wine offerings, through retailers such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Costco. Smartphone apps such as Vivino allowed users to search for the bottles on the shelves in front of them and see what everyday drinkers like themselves had to say about them. And if they then wanted to branch out and discover new bottles from the same region, or find wines made using a now-familiar grape but grown in a different region, they could use websites such as Wine-Searcher to track down bottles.
The effect of this breaking of barriers becomes more notable still when looking at one of the decade’s major sales trends: “premiumization.” Perhaps surprisingly, once consumers became their own gatekeepers for information and they better understood the liquid in the bottle, they traded up on their own. And nowhere was this demonstrated better than in the world’s most valuable wine market, according to IWSR data.
In 2018, wine consumption in the U.S. grew by just 0.4 percent, but the premium-and-above segment (bottles that retail for $10 and upward) increased by more than 5 percent. By the end of 2023, IWSR analysts predict that the premium-plus category will have increased its market share even further, and will account for “nearly three in every 10 liters of wine consumed in the U.S.”
While knowledge has long been equated to power, only in the last decade did we realize that in wine, that means spending power.