Wine Trends of the Past 50 years

Wine Trends of the Past 50 years

1970s

In Favour: Lambrusco, Muscadet, Hirondelle, Le Piat d’Or, Mateus

The wines of the 1970s are ones that many current wine enthusiasts may never have heard of; Lambrusco, Muscadet, Hirondelle, and Le Piat d’Or. It was a decade of simple, fruity and cheap wines and these old grape varietals provided just that. With a big boom on Muscadet, a sweet table wine that pleased the palate most especially when enjoyed with seafood, it was the go to wine in restaurants for all demographics. For those that have not heard of Lambrusco, it is a cheap and cheerful wine that continued its dominance even through the 1980s but quickly declined as a large range of dry wines were suddenly appearing on shelves and in restaurants. This increase in options also reduced the popularity of Muscadet drastically, as customers ventured towards more complex wines.

Where were so many new wines appearing from? America. The American wine industry was just starting to emerge in the 1970s, in particular California was beginning to be seen by Europeans as a potential match up to their own fine wines. Sales were not yet exponentially increasing but there was enough on the market to slowly move out the old grapes to make way for something new and fresh.

America was not the only growing wine industry of the 1970s, with Italy bringing forth the Super Tuscan wines. This new red wine to hit the market was one unregulated, considered outside of the Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) classification system due to its choice in grape varieties. Yet with its influences being that of Bordeaux, these blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a touch of Sangiovese, caught the attention of wine drinkers around the world. Nuances to use of new oak further linked it through to Bordeaux, along with the cellaring capabilities of up to 10 years or more.

Vintage Specific Events

1970 - First year of introducing Beaujolais Nouveau and all the accompanying celebrations to the world with large celebrations and new traditions. 
1970 - Bordeaux and the Rhône valley both had legendary vintages of delicious wines.
1971 - Germany had an excellent, almost legendary, vintage.
1976 - At the Judgement of Paris tasting, Californian wines won critical praise ahead of French equivalents. 

1980s

In Favour: California Chardonnay, Champagne, Riesling, Beaujolais Nouveau
Out of Favour: Beaujolais Nouveau

The 1980s was a big decade, not just for wine but for fashion, music, and everything in between and for the Californian wine industry it was the biggest decade of all. Following the Judgement of Paris event in 1976, California was suddenly on the world stage and everyone wanted to try some of these California Chardonnays. By taking a new approach to labelling their wines they chose to include their varietal (Chardonnay) on their bottles. This caught on very quickly and became an industry standard around the world soon after, allowing diners to ask for a ‘Californian Chardonnay’ rather than simply ‘a white wine’

Unfortunately the vinification process in the first few American Chardonnays did not include much maceration and no malolactic fermentation took place. This meant the wines produced didn’t have the distinct buttery flavours, nor oaky elements from a lack of barrel ageing, that is so distinctive of Burgundy Chardonnays. These extremely dry whites, all aged in stainless steel, had their fall from grace once the energy of an exciting new wine wore away.

Why have Californian wines continued to be acceptable to drink in the eyes of the Europeans? Cheap travel and willingness to learn! Young and energised American winemakers took the plunge to travel to France this decade as travel costs continued to decline and suddenly it became a reasonable concept to travel to France to learn the French way. David Ramey, Jim Clendenen, and John Kongsgaard spent time learning the techniques of Bordeaux and Burgundy winemaking from experts such as Château Pétrus, Coche-Dury and even the cooper Jean François. From vineyard cultivation to vinification in the cellar, they each took away new ideas and processes to put in place in their Californian wineries. This saw Newton Vineyard (Kongsgaard’s place of work) create the first oak-aged Chardonnay in 1988, including putting the wine through malolactic fermentation.

France

For decades, Champagne was wine only drunk by privileged households and at celebratory events. The 1980s saw a change in mindset as consumers began to realise it was just another form of wine and perfect to drink as an aperitif before any meal or occasion. Along with the change in perspective, the change in weather also provided a wealth of powerful vintages for Champagne. With 8 out of 10 vintages of the decade allowing for vintage based wines to be made, incredibly unheard of in the region that often blends multiple vintages into NV wines. All these elements added up to a sales boom for Champagne wines and the shelves were quickly left bare as everyone wanted to enjoy a sparkling wine while showing off their societal status.

Why the surge in showing off your Champagne? New found wealth and the extravagance of popping the cork. With champagne deemed one of the most regulated and exclusive wine regions, the price tag has always been high and with a breakthrough of many young social climbers with deep pockets,  the way to prove it was through what they drank. While the middle and lower class started to crowd around ‘Coolers’, the upper class separated themselves with their effervescent quality. Unfortunately the stock market crash of 1987 put an end to the luxuries of sparkling wine and these indulgences were soon backed off to a simmer in the market.

As the 1970s was the opening act, the 1980s brought the main show for Beaujolais Nouveau. These 100% Gamay wines with a turn-around time of only a few weeks were all the rage, with wine lovers hosting decadent parties to celebrate the latest vintage to hit the shelves. On the third Thursday in November each year, soon after the French grape harvest, parties to celebrate these innovative, carbonic maceration wines were held with no expenses spared. The marketing for these wines were in full bloom, down to the delivery time of wines to the stores with a minute past midnight being the exact moment consumers could purchase them.

Hype around new wines rarely lasts long though, especially for wines that do not live up to the delicately fine nature of all other French wines. Unfortunately, as the Nouveau wines of Beaujolais continued to decline in favour it took with it the whole region of Beaujolais. The crus of the region continued to struggle with sales and reputation for the decades following.

Germany

To be selling cases by the thousands and millions is something to note, with German wines of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Zinfadel flying out cellar doors.

Events to Note

1982 - Robert Parker Wine Advocate came to fruition and deemed a highly reliable source with his 100-point rating system for wine.

1990s

In Favour: ABC (Anything But Chardonnay), Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Critter wines
Out of Favour: Chardonnay, Merlot

Even with the new concepts brought from France, American Chardonnay did not last long through the 1990s, with consumer palates favouring lighter whites and red wines. Unfortunately it took a few moments for the vineyards to note this as the incredible amounts of chardonnay plantings caused an uptake of the acronym A.B.C. meaning Anything But Chardonnay (but all are happy with those plantings now as Californian Chardonnay is now a top tier wine of the industry). Sauvignon Blanc overtook Chardonnay this decade, with the lighter palate and being easier to drink. New Zealand in particular appeared on the market with their delicious Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs.

Why the sudden upswing in red wines? Media attention and comparability. With many wine trends developing in America, as one of the largest consumers of wine, a broadcast of 60 Minutes in 1991 highlighting the lower rate of heart disease in France left people convinced it was due to the amount of red wine they drank. Suddenly the ruminating concepts of wine being as bad as marijuana dissipated and red wine was purchased in droves across the country.

Following this up was the American president Bill Clinton appearing on MTV in 1993 endorsing the idea that drinking wine in moderation can do no harm and potentially be good for you. This additional endorsement circulated heavily as sales grew exponentially throughout the decade.

The red wine grape of choice came to be Merlot, with a simple name and round in tannins it was the best fit for the American (and therefore reflected around the world) consumers. This fruit-forward and smooth wine was easy to drink compared to the tannic bottles of Bordeaux blends that the elite preferred to collect in their cellar rather than drink in their youth.

The source of this Merlot wine was everywhere, with France championing it along with America growing its own in Washington, but unfortunately the control of quality yields subsided for quantity. The nail in the coffin for the grape did not come until 2004, when the film ‘Sideways’ was released with the main character having a major distaste for Merlot. While not completely burying the varietal, it is yet to regain the popularity it once had throughout the 1990s.

Australia was put on the map during this evolution of wine, with the closure of mass production wineries there became a rise in boutique production of high quality. Yet, aside from these arising vignerons there was a new offering of inexpensive yet very popular  wines deemed ‘critter wines’. All labelled with various Australian animals they became a token of Australian that international drinkers were eager to try for both their unique labels and the flavour-packed bottles.

2000s

In Favour: Pinot Noir, Rose, Vintage Ports, Aromatic Whites

Droughts shook the Australian wine industry out of a stupor of cheap, easy wine in the 2000s. With the vineyards lacking irrigation in the regions producing ‘critter’ wines the answer was quality, Australian focused bottles that tasted like the home country. Taking on the terroir, winemakers across Australia took the time to work with their land rather than against it, with vignerons from the cool regions of Margaret River, Yarra Valley, and the Adelaide Hills beginning to make their stand.

2010s

In Favour: Rose, Natural wines, Cru Beaujolais, 

Following in the footsteps of France, the trend to convert your vineyards to organic farming hit Australia. Consumers were expecting to see labels with the mark of organic, sustainable, or biodynamic practices, and those that did not were often questioned. The world was beginning to recognise the importance of looking after the environment and with the growing number of climate activists, the audience shifted and so the wine must too.

2020s

As the environment has been given a break during the COVID pandemic, the vines have thrived and the purchasing of wine has increased among private consumers and decreased within the hospitality realm. 

A new Burgundy boom is upon us. While the historic and traditional region has never been out of fashion, these past few years it has truly escalated in both prestige and price points. This is due to numerous factors such as supply chain blockage, pandemic, and climate change. 

In 2021 the yield was incredibly low across France but in particular, Burgundy, as the frost hit hard and almost halved the yields. This was a devastating year for winemakers as they had so few grapes to work with, yet while still amidst the pandemic it has allowed them to take their time and turn them into truly exquisite bottles of wine. 

Even with the fewer bottles of this vintage, the cost to bottle them could be just as high with supply chains slowing down and access to materials such as glass, cardboard, and wood being difficult to obtain. With this being taken into account the producers raise their prices to a point to cover their rising costs, but what further pushes prices beyond comprehension is the demand. With an incredibly high amount of Burgundy drinkers around the world, there are only so many barrels to go around. With all this considered there is likely to be a rise of 5 to 25% in prices from the Burgundy producers, and most drinkers will still happily pay that price to just have a bottle in their cellar.

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