Local Wine Directors and Sommeliers on 2009 Predictions

Local wine directors and sommeliers are looking into their crystal decanters and share what they think we’ll be swirling in our glasses in 2009.

Melanie Alioto, beverage manager/sommelier of One Market Restaurant, predicts that Washington State syrahs are going to be one of the next big things in 2009 because people don’t normally think of Washington as a red-growing state in general—they’re more known for their rieslings and other whites. Per Alioto, “Syrahs are one of the few reds that grow well in colder regions and the ones coming out of Washington are amazing right now. The rosé trend is also going to continue to grow. The wines from more unknown regions of France, such as Languedoc, and others in the Southwest are going to be more popular as the economy continues to slow because they’re value wines.”
Nicole Burke, the wine director for EPIC Roasthouse, thinks, “There will be a lot of value to be found as price readjustments trickle through the market. Domestically, wineries that still need to move wine will have to do so with price reductions. So if you're willing to pay a little bit more, you can potentially have a whole lot of wine in your glass. Australia is making a big push to correct its marketing mistakes and promote high-quality, balanced wine (i.e. no more furry-critter wines, we all know the culprits). Look for snappy, mouthwatering riesling as a fantastic alternative to a sea of sauvignon blanc. Don’t forget about the Kiwis either! They are producing world-class pinot noirs that are complex, layered with fruit and spice, but toned down on ripeness; you don't find any syrah masquerading as pinot noir here!

“Argentina has been hitting home runs with luscious malbecs. I saw many people turn to malbec this year for its affordability and high quality. The press has given many accolades to the 2008 vintage, which will be hitting the market in the early months of 2009, which will make malbec a continuing trend.”

Mauro Cirilli
, the sommelier at Perbacco, has seen a growing trend in guests looking to support small producers, and he thinks this will be very big in 2009. Also, he anticipates more consumers and restaurant guests will be interested in buying and drinking wine that is organic and/or biodynamic, both farming styles that fall in line with small producers and in turn, Perbacco will feature more such producers on their wine list.

Alex Fox, formerly a sommelier at Gary Danko and the wine director at Myth, says, “The key words for the SF wine and beverage world in 2009 are affordable luxuries, shrinkage (not the Seinfeld kind) as opportunity, and Chateau du Corkage. While the potbelly may not come into vogue in '09, handcrafted beers (and the chubby folks who love them) will continue to grow in popularity as an affordable luxury. Ditto for ‘froufy’ cocktails. 

“On the wine side, 2009 will be the year of indigenous grape varieties from less-heralded appellations made by smaller producers in the $20-and-under retail and $60-and-under restaurant price ranges. The ‘it’ wines of 2009 will be prosecco, grenache, and anything from Southern Italy.

“Shrinkage will occur as fancy restaurant wine lists will lower their inventories by not taking some of their allocations of pricey California cult wines creating an ‘opportunity’ for consumers with cash to buy direct from the wineries and high-end retailers. It remains to be seen whether they will lower their margins as well. They would be well advised to do so as corkage, corkage, and more corkage will be seen, especially at restaurants with the worst reputations for high mark-ups. This is understandable in the current economy, but please exercise restraint and help out those restaurants with passionate staff members, creative lists, reasonable mark-ups, and an array of selections in all price points by leaving that bottle at home. Happy holidays, and drink up!”

Andrew Green, the wine director for Bacchus Management Group (The Village Pub, Spruce, and the forthcoming Café Des Amis) anticipates the big value regions for 2009 to be the wines from Southern Italy, Central Spain, and the focus on great values from Argentina and Australia to continue. 2007 wasn’t the best vintage in the classic regions of France, so he doesn’t think there will be a lot of hoopla over releases from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
O. Timothy Jones, sommelier at Bong Su Restaurant & Lounge says, “People are more willing to explore unknown areas and are savvier than they were five years ago. They are more educated about the world of wine. In 2009, value is going to be at the forefront—this doesn’t mean cheap, but that the quality of what is in the bottle has to be a good value for the price. Food-friendly wines will gain more interest; there are great examples coming from regions like Portugal, Spain, and Italy—wines like falanghina, greco di tufo, and vermentino; they have great acidity and are lighter. The trend is going to be away from big alcohol, big oak, and big fruit bombs. Additionally, there will be a continued discussion of the carbon footprint of the wine industry as wineries look at packaging, sustainable growing and harvesting, and shipping. We might be just starting to see a move away from heavy glass bottles.”
Shelley Lindgren, wine director of A16 and SPQR, has this to say, “There’s good news for Italian wine lovers for 2009. The slightly strengthening dollar is starting to make a positive price difference with the new shipments of small-production, fabulous wines reaching our shores. Italians know a thing or two about surviving through down times without having to forgo the pleasure of making sure there is wine in a glass and great food to eat. I am really looking forward to new gems from Sicily, Campania, and Marche.

“We just brought in a wonderful vernaccia nera from around the Serrapetrona area of Marche and some magliocco from the west coast of Calabria near Lamezia Terme. The venerable Casa d’Ambra winery from Ischia, Campania, has arrived at long last, and the biancolella they produce from the highest peak on the island, ‘Frassitelli’ will be paired with our octopus terrina with fennel, radish, preserved lemon, and olio nuovo on New Year’s Eve at A16. Salute!”

Emily Wines, wine director at Fifth Floor Restaurant, shares her predictions: “As Champagne prices continue to go into the stratosphere, bubbly drinkers will revolt and start drinking more offbeat sparkling wines. Cremant, sekt, cava, and Franciacorta will grow in popularity as Champagne becomes too pricy to sell in grocery stores.

“The wines of Greece, Southern Italy, and Portugal will continue to surprise people. The funky juice is a thing of the past. The wines are really good and mostly really cheap!

“Wine drinkers will revolt against high-alcohol wines. 16-percent-alcohol cabs will be relegated to the status of the super ‘oaky/buttery’ chardonnays that were popular in the late 90s. Those wines will still have their fans, but conscientious consumers will demand wines with more finesse.”