Grape Expectations: Sommeliers Tell Us What to Watch in 2017

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Sommeliers and wine directors tell us what’s going to be big in the glass this year.

Fans of Pet-Nat, light Austrian reds and fortified bottles, take note: these are among the styles and regions poised to be popular on menus this year. Wine pros predict what else we’ll be sniffing, swirling and sipping:

Winn Roberton, sommelier at Bourbon Steak - 2017 Sommelier wine predictions

People will stop looking at wine lists first and rather seek out a restaurant's sommelier for their guidance in selecting a glass or bottle that suits their taste preferences or complements the food. 2017 should bring a deeper exploration into wines (white, rosé, red) from Austria, particularly the spicy reds from Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt, as well as the crisp, dry-styled Rieslings. We should be seeing a big increase in pairing with all different styles of sparkling wines this year.”

Winn Roberton, sommelier, Bourbon Steak, Washington, DC

Jenelle Engleson, sommelier at City Winery - 2017 Sommelier wine predictions

“As people are becoming more educated about wine as well as the process of making wine, we’ll see buyers buying with more attention to detail and purchasing to pair with food. A few wines that are coming more into the forefront are orange wines (which are skin contact white wines), especially as the seasons change. Focus has also shifted in the way of fortified wine; using Port, brandy or Madeira in cocktails. Try Madeira in coffee — it’s delicious!”

Jenelle Engleson, beverage director and lead sommelier, City Winery, Nashville, TN

Fortified wines like Sherry and Madeira will start showing up more and more as accents in craft cocktails. (A "Death and Taxes" with Malmsey Madeira instead of Benedictine is one of my favorites at the moment.) We’re going to see a lot more Greek and Hungarian wine on the scene; producers are really making great wines and the prices are rock bottom. Look for dry reds from Portugal’s Douro and Dao for a great value wine.”

Jon Cross, sommelier, Hinoki & the Bird, Los Angeles, CA

Dan Davis, head sommelier at Commander's Palace - 2017 Sommelier wine predictions

“In the past five years, keg wine has exploded as market force. Once a novelty found only in coastal cities, wines on tap are now found in every major market and in all strata of bars and restaurants. Continued efficiencies of scale and advancements in keg technology will make keg wines a serious profit driver, and consumers are delighted by the ‘green’ aspect as well as the freshness of the wines. Millennials value the freshness, convenience, and environmental friendliness offered by many of today’s cans and plastics [and other alternative wine packaging]. Consumers are demanding better selections in even the most casual settings. Today’s consumer can retrieve all of the relevant facts about a wine on his or her smartphone, and many even have dedicated apps for that very purpose. Gone are the days when it was sufficient to pour basic Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot — consumers want high-quality, interesting wines and will go where they must to find them.”

Dan Davis, head sommelier and wine guy, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans, LA

Pet-Nat ( pétillant naturel) or 'naturally sparkling' wines are really fun. It's a single, in-bottle fermentation rather than the more extended process that Crémants and Champagnes go through, so it's very fresh bubbly which can have juicy or funky flavors. People are starting to explore unusual places in wine in an effort to find a new grape or region they like. Georgian wines, for example, are interesting folks; I've had several people ask me about them or tell me they enjoyed them.  And I don't mean Georgia, USA — I mean the South Caucasus. Rosé any time of year is another trend that I see and heartily support.”

Marissa Copeland, sommelier, David Burke Kitchen, New York, NY

Jeff Cambiano, wine director at Bluestem - 2017 Sommelier wine predictions

Pét-Nat will continue to represent a wonderful value in the world of sparkling wine; sweet wines in this style are wonderful with dessert, and dry styles are a fantastic aperitif. Swiss wine represents an exciting and new market for unique indigenous varietals, with a distinct Alpine characteristic. These wines are versatile for pairings, and can work with anything from mild cheese to rich fish. The red wines of Southern France, specifically Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, will continue to carve out their mark in a region that has always been well known for white and rosé wines. These wines can be hearty and full, whereas some can be light and fruity.”

Jeff Cambiano, general manager and wine director, Bluestem, Kansas City, MO

Chris Horn, wine director at Heavy Restaurant Group - 2017 Sommelier wine predictions

“What’s old is new again: I think we’ll continue to see people taking a look at traditional wines like Sherry and Port. [We’ll also see] innovation in the winery. I don’t expect that we’ll see jalapeño-infused Chardonnay (yet), but I think we’ll see winemakers playing with different fermentation and aging vessels. We’ll see more grape varieties and more interesting blends — and maybe not just blends of grapes, but of vintages. As an offshoot of the rosé boom, we’ll see more people playing around with skin contact wines. And unlike the orange wine phenomena, we’ll see more white wines being made with red grapes (Vin Gris) and longer skin macerations on pinot gris.”

Chris Horn, wine director, Heavy Restaurant Group

Alex Smith, wine director at GreenRiver - 2017 Sommelier wine predictions

Wine is becoming increasingly popular with a younger generation, which translates to more value-driven wines being a plus for them. Look for unique or overlooked countries such as Uruguay, Chile, Canada, and South Africa to become more available and attractive to value-conscious consumers. Bubbly is also becoming more popular, with some amazing expressions coming from England!

Alex Smith, wine director, GreenRiver, Chicago, IL

Greg Van Wagner, sommelier at Jimmy's - 2017 Sommelier wine predictions

“We will begin to see more creativity in wine lists as it relates to organization and presentation, as well as with the options available for guests. For example, utilizing digital platforms or presenting information graphically on paper, wine menus are starting to become more than just massive documents listing wines by region. There will be more diverse options made available, such as sake, ciders, and Sherries, as well as ways guests can scale their experience through ordering customized pouring options via gadgets like the Coravin. Spanish wine [will] really break out and increase in popularity, as they represent a great value that spans a range of styles and often come with bottle age as the current release.”

Greg Van Wagner, beverage director and sommelier, Jimmy’s, Aspen, CO

Nic Yanes, sommelier at Juniper - 2017 Sommelier wine predictions

“There will be an added emphasis on “after-dinner drinks,” from amaros and grappas to dessert wines such as Ports, Sherries and ice wines.”

Nic Yanes, owner, executive chef and sommelier, Juniper, Austin, TX

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.

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