Grape forecast 

This last year saw Australian wine take a beating and South American wine rise to prominence all over the country. Led by popular brands like Luigi Bosca, Crios, Colome, Lamadrid and La Posta, South American wines carved out a niche in metro wine lists and saw an increased presence in shelf space in liquor stores in 2010.

Red blends, especially Bordeaux and Rhone-style blends, also had a pretty good year. Somewhat surprising was the slight uptick in the availability of white blends, thanks in part to domestic wineries like Odisea, Krupp Brothers and Stoller Vineyards (Chemistry).

Some of those trends were fairly easy to predict at the end of 2009. Those in the wine world knew that Australia was going to be in serious trouble. Also, the price and quality of South American wines almost guaranteed their success; it was simply a matter of familiarizing customers with the names and grapes.

Other trends are harder to forecast, but in keeping with the tradition of New Year’s predictions, we asked Oklahoma City wine professionals to take a shot at prognostication for what 2011 will hold. There was wide agreement on at least two different grapes: Merlot and Grüner-Veltliner.

Joshua Strother, an intermediate sommelier who now works for Thirst Wine Merchants, said, “I think that given the quality of Merlots I’ve tasted in the last year, 2011 may be the year Merlot steps back into the limelight.”

Christie Luna, a wine representative for Glazers, agreed. “Merlot is no longer the red-headed stepchild of the wine world,” she said. “After the ‘f---ing Merlot’ line from ‘Sideways’ finally faded from the public consciousness, Merlot is making a comeback.”

Grüner-Veltliner also made a few lists, most notably that of Alex Kroblin, co-owner of Thirst Wine Merchants. “It’s a longtime darling grape of sommeliers and wine geeks,” he said. “Austrian wineries have begun taking marketing cues from their peers in Spain, Australia and South America, with the result being eye-catching labels and innovative packaging.”

Packaging is another trend Luna said to watch.

“More and more crazy new labels will appear as the glut of juice in California is used for negociant type groups who have the means, access to the juice, a bottling line and a good marketing idea,” she said.

Negociants are individuals or groups who purchase fruit from growers rather than, or in addition to, growing their own.

As California struggles to move excess juice, another state is experiencing a boom in wine production and wider acceptance all over the world.

Strother endorsed Washington, as did a few other wine pros.

“The new frontier I see coming into its own right now is Washington,” he said. “I think everyone is starting to see the potential of Washington state wines. Not only for the quality of the wines, but also the variety of wines they do well.”

This is epitomized in the Long Shadows Project, a collection of Washington state wines that are changing the way the world looks at Washington wines.

The amazing Poet’s Leap Riesling from this line is already available at The Spirit Shop, 1117 Garver in Norman. The Project is the subject of an upcoming article.

“Wine consumers have long shown that they are willing to spend $10-$12 on Riesling and Merlot from Columbia Valley,” Kroblin said, referring to a grape-growing region of Washington. “But we’re seeing more and more interest in $20-$50 wines from all of the state, including lesser known regions such as Yakima Valley, Wahluke Slope and Red Mountain.

“Washington wines are among the most consistent — and consistently good — from year to year, and the average price is amazingly low compared to wines of comparable quality from Napa, Sonoma and Bordeaux.”

Price continues to be an issue in the new year. Bruce Upthegrove, a wine representative from Republic National Distributing, said he expects more restaurants to do innovative wine lists like the one he helped construct at Upper Crust, 5860 N. Classen Blvd.

“I really expect to see lower margins and creative wine programs,” he said.

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Greg Horton

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