What's trending for drinks in 2015?
First, it continues to grow in popularity.
Americans were on a course to buy a million more 12-bottle cases in 2014, for a total of 322 million cases, keeping its status as the number-one overall wine-drinking nation in the world, according to the trade group Impact Databank. It's up 80 percent in the past 20 years, despite wars, social upheaval and recessions.
Sales increases are led by sparkling wine, especially Italy's inexpensive, trendy bubbly called prosecco. Still, chardonnay remains our favorite white wine, cabernet sauvignon our favorite red.
Still, there are some surprises. First, the idea that online sales of wine are soaring isn't panning out just yet. They account for only 2 percent of total wine sales, according to a Nielsen survey in Wine Spectator magazine. More than 80 percent of wine still is sold in supermarkets, wine shops and big-box discount stores.
Also, online buyers tend not to be the younger, social-media-savvy generation of 21- to 40-year-olds that might be expected. Instead, they tend to be male, over 40, married with children and higher incomes, according to a study by California Polytechnic University reported in Wine Spectator.
The reason is simple. Those people have more money. Online wine sales favor finer, more expensive wines seen to justify the hassle and expense of shipping, the study says.
But while younger wine fans don't buy as much wine online, they seem like good candidates for future sales. More than half of them exchange wine notes with each other via social media, and 49 percent have posted photos of wine online, according to a new survey by E&J Gallo Winery. Of particular interest to them are sparkling wine, moscato and boxed wine.
And younger adult drinkers already may be starting to go upscale with spirits. Sales of budget brand whiskey blends are shrinking in this market, as younger consumers move to single malt scotch, Shanken reports.
Meanwhile, the Vatican's estimated 900 or so residents again in 2014 were the world's biggest drinkers of wine, with 74 liters apiece. The biggest beer drinkers were residents of the Czech Republic, with 235 liters each, according to the trend-tracking website Comparecamp.com.
Makers of alcoholic beverages continue to experiment with new ways of doing it:
— Ardbeg, makers of Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, sent vials of unmatured whisky malt particles of charred oak to the International Space Station in 2011 and brought them back last month after orbiting the planet at more than 17,000 miles per hour, according to the BBC. It was to see if the whisky would age differently at zero gravity. Its scientists are analyzing the results in Houston now and promise a report soon.
— Mira Winery of Napa, California, is continuing its experiment with aging cabernet sauvignon 60 feet underwater in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina, according to an ABC news report. An early test suggested the wine was different from similar wine aged in the usual way. Tests continue in several countries to determine whether "different" means better.
Sellers of spirits also are seeking new outlets. Maybe the most creative is Golden Star Enterprises, which has launched a "Vapor Spirit" campaign, selling a $39 gadget that lets fans inhale spirits instead of drinking them. A shot of liquor is poured into a small glass bowl and heated by a small candle, with its vapors inhaled through a straw.
Some users call it "smoking liquor."
World wine markets continue to shift. A market survey commissioned by Vinexpo, the international wine and spirits exhibition held in May, indicated that China had become the world's leading red wine consumer.
But that might have been thrown into jeopardy after a report in Wine Spectator that the Chinese government is cracking down on two companies accused of misusing $43 million in public funds investing in Bordeaux chateaux.
As 2015 begins, here some nice wines to start with, so you can create some trends of your own:
— 2013 Byron Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County: crisp, with aromas and flavors of ripe peaches, cinnamon and minerals; $16.
— 2013 Waterstone Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley: aromas of camellias, lean and crisp, with lemon meringue flavors, long finish; $18.
— 2012 La Crema Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon: floral aromas, hint of oak, rich, concentrated flavors of mulberries and red raspberries, long finish; $30.
— 2011 Alder Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington: aromas and flavors of black cherries and bittersweet chocolate, smooth tannins; $32.
— 2012 Oak Ridge Winery "OZV" Old Vines Zinfandel, Lodi (96 percent zinfandel, 4 percent petite sirah): aromas and flavors of ripe red raspberries and coffee, ripe tannins, smooth; $12.
— 2013 Ecco Domani Prosecco DOC, Treviso (glera grapes): lots of soft bubbles, lemon-lime aromas and flavors, light body; $11.
— 2011 Kirkland Signature Series Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (86 percent malbec, 14 percent cabernet sauvignon): spicy and crisp, with black cherry and black pepper aromas and flavors, smooth finish; $20.
— 2013 William Hill Estate Chardonnay, Napa Valley: crisp and medium-bodied, with aromas and flavors of lemons, limes and spice, full body; $27.
— 2012 Renwood "Clarion" Red Blend, Amador County (25 percent zinfandel, 25 percent petite sirah, 25 percent syrah, 25 percent marsanne): floral aromas, black raspberry and mocha flavors, hearty and smooth; $20.
— 2013 Bell Ambiance Cabernet Sauvignon, California: floral aromas, flavors of black cherries and black pepper, smooth tannins; $10.
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(Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
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