Home News > April 2020 > Three trends, two microshifts and a coming of age

Three trends, two microshifts and a coming of age

The world might be going to hell in a handcart, but grapes are getting picked in the southern hemisphere and vines are starting to bud in the north. Wine, in other words, will carry on. And when it does, what can we expect to see?  SWA Chairman Chris Losh rounds up the trends from this year’s competition.

Trend 1: Brilliant Bubbles

There have been stories about the slowdown in prosecco sales for a while, but on this evidence bubbles in general are still going strong. This was one of the best categories in SWA 2020. We’ve come to expect fine performances from the heavyweights – Champagne, prosecco, English sparkling and rosé – but this year there were also good efforts, too, from less well-known styles such as French cremants, Italian sparklers, cava and the New World… With an awful lot of good bubbly at all kinds of price and in all kinds of style fizz is a real treasure trove for the curious somm.

Trend 2: Less oak/alcohol

We started to see the trend for wines with lower alcohol, better freshness and less oak four or five years ago, but it’s really gathering pace now. 

Interestingly, it wasn’t just in evidence for fine wines either. In the past our judges have often complained that there was ill-judged use of oak chips in the house wines. But this has been dialled back or disappeared – often allowing surprisingly good fruit quality to shine through at giveaway prices. It’s one of the reasons, for sure, that house reds did well this year.

A reining in of wood is also allowing the natural beauty of some often underperforming regions to shine through. Sicily’s reds, for instance, have sometimes been criticised for being too big, too extracted and too oaked. But many of them were significantly lighter and more elegant in 2020, and they were a big hit with our judges as a result. 

Trend 3: Mid-weight reds on the up

In the past we’ve seen a red grape variety dominate a competition. Cabernet, for instance, was often a star in the early years of SWA; last year Australian Shiraz took home a hatful of medals. This year we didn’t see one variety come to the fore, but rather a generally strong performance from a general style: lighter, mid-weight red wines. 

Beaujolais was popular, so too red Burgundy and Pinot Noir (not always the case), plus Cinsault, Grenache and reds from north-west Spain and the Italian islands. They might all be different, but there’s a common thread here suggesting both better winemaking and tasters who are increasingly receptive to that medium-bodied style. 

Microshift 1: Orange wines 

Orange Wines were a surprising hit this year. All our tasters expected the wines to be funky and natural in style, when in fact they were clean, elegant and beautifully made. We hope that this category will go from strength to strength. 

As head of Judging, Christine Parkinson put it, ‘This year orange wine cemented its place in the mainstream. The wines we saw here should be on all kinds of wine lists.’

Microshift 2: Rise of ‘basic-plus-one’

Rising costs might make it difficult to get really good wines under the £8 level, but this year we saw some excellent wines in the £8-12 band – what you might call the ‘basic plus one’ area. So, cru Beaujolais rather than Beaujolais; ‘reserve’ rather than ‘standard’ wines. These are very much in the £30-45 sweet spot for restaurants and make this year’s Gold Book essential reading.

Region comes of age: Leyda

One of the criticisms often levelled at Chile is that its wines taste too homogenous – of nicely ripened fruit, rather than an actual place. But Leyda changed that this year. ‘It’s been hailed as the place that Chile can grow some of its best wine,’ said Christine Parkinson, ‘it never has been before but this year they have suddenly got there. Both their Sauvignon Blancs and their Pinot Noirs had a style of their own – and were really good.’