Home News > January 2020 > Riojan rebound, Mulberry Monsters and the Frothnami: SWA trends for 2020

As we all enter a new decade, the Sommelier Wine Awards’ chairman, Chris Losh, takes a look at the trends over the last few years to pick out what we can expect – and what our tasters would like to see – from this year’s competition.

Essentials

There seem to be two very different trends at play in the ‘Wine List Essentials’ area. Sparkling wines (on the evidence of last year’s medals) are on a roll all over the world. From the Veneto to Champagne and the UK to the new World, we saw a record number of fizz medals last year. And with the quality of winemaking and demand from consumers both high, we’d expect more of that this year.

The big question, perhaps, is whether prosecco can sustain its success? Our tasters have been predicting a slowdown in the Italian frothnami for a while, but there are still no signs of it actually happening. Watch this space.

What definitely is happening is a struggle to make wines to a price point. The £6 cut-off for House Wines might be a couple of pounds higher than it was ten years ago, but the falling number of medals here shows that producers are having to cut corners to hit these kind of prices. Competition will be tough again this year, no doubt.

Europe

France is the most inconsistent of the main producer countries, but its big-name regions were major winners last year. The Loire, Burgundy (especially Chablis) and Bordeaux all took home plenty of medals on the back of some elegant vintages. It will be interesting to see how they get on with the generally riper 2018s, which will probably suit some styles more than others.

Italy continued a strong run in SWA with impressive showings from north to south, and must-list regions to lesser-known bargain DO’s. We’d expect that to continue. It’s a country with so much variety that our tasters always seem to find something interesting to reward.

Our big European loser last year was Spain, with the younger Riojas, in particular, struggling with the 2017 vintage. We’d expect them to bounce back this year – and it will be fascinating to see whether the south of the country and the islands (both of which showed progress last year) can retain that momentum in 2020.

The big ‘momentum’ story in last year’s competition was the rise of less well-known Old World countries, particularly those from Eastern Europe. Ten years ago we had very few wines east of Austria. Now we get an intriguing selection – and as somewhere that is able to offer really different varieties – often at good prices – we’d expect that to continue this year.

Romania, Croatia, Hungary and Kazakhstan all took medals last year. It would be great to see them building on last year’s success and be joined by Georgia and Bulgaria which were both weirdly absent in 2019.

Further south, it was fantastic to see a good entry from Israel last year for the first time, while Slovenia and Greece are now well established – regularly supplying top whites for our final Gold List.

New World

White-wise we saw the consolidation of existing trends rather the emergence of new ones. Chardonnay did well, with Australia, South Africa and the US leading the way; Sauvignon Blanc medals fell (though Chile did well with cheaper versions) and, with the exception of Riesling and Chenin Blanc, the rest of the interest was mostly provided by unusual blends (often less heavily oaked) rather than single-varietal wines. Our judges would like to see more of this in 2020, for sure – particularly if food-friendliness rather than sheer size is the winemaker’s goal.

In reds, the main story was the success of Shiraz, which unlike Pinot Noir was able to provide great wines across the price points. But there are four big questions for 2020.

Will the much-talked-about Cabernet Franc renaissance actually happen?

Can Chile provide more wines that are exciting rather than solid and good value for money?

Good though their mulberry-monsters are, will Argentina ever move beyond Malbec?

And will the ‘multi-varietal red blends’ show some of the ‘less is more’ finesse of the whites rather than throwing oak and big ripe fruit into a bottle?

With entries closing in two weeks, there’s still time for merchants and producers to shape the narrative for 2020.