When it comes to wine and spirits, it’s anyone’s best guess in determining what type of new trends the new year will bring. To help you to get a head start on stocking the cellar, we turn to top wine and cocktail influencers in the industry to get a glimpse of what they see in their crystal balls for 2019. As we we bid adieu to 2018, we urge you to sit back, relax, pop open some champagne and read on to see what they have to say.
1) Rise of non-alcoholic drinks
With the recent trend in lower alcohol levels in drinks and the increase in popularity of non-alcoholic alternatives, it’s no surprise that more people are choosing to abstain from alcohol altogether. According to a recent survey in drink-happy UK, approximately one in five adults in the UK is teetotal. Here in Hong Kong, there is a noticeable rise in non-alcoholic cocktails, according to Antonio Lai, executive mixologist for VEA and mastermind behind bars such as Quinary, The Envoy and the recently opened Room 309. “More partygoers are choosing to either abstain or pace themselves through the holiday season without coming out at the end of it on New Year’s Day looking and feeling like zombies. Recently, Hong Kong has seen two local gins introduced to the drinking scene, using flavours of tea, traditional herbs and nostalgic flowers. This sense of greater responsibility will also see the non-alcoholic range of drinks flourish, with brands like Seedlip and Stryyk becoming staples on the back bar as people decide to include stylish no-booze choices in their repertoire of drinks – all of the fun and none of the harm.”
For many health-conscious drinkers who choose to extend the regular “dry January” period to a year-round lifestyle, there is a growing number of non-alcoholic options on the rise. Arnaud Bardary, group sommelier for Black Sheep Restaurants, notes, “In Asia [we] have still a large community of teetotalers, [so] non-alcoholic beverages, high-end fruit juices, teas, are also important to take in consideration.” Wine and spirit producers are hot on the trend, with the recent launch of an alcohol-free sparkling wine from Spanish cava producer Freixenet as well as newly emerging categories of non-alcoholic drinks called euphorics, such as Kin.
2) Demand for white wine
Hong Kong is notorious for its love of red wine. For many wine enthusiasts, nothing pairs better with local savoury dishes of roasted meats than a Pinot Noir from Burgundy or a more structured, tannic wine from Italy. However, as cuisines evolve along with the palates of more health-conscious diners, the same consumers are becoming more adventurous when it comes to pairing food with wine. “There’s definitely a trend in a move towards lighter wines that pair with the freshness of ingredients,” says Hong Kong wine doyenne and Master of Wine Debra Meiburg of MWM .
Mark Pardoe, MW, wine director for Berry Bros. & Rudd, tends to agree. “Rhone is more compatible with local food here because it has a certain spiciness to it, particularly white Rhone for richer fish and chicken flavours.”
This growing appetite for white wine extends to exploring smaller regions and different grape varieties, old and new, according to Bardary. “We see more and more white wine drinkers, when even a few years ago the consumption was still very small. I think Riesling will make a comeback, probably more dry than sweet, as it used to be in Asia. The demands grow for a dry style of wine, fresh, delicate, easier to drink and for any price value, such as Spanish whites including Albariño, Godello and all respective grape varieties of the area.”
Photo credit: Zuma Hong Kong
3) Unique food and cocktail pairings
While cocktails use to be the designated aperitif or post-dinner tipple, they are increasingly part of the meal. “We see younger consumers are now very often drinking cocktails during their meal,” says Bardary.
For Lai, “The one pairing we are seeing that strikes us as unlikely – but actually works – is rum and cheese. As both categories continue to appeal to gourmands and sophisticates, it may seem logical, but we are amazed to see it more and more. From silver rums, to cocktails, to aged rums, the whole category is getting into the action.”
There’s also the growing intersection of mixing tea and coffee in cocktails. According to Lai, “At the tip of the spear we are seeing the mash-up and crossover between bar and barista culture, with some of the world’s finest bartenders getting ready to open bars that combine their love of coffee or tea and cocktails. Tea continues to gain traction, with Japanese tea capturing the interest of bartenders around the world, from the magic of its ritual to the richness of aged teas like gyokuro and matcha. The fascination with Japanese bartending culture and techniques continues to inspire modern bartenders today, with the colourful traditions of old being embraced just as well and shared on a global platform through cocktails.”
Despite the more unusual cocktail pairings, classic food and wine combinations are still as appealing as ever, though some sommeliers will try more adventurous pairings without straying too far from their diners’ comfort zones. Noemie Paris, sommelier at Caprice at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, notes, “I’ve paired sake with caviar, [though the] the usual wine pairing would be champagne. The bitterness of the sake balances the saltiness and the richness of the caviar, and it is a wonderful choice. A classic food pairing would be Kagoshima beef paired with a Bordeaux wine, and in this case, I choose Saint-Estèphe de Montrose 1995. This full-bodied wine has floral aromas, and the tannin in the wine cuts through the fat of the beef.”
4) Natural, organic and biodynamic wines and winemakers
With the growing consumer demand for natural, organic and biodynamic wines, global wine merchants are starting to stand up and notice. Pardoe observes, “What’s interesting about natural wine is the obvious expression of consumer concern and interest in non-intervention in terms of ethical sourcing, environmental footprint and sustainability. Messages coming out of the natural wine movement may not end with a definitive wine category, but [consumer] interest will have a ripple effect on the market and spread to other wine categories.”
For Bardary, “[Demand for] organic, low-sulphur, natural and biodynamic wines is growing obviously now for years in the trade, but also now on the consumer side. We pay more attention to the products and ingredients we are now eating. Drinking has to follow, as long as the wines are good.”
Boutique wine producers tending small parcels with sustainable practices are uniquely appealing to wine lovers, according to Paris at Caprice. “Wines that use biodynamic farming methods are also in trend. People care about the environment, and Cécile Tremblay [in Burgundy] is a great example of a vineyard practising organic and biodynamic farming.”
5) Appetite for diversity and new wine regions
Given that consumers in Hong Kong are relatively well travelled and well versed in regions abroad, it’s no surprise that most wine enthusiasts are eager to discover new wine regions. Bardary sees the trend for fortified wines from relatively obscure wine regions, such as Jura in the south-east of France, that are familiar to the trade yet increasingly popular with consumers. He’s also seeing a revival of interest in previously lesser-known European grape varieties and regions. “Maybe in a few years we will see what happened in London and New York with the increase of what I like to call ‘the unknown’ Eastern European grape varieties, [such as] Greece. All countries which have been left behind and are now coming back, due to the curiosity of consumers.”
Though admittedly being partial to French wines, Pardoe puts his money on some of the most complex wines he comes across, which incidentally are from Rhone. “If I didn’t want to pay high-badge pricing for Bordeaux or Burgundy, where I recommend for drinkability now is southern Rhone. Amazing value for money, especially for those who come to grips with organic viticulture. It’s a much more pure, brighter style of wine as a result of generational change and understanding of vineyard management. There’s a treasure trove of producers who are affordable.”
Though Napa wines are nothing new in Hong Kong, even wine enthusiasts did not come around to drinking premium brands until recently. “There really was no precedent for drinking Napa wines in Hong Kong, like we did with Bordeaux. At the same time, California went overboard with weightiness and fruitiness. Napa has now toned down its wines; they’re more restrained. We’re seeing more market maturity, and people bring a bottle of Trefethen to dinner with confidence,” comments Meiburg.
Regardless of the expert opinions, it’s clear that in 2019 consumers will be more open to alternatives when it comes to traditional wine and spirits and more conscious about the ingredients in their food and drink. In that spirit, be on the lookout for many more options when it comes to raising a glass to ring in the new year – be it champagne, rum, tea, coffee or your non-alcoholic beverage of choice.