I’m a “cup half empty” kind of guy who generally makes fairly conservative predictions. I was surprised when I finished writing my prophesies for the New Zealand wine industry for the next 12 months – they seem uncharacteristically positive. 

Of course, covid-19 has given would-be prophets a bit of a shake-up. How can you factor the unknown and unexpected into your calculations? What if the brown marmorated stink bug becomes established here? Or the United States introduces a prohibitive tax to stem wine imports? Don’t worry, they are unlikely scenarios. 

Barring disease and pestilence, here are my predictions for the year ahead. 

The next big thing will be … seltzers
Yesterday’s big things were rosé, prosecco and craft beer. They are all going to have to give way to seltzers. What’s a seltzer? It’s generally a fizzy, flavoured RTD (ready-to-drink) beverage with a low-ish alcohol content. Seltzers can be based on beer, cider, wine or spirits (“hard” seltzers). So far, only Villa Maria has released a seltzer that is attractively priced and packaged and tastes pretty good. Of the three flavours, my favourite is the yuzu, mint and cucumber based on sauvignon blanc and sparkling water. It retails for $15.99 for 4 x 250ml cans. 

Online wine sales will continue to rise
Covid forced us to buy online, a habit that is hard to break judging by solid growth in online sales. It also forced wineries to become better at selling wine online. 

Reds will be under pressure from Oz
China, Australia’s largest wine market, has shut the door on Australian wine by increasing taxes to a point that makes it prohibitively expensive. Australia needs to find new markets for unsold wine. That will result in increased competition for red wine sales domestically and in New Zealand’s export markets. 

Growers will hope long-term forecast is wrong  
Weather experts are predicting we are likely to get warm, moist, tropical cyclones during the ripening period, particularly in the north of the North Island. That’s not good news for grape growers. The good news is that the weather forecasters are often wrong. 

Bag-in-the-box will be on the comeback trail
Expect increased pressure from a growing number of climate-change activists. Bag-in-the-box wine cartons have a much lower carbon footprint than bottles. Perhaps wine stores should dust off their “fill-your-own-flagon” dispensers and offer a red, white and rosé?

Wine exports will continue to grow
Wine exports have cracked the $2 billion mark and continue to grow strongly. I see no reason that shouldn’t continue, apart from supply constraints.

NZ wine competitiveness internationally will only get better
Two bumper vintages in a row (2019 and 2020) have increased the quality of our wines, particularly super-star sauvignon. That will help us to win more friends in our major export markets, particularly if we also win the America’s Cup. 

Albariño will take off
The delicious Spanish white grape albariño is proving to be a winner in New Zealand soils. Excitement needs to be translated into action. We need to plant more of it. 

Sauvignon blanc sales will continue to grow
Marlborough sauvignon blanc is now bigger than Ben-Hur and shows no sign of slackening. Sauvignon blanc is the engine room that drives New Zealand’s wine industry. Long may it continue to prosper.

Wine shows may shrink 
Wine competitions have played an important part in improving the quality of New Zealand wine and building its profile. The decline in their numbers is likely the result of competition from alternative promotional platforms such as social media. 

Bob’s Top Picks
Investment Wine

2015 Gibbston Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $120

Dense and impressively structured pinot noir with plum and dark cherry flavours that are a little locked in by firm tannins at this early stage. Assertive oak adds extra spice. Powerful wine with plenty of potential and limited production.

Weekend Wines

Top White

2020 Greystone Organic Pinot Gris, North Canterbury, $29

Moderately intense pinot gris with typical ripe pear and honeysuckle flavours together with a savoury/toasty/nutty character from contact with the yeast lees. Smooth-textured and accessible wine with a lingering finish.

Top Red

2019 Saint Clair James Sinclair Cabernet Merlot, Hawke’s Bay, $28

Rich, robust red from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region, with ripe dark berry and plum flavours together with an appealing savoury/dried herb edge and nutty oak characters. Classy wine that offers value at this price.

Read more from Bob at therealreview.com