“What Somms Want” and latest wine consumer trends – Live from Vinitaly 2024

Blog

Sommeliers want what consumers want: wine lists adapt to the latest wine consumer trends. Wine & Spirits Magazine recently conducted over 100 interviews with wine professionals at top restaurants nationwide to learn how their programs have changed, and which wines and wine regions most excite today’s American sommeliers. This is the focus of the session led at Vinitaly on April 15th, 2024 by Stephanie Johnson DipWSET IWA, W&S’s Italian Wine Editor, and American sommeliers Jacqueline Pirolo & Sam Bortugno.

Stephanie Johnson joined Wine & Spirits Magazine as Tasting Director in 2013 and became Italian Wine Editor in 2016. She led the discussion and the tasting, along with the two sommeliers she had chosen from among the magazine’s tasting panels.  Jacqueline Pirolo is from Miami, where she oversees the beverage program at Macchialina and holds a Pineapple award for Best Sommelier in 2018 and a Wine Spectator award from 2019. Sam Bortugno manages the wine program at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, having passed his Master Sommelier Theory exam on his first attempt in May 2023.

The audience was a diverse group of buyers, sommeliers, journalists and the curious. Johnson opened it up by explaining that Wine & Spirits Magazine was founded in 1982 as an independent, small-staff publication, geared to trade, sommeliers and buyers. They produce 4 quarterly issues per year, a Restaurant issue every spring, and a Top 100 issue at the end of the year.  Their goal is to connect with wine professionals, both Bortugno and Pirolo were among the 100 sommeliers interviewed for the most recent Restaurant issue. The poll was created to research and explore emerging wine consumer trends.

Johnson reported that the interviews revealed orange wine is currently bigger than rosé in the USA, low and no-alcohol drinks are steadily rising in popularity, sparkling wines remain important on all wine lists, and wines from Spain and Portugal have increased their market share significantly. The demand for chillable reds is growing and many sommeliers focus on a Burgundy-Barolo bridge. Burgundy is currently too expensive to source in the USA so there is more and more interest in Barolo.  Johnson noted that “wines from the Barolo DOCG have undergone a big change in recent years, creating a delicious, approachable style that is ready to drink upon release, which is a big positive for the Italian market.

Sommeliers asked “What can I put in the high-end category if I can’t get Burgundy?” and the response was a search for lighter style red wines, possibly served lightly chilled, a style that was particularly prominent in 2023.  In keeping with the trend, all three wines served were suitable for chilling and showed elements that would make them great summer wines for those who want to drink a red even in hot temperatures. 

The tasting began with Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Doc Biologico 2023 from Tiberio, made with Montepulciano grapes, a wine Johnson described as “one of those wines I want to sit on a patio and drink all afternoon.”  The wine was an attractive, bright fuchsia pink color with fresh notes of watermelon, cherry and pomegranate, a touch of red florals and grapefruit citrus, zingy acidity and just a tiny whisper of powdery tannins.  Not a complex wine, this is one that will pair with everything and make a good aperitivo for those who don’t want a white wine. 

Second was a Riviera Ligure di Ponente Doc Rossese 2023 from Durin, a very pretty sheer, pale ruby color with a complex nose full of spice and fresh sage, ripe raspberry, cranberry, goji berries and a briny, savory character. The wine had great fresh acidity and a little hit of tannin on the mid-palate.

Next came Terre Siciliane Igt Frappato “Il Frappato” 2021 from Occhipinti, a much more muscular wine with an aromatic nose wafting notes of lavender and sun-dried herbs, juniper berries and blood orange peel.  On the palate the wine was savory and full of warm red plums, a chalky tannin, lower-than-expected alcohol and a very interesting, slightly oxidative pleasant character.

Johnson noted that all of Wine & Spirits Magazine blind tastings are made up of angels composed of sommeliers and buyers, completely free from influence, in order to create an atmosphere where “Somms can feel completely free to express their unvarnished opinions. We never reveal the producers and we never reveal the prices of the wines.

The sommeliers on the panel chimed in on the tasting, with Pirolo commenting, “We focus on educating our [Italian restaurant] staff. They don’t need certifications, they just need to focus on the wine list, the wines and the customers.” Bortugno said of Brennan’s in New Orleans, “We have 500+ Burgundy SKUs, we are still learning to manage the Burgundy/Barolo bridge.”  Johnson laughingly replied, “I brought Sam today because I want to convert him. I want him to buy more Italian wines for Brennan’s.” The key takeaway from this session on wine consumer trends was the flexibility of some of Italy’s lesser-known, lighter-bodied red wines made from native grapes and their ability to affordably meet the increasing demand for this style of red wine for consumers who want a little bit of complexity, less alcohol, lower tannins and the magical quality of being interesting, drinkable and delicious when chilled

April 24, 2024
5StarWines & Wine Without Walls Trophy Award Ceremony & Masterclass – Live from Vinitaly 2024

5StarWines & Wine Without Walls Trophy Award Ceremony & Masterclass – Live from Vinitaly 2024

Best Wines to Drink Now – Spring 2024 – Live from Vinitaly 2024

Best Wines to Drink Now – Spring 2024 – Live from Vinitaly 2024

Classification of Italy’s Grand Cru wines: the evolution of international auctions – Live from Vinitaly 2024

Classification of Italy’s Grand Cru wines: the evolution of international auctions – Live from Vinitaly 2024