Oenophiles should prepare to enjoy wine in cans, drink low ABV varieties, and sip merlot (it's having a renaissance!).

By Sarah Tracey
January 06, 2020
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Courtesy of Halcyon Wines

Looking for a fun resolution to follow through on this new year? We're suggesting that you try some new, exciting wines in 2020. Here, our resident sommelier Sarah Tracey shares the wines and wine trends that beverage industry insiders are excited about.

Related: Our Food Editors Adore Canned Cocktails

Wine Innovation to Try: Wine in a Can

Wine in a can has been an under-the-radar trend for at least the past five years, but it's now here to stay: The category grew 67 percent in 2019, according to Nielsen, and will continue to grow in 2020. It's easy to understand why: Cans are convenient and portable, plus they are much better for the environment than glass bottles. Not only are they lighter to ship (producing a much lower carbon footprint), but a larger percentage of aluminum cans actually get recycled as compared to glass bottles. Industry estimates state that only 30 percent of wine bottles are spared from landfills; cans have a much better track record with 69 percent being recycled.

And cans can go where bottles often can't: If glass is prohibited from outdoor spaces where you might like to enjoy some wine (parks, beaches, pool decks, concerts, and campsites), a cooler full of cans can be an excellent option. More premium wines are being packaged in cans every day, and brands like Bonterra, Sans Wine Co., and Nomadica are setting a new standard for quality in this market.

Wine Due for a Comeback: Merlot

It was fifteen years ago that the film Sideways single-handedly (and perhaps unfairly) made merlot an unfashionable wine. Now, half a generation later, a new school of wine lovers is rediscovering this pleasurable, easy drinking red. In France, merlot never went out of style. In fact, the entire right bank of Bordeaux makes blends based on Merlot. Small family-owned estates across the Côtes de Bordeaux area (which includes subregions Blaye, Cadillac, and Castillon) in the hills surrounding the Garonne and Dordogne rivers are growing plentiful merlot and making fresh, friendly wines at very affordable prices. Many of these wines cost well under $20, like the fabulous Chateau Puygueraud 2016 ($18.99, wine.com). In the U.S., great merlot is beginning to have a renaissance: Try Benziger Merlot 2016 ($18.99, wine.com) and Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot 2016 ($44.99, wine.com).

Related: Decoding Wine Labels

Lifestyle Trend: Low Alcohol Wines

According to the International Wines and Spirits Record, 52 percent of adults in the U.S. who drink alcohol are either trying now or have tried previously to reduce their alcohol intake. We have seen the desire for low-ABV beverages hit it big with the surge of alcoholic seltzers like Truly Hard Seltzer and White Claw, which have successfully marketed their low alcohol and low calorie content—so it’s not hard to predict that wines with lower alcohol will also be a huge category to grow in 2020. If you’re interested in reducing your alcohol intake, seek out wines that have an alcohol content of less than 13 percent (all wine labels must list the alcohol by volume percentage). Low-alcohol wines to try include Arnot-Roberts Sonoma Coast Syrah 2017 ($44.99, wine.com), Ryme Las Brisas Vineyard His Vermentino 2017 ($34.99, wine.com), Ashes & Diamonds Blanc No. 2 2016 ($48.99, wine.com), and Halcyon Wines Barsotti Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2018 ($35, halyconwines.com).

Buzziest Wine Category: Natural Wine

There's no question that natural wine has become a hot category. For 2020 and beyond, perhaps a more apt term for this style of wine is "low intervention wine." Because the term "natural wine" has no official definition, many wineries are jumping on the bandwagon and muddying the waters about what exactly constitutes "natural." Many wine industry pros now prefer the term "low intervention" wine, which means exactly what it sounds like. There are more than 72 perfectly legal wine additives (including artificial color, gelatin, enzymes, acidifiers, synthetic tannins, nitrogen, oak chips, and hydrogen peroxide) but low intervention wines eschew most of these in favor of very strict farming practices, usually organic and often biodynamic, and only adding the bare minimum of additives to preserve the integrity of the wine while still showing off its raw character. If you're curious about low intervention wine, great examples to start with are Clos Saron Carte Blanche 2016 ($42.99, wine.com), Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadet Sevre et Maine Granite 2018 ($27.99, wine.com), and Scholium Project the Prince in His Caves Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($49.99, wine.com).

Related: A Beginner's Guide to Italian Wine

Wine Region to Watch: Rioja

Sommeliers are on a constant search to find the next big wine region worth paying attention to, and this coming year Rioja in northern Spain is set to be in the spotlight. Why? First and foremost, this historic wine region is not simply following tradition—winemakers there are actively innovating to keep up with current trends and consumer tastes (Unlike, say, Bordeaux—whose classification system hasn't really changed in 160 years). Rioja has long been known for rich, age-worthy reds—but recent updates to local laws last year have enabled wineries to now make wines from single vineyard sites (i.e., the Burgundy model where the focus is truly on the land), to create white wines from international grapes like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc (they used to only allow native Spanish grapes), to make sparkling wines, and even make a more light and delicate style of rosé.

Rioja is also budget friendly, especially when it comes to white wines and aged reds. White wine lovers shouldn't miss Finca Allende Blanco Rioja 2015 ($29.99, wine.com), which is comparable in quality to a fine white Burgundy at half the price. And for red wine fans, you'll be pleased to know that Rioja is one of the easiest wines to shop for thanks to a handy color-coded label system. "Crianza" Rioja wines have a red icon on the back label, signaling that they have been aged for two years with at least one year in oak barrels; and the price will be around $15. Try Bodegas Ontanon Crianza 2016 ($12.99, friartuckonline.com). "Reserva" Rioja has a brown icon on the back label which means it's aged for three years (of which at least 12 months in oak and six months in bottle) and will cost $15-$30. We like Bodegas Muga Reserva 2015 ($27.99, wine.com). And the top tier, "Gran Reserva" Rioja, is aged a minimum of five years (of which at least 24 months must be in oak and 24 months in bottle) and will cost over $35. Consider trying La Rioja Alta Vina Arana Rioja Gran Reserva 2012 ($45.99, wine.com).

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