Berkmann Wine Cellars’ annual portfolio tasting, which will open its doors tomorrow at The Brewery in London's Shoreditch, will give on-trade professionals an opportunity to taste the merchant's range of new agencies, including Tbilvino from Georgia, Librandi from Italy’s Calabria region, Brash Higgins from Australia, and Sevilen from Turkey.
Ahead of the tasting, we caught up with purchasing director Alex Hunt MW to chat about wine trends in the on-trade. He revealed what will be hot over the course of 2020, and what will not...
Sustainability will be the wine industry's main focus
'The interest towards sustainability issues, especially given the extreme weather that we’ve been experiencing across various wine-producing countries recently, is only going to increase. We’ve been very pleased to see that interest from the on-trade in this area has broadened from a narrow focus on organic viticulture to a more holistic view of the issue.
'We were quite impressed, and frustrated, to discover how much work in this field our producers were doing but they weren’t shouting too much about it. I admire that in a way, I like the modesty of doing it not as a marketing gimmick; now it’s our job to communicate this to our clientele.
'At Berkmann, we have recently updated a document called Green Harvest which is a sort of audit of all our suppliers that concerns all of their sustainability efforts. This encompasses not just viticulture but also production and logistics. We’ve found a really good uptake from this particular piece of work among our customer base, so this seems to be a topic that is very close to people’s hearts.
'There are hundreds of things we need to look at when assessing a new producer, but I would certainly consider a commitment to sustainability as a massive plus.'
Minimum intervention on the rise
'There are going to be more nuances coming into the ‘natural wine’ sector. We are not supporters of natural wine in the sense of no added sulphites (we only have one such wine, a champagne, which has the technical advantage of being protected by the CO2). Instead, we think that delicious wines are normally reliant on a small addition of sulphites.
'But there are lots of other shades of minimum intervention, and we have quite a few new wines that fall into that category. They’re quite hands off but are still technically correct. That’s a very important feature of expressing individuality, expressing terroir, and there is certainly a growing interest in this.'
Traditional techniques, amphora and orange wine
'Linked to minimum intervention, there’s also a growing interest in traditional techniques. For instance we have a range of new wines coming in that are matured in amphoras. Also, we’ve seen a big increase in sales of orange wine, even though it kind of started from a very small base. Still, that’s a category in triple-digit growth for us.
'There are a lot of orange wines out there that aren’t highly volatile, don’t show undue microbial character, but rather delicious fruit. I mean, after all, the essence of orange wine is to capture more of the grape by including the skins.
'The wines we selected have magnificent fruit quality, as well as all the structural characteristics that you get from that technique. We’ve got Brash Higgins Zibibbo in amphora from South Australia, an orange Moscatel from Chile and an orange Austrian Müller-Thurgau, for instance.'
Mad for the Med
'We’ve gone fairly extensively into the Mediterranean area and will continue to do so. It’s worked really well so far. The wineries that we added last year from Greece, Georgia and Turkey have got off to a very successful start and definitely beaten my expectations.
'We just started representing a Lebanese winery for the first time, Château Ksara, and the interest that I received from our sales team since we announced it has been immense. There is a real demand for these Ancient winemaking regions. They seem to combine that desire for the exotic, with something incredibly authentic.
'We’ve also added Librandi from Calabria. I’m really excited about this. I’ve been an admirer of these wines for a long time. To me they always set a very high standard; I’ve tasted other Calabrian wines but I’ve never found something quite as good as Librandi.'
No good for nolo
'This no and low concept is turning out to have an uneasy relationship with wine. People should be willing to realise that, at least for the time being wine itself, and particularly sustainable, authentic wine is incompatible with the concept of no and low alcohol.
'The manipulation required to strip the alcohol out itself and perhaps to replace it with a certain amount of sugar, flavours or whatever it is, seems to me really at odds with all the other trends we’ve talked about. There’s a huge amount of energy required for the process, for instance, it really is a ‘maximum intervention’ style.
'Until we have the sample that proves us wrong, our view at the moment is that low and no is far better suited to the spirits and beer categories, which have the technical solutions to deliver a good flavour.'