2019 in review

Robert Smyth and Amanda Barnes take a quick look at some of the biggest news stories and wine happenings in 2019.

2019 got off to a fizzing start as nine prolific Cava producers left the DO to start their own new premium sparkling wine category, Corpinnat (February 2019). Despite the rather recent initiative in 2017 of Cava DO to keep some of their most prestigious producers happy with the special recognition of the Paraje Calificado, tensions bubbled and some of Cava’s most esteemed names – including Gramona and Recaredo – walked away from the 50-year-old appellation. So 2019 did see the corks popping on a breakaway in Catalunya after all.

As many wine regions in Europe braved severe frost with the chilly arrival of Spring (with Burgundy reporting its worst frost for 30 years, (April 2019), dramatic pictures of European vineyards lit by candles to defend against the frost were published in plenty on non-wine news sources, such as this report in The Independent. Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere harvest seemed to fair well for all across the board.

Christmas came very early indeed for one wine drinker in Manchester, who was served a £4,500 bottle of Le Pin by accident at a Hawksmoor steak house in early May. The restaurant broke the news in a lighthearted tweet, forgiving the red-faced waitress for her rather expensive mistake. (Don’t worry – she was promoted to GM in September).

Also in May, the organisers of the London Wine Fair introduced entrance fees for a portion of the visitors and said they were positively surprised by the visitor numbers, which although down on last year, marked an increase compared to 2017.

May then saw an icon of the wine world, Robert Parker, hang up his pen and retire from The Wine Advocate (which would go on to be sold to The Michelin Guide in November). However polarising his penchant for intense, blockbusting wines could be, he has had a huge impact on the way wine is reviewed and viewed.

Wine theft continued to be a problem in 2019, with May seeing thieves make away with more than 1,000 bottles with a value of £100,000’s, from one unfortunate Burgundy producer.

In June, off-premise canned wine sales hit an all-time yearly sales high at $79.3 million, up 69% on the previous year, according to Nielsen. This category appears to be no flash in the can and looks very much here to stay, and grow.

While the growth in sales of Prosecco may be finally appearing to slow after its remarkable surge in popularity over the last few years, which has seen it become the UK’s most popular sparkling wine, focus switched to its place of origin as Prosecco was named as a UNESCO world heritage site in July.

Many of us have passed through its doors and also passed it exams. Turning half a century this year, The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) reported in August that a total of 108,557 candidates took a WSET qualification in 2018/2019, surpassing the 100,000 barrier for the first time.

In September, phylloxera reared its ugly head again in the US, striking back in Washington State’s Walla Walla where wine growers reported that phylloxera is a growing problem in the Pacific Northwest. Phylloxera also made news in May, when the plague was widely reported to be causing problems in Australia’s Yarra Valley.

As the European harvest got under way on the ground, some Bordeaux wines took a rather different route to the cellar – via space. A couple of years ago, we heard of wine being aged underwater (at least intentionally), but it appears that the maturation of wine knows no limits, with Bordeaux wine sent to space for an ageing experiment in November.

December saw Trump’s tariff tiff come to full head as he announced the US would now pay up to 100% tarrifs on EU wines, cheese and champagne… putting a damper on the festive season for much of the wine industry.

December also saw devastation wrought in the Adelaide Hills by bushfires, which reportedly burnt one-third of the region’s vineyards. As the world continued to look on in horror as the fires kept burning into the New Year, news came in that the fires had also hit vineyards in New South Wales.