Fashions in wine

Guest writer Aleesha Hansel applies fashion’s ’20 year rule’ to wine as she ruminates on the resurgent popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau.

‘It’s all just a little bit of history repeating’, Dame Shirley Bassey

Fashions come and go. As the dominance of skinny jeans crumbles and high-waisted ‘mom jeans’ take their place, it’s good to remind ourselves that fashions change and nothing lasts forever.

I was made aware of this being just as relevant to the wine industry this week with the release of Beaujolais Nouveau.

As a fan of the easy-going Gamay grape, the day always sounds like quite a lot of fun. But I’d never looked any further into the history of it, other than knowing it was the brain child of Georges Duboeuf.

Imagine my surprise then to hear of yuppies having Beaujolais breakfasts, Porsches laden with cases driving through the night.  Even the Red Devils parachuting into Covent Garden with a few bottles in hand. This Nouveau mania unsurprisingly passed me by, as I was a child more interested in Cartoon Network than carbonic maceration. So too did its eventual decline.

The 20-year rule

There is a well-known concept in fashion, the 20-year-rule, referring to the life cycle of trends, and if we look at what is on sale on the high street, or indeed online, currently it all takes inspiration from the 90s – slip dresses, scrunchies, crop tops, platform trainers, neon – the list goes on.

How interesting then that exactly 20 years after its peak consumption in the UK (1999), exports of red and rose Beaujolais to the UK last year grew by 22% in volume and 17% in value – the highest of any French region.

Today, if you ask anyone what is they believe to be the most expensive and ‘prestigious’ wines they will likely be Bordeaux or Burgundy. A hundred-and-fifty years ago it would have been Hock. This German Riesling is what most people would nowadays relate to sweet, cheap wine – mainly thanks to the arguably too successful Blue Nun.

It’s an all too familiar situation. Lambrusco, Chianti and Sherry are others which have become victims of their own success. Imagine scores of consumers drinking sparkling red wines, fortified wines and off-dry wines in their droves! It’s something wine merchants wouldn’t dare think possible today.

We did it before, we can do it again

But the former popularity of these wines is proof that the public can, and indeed do, enjoy a diversity of wine styles if they are marketed, discussed and sold in an engaging and accessible way. Of course, there is no road map for ensuring the resurgence of a wine’s popularity. But there are clues as to what might help.

Let’s go back to Beaujolais. It seems to do particularly well on Instagram. That’s hardly surprising, given the social media platform’s focus on aesthetics. It’s perfect for these wines with their appealing, colourful, interesting labels would do well.

It’s also a wine which doesn’t take itself too seriously, allowing consumers to relinquish the concern of looking silly if they don’t say or do the ‘right’ thing. I think embarrassment and confusion felt by drinkers when it comes to wine is vastly underestimated by the industry.

And of course, it’s managed to find itself on the list of several trendy wine bars, often frequented by younger clientele.

What more impetus is needed to broaden our communication and help the consumer to discover wines from lesser-known countries, grapes and styles?

History has proven we shouldn’t underestimate how adventurous consumers can be when given freedom and encouragement.

Drinkers have taken the plunge and done it before, and they’ll do it again. We just need to make them feel more engaged in the conversation and make wine fun again.

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