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Off The Vine

Predictions for 2006 in wine world

Now that the new year is officially on its way it is time for some predictions on what we&

ll see on the wine scene as the year unfolds. Here are a few things to look forward to:

More and better wines from Argentina. Once the king of the South, Chile is taking a back seat to the bombastic wave of Argentine Malbec hitting the shores. We will see even better quality, more selection and dropping prices in 2006. Malbec had been the &

forgotten&

red wine grape of Bordeaux fame until the Argentines began producing a very nice set of offerings just a few years ago. My prediction will be that the grape will become a household name this year along with releases tasting very good at the $10 mark.

Lower alcohol wines. After the very hot, high alcohol wines of the 2003 vintage, we will begin to see some balance return to red and white wine across the planet. I also am seeing the monster red Zinfandels starting to lower the bar somewhat on the scorching level of alcohol that has been the hallmark of California Zinfandel for years. The &

more is better&

feeling that has been so pervasive in so many markets is beginning to drop away in favor of nuance, balance and sane levels of alcohol.

Dry rose wines. Just toward the end of last summer, the dry rose wines started to really catch on fire! Historically, in this country, we have been awash in sweet, &

cotton candy&

white Zinfandels that have been raspberry-like sticky bombs no matter how cold you got the little buggers. All of a sudden the word got out that dry rose wines were not only tasty but refreshing, thirst-quenching and filling in their own right as the &

middle wine&

stuck between white and red wines. Wine folks started taking a hint from their European brothers that dry rose wines were delicious with all kinds of cuisine, especially hot-spiced cuisine from Asia and Mexico. We will be seeing many, many more offerings on the shelf starting with Valentine&

s Day (great color for this holiday) through the end-of-the-year holidays.

Oregon Pinot gris/Pinot Noir. Just a few years ago, Pinot Gris was taking a nose dive as the Italian Pinot Grigio was gaining in popularity across the board. This was especially true in California, where Pinot Grigio can be seen almost everywhere on the fine dining wine lists in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It seems that the neighbor to the north with just around four million people was making superb Pinot Gris from outstanding producers and folks in California are catching on in a big way. Dry and fresh with hints of dry melon, minerally tones and lovely fruit Oregon is now being felt and I think will have record sales all through this year.

Pinot Noir sales will be fantastic as the profound 2004 vintage will begin to hit the shelves. Sadly, the harvest was small but the quality is profound on every level. As Burgundy prices rise, Oregon looks to be a bargain at this time unless the Oregon producers jump on the band wagon and take big profits. If you are a Pinot Noir fan, drop that bottle of Burgundy and look north to a very fine vintage indeed.

Barbera. What amazes me is that it has taken so long for wine drinkers to embrace a wine that offers unheard of value for quality and price point. The Italians have always used the versatile Barbera grape as a standard house wine. There are so many different styles and real value out there on this wonderful low acid red wine that we are now seeing a huge run on this terrific grape varietal. Barbera really does not need a lot of age, comes out of the bottle with lush red flavors and has a distinctive dark fruit loveliness that goes well with so many dishes. In 2006, we will see big sales in this wine from stunning producers at the $10 mark or below. The Piemonte region is awash in this little gem and the savvy consumer is going to get all over this emerging gentle giant.

Sparkling wines. If you thought that sparkling wine was just for &

toasting&

a good friend or bringing in the new year, you are way behind the bubbles. Last year we saw sparkling wine being used more and more for the main course. These wines, Cava from Spain, Proseco from Italy, California sparklers and Champagne from France are becoming mainstream all over the world from shellfish and seafood to white meats of all kinds. There is something undeniably sexy about cool sparkling wine with great food, and 2006 will break this trend open! Hey, why not?

Well, there you have my top wine predictions for 2006. See if you don&

t agree! We&

ll see you next time.