Exploring the Changes in the Wine World During the Past Quarter Century

By Nick Antonaccio

The world is changing – rapidly. The wine world is changing – also rapidly.

As we leave 2020 behind and venture into the uncertainty of 2021, let’s focus on the last quarter century – a mere speck of sand in the continuum of humankind’s presence on this amazing planet.

Over the span of the last 25 years, the global community has witnessed, and been directly affected by, greater advancements in science, medicine, technology, world health, world peace and human longevity than in the cumulative history of humankind.

In 1995, we were primarily tethered to wired phones, receiving much of our information from the Postal Service and broadcast and print media. The internet was just beginning to surface as a consumer tool for information research and shopping.

What a phenomenal journey it’s been since then: smartphones have largely replaced traditional soft technology sources, not to mention still and video cameras and film, maps, board games, music and music storage on hard media, shopping carts, even face-to-face conversations.

Adults live longer than in 1995 due to advances such as laser surgery, stents, statins, genetic sequencing and MRIs. The level of worldwide poverty is the lowest in history and much of the world’s population lives in relative peace.

In 2021, we can also enjoy life to the fullest (notwithstanding the obvious effects of the pandemic), including indulging in our favorite wines. Allow and indulge me, in the shadow of these momentous changes in our lives, to ruminate on the transformation of the wine world over the last 25 years.

Let’s focus on the change in the proliferation and influence of wine producing regions.

New major players. A number of today’s major wine-producing countries were not even on the international radar screen 25 years ago. Nowhere has the surge in wine over this period been the greatest than in the United States; all 50 states now produce quality wines. The result of this surge? We have become the largest wine consumers in the world, and 75 percent of what we consume is produced domestically. American cult wines now garner similar respect as a number of esteemed French wines.

Resurgence of Old World producers. After languishing in the world markets for decades, winemakers have revitalized their wineries with bold, exciting new representations of wines – and at very affordable prices. In addition to numerous producers in France and Italy, those in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Switzerland have embraced New World technology, producing quality wines that were subpar 25 years ago. 

Eastern Europe has an Old World wine heritage dating back to the early Romans. Virtually non-existent outside of their homelands 25 years ago, high quality/price ratio wines from Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic and Hungary are entering the United States market.

Surge of New World producers. Gallo’s Barefoot brand has risen from domestic sales of 140,000 cases in 1995 to an industry-leading 18 million today. And don’t forget the other New World behemoth, Yellowtail, which is still dominant in the United States market with over 11 million cases sold today. Add to the mix: New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Canada.

New horizons. This is where it is truly amazing. Today, wine is produced in far-flung regions never thought to be commercially possible, let alone successful, in 1995. Primarily sold in-country, these wines haven’t hit our shores yet, but they have received acclaim for their high quality. Down the road, look for wines from the Black Sea countries (Russia and Georgia), North Africa (Morocco, even Ethiopia), Israel, Brazil and India. The newest giant entering the market is the United Kingdom, producing acclaimed sparkling wines.

Where is the world market for wine headed? There are a number of wild cards. Experts anticipate significant changes in the wine world in the future, influenced by global warming and the rise of the Chinese market, amongst others.

One thing is certain: Just as consumers and wine lovers everywhere have benefited from historic changes in the last 25 years, so too will we benefit from the ever-evolving world of science and wine production. Enjoy the ride.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.