Top Wine Trends of 2021

After the crazy year that was 2020, making predictions seems a brave enterprise but our Chair of Judges Emma Jenkins who holds a Master of Wine has predicted the below for wine trends this year.


With the caveat that there is an extremely broad range of establishments serving food and wine with equally broad needs, there are a few notable developments in this area.

  • Pairing food with international wines – we’re spoilt for choice with a great range of failsafe New Zealand wines but rather than default to the usual suspects, motivated somms and adventurous restaurateurs are broadening diners’ experiences with inspired matches from across the globe. There’s a huge range of cuisine styles now served in New Zealand, which have opened up opportunities for bolder choices in wine.
  • Menu-based food and wine pairings – closely linked to the above, menus no longer just outline the food on offer but increasingly suggest specific matches off the wine list, allowing the chef to showcase their skills with a pairing that takes both food and wine to another level and making the choice easy for the diner. Many wine reps are skilled at spotting suitable matches from their range, taking the hassle factor away from busy proprietors.
  • Fixed or very limited menus with degustation-style wine matching offer a decision-free, relaxed setting for diners and an opportunity for chefs to really show their flair. This trend goes hand-in-hand with shorter, more focused and eclectic wine lists.
  • For the really adventurous, delving into natural and skin-contact wines opens up a whole new non-traditional world of wine and consumers, though given both the polarising nature of the wines and occasional variability of the product, this is an area best suited to the daring and the well-informed.
  • Non-traditional formats – no longer are all wines are served in bottles. We’re all familiar with by-the-glass offerings but increasingly half bottles and carafes are on the scene as well as a small but growing number of establishments working with suppliers to deliver wine from kegs.

International Wine Trends

  • Rosé and sparkling wines will continue their rise, rippling outwards to cover rosés of every hue and texture, dry to sweet, value to luxury; expect to see more English sparkling wine, non-Champagne French sparklers, Italy’s Franciacorta and dry Lambrusco, and more. Pink Prosecco (a style officially approved in Italy late last year) capitalizes on both trends.
  • ‘Less but better’ is a drum wine critics have long banged, and 2020 helped drive a distinct trend towards premiumisation with skyrocketing sales of wine in the $US25+ sector, as people treated themselves amid lockdowns and restrictions.
  • wine packaging - bag-in-box and cans are the front runners, and shaking off previous associations with low quality, these are now just as likely to be filled with the good stuff.
  • low alcohol (below 10% abv) continues its march, aligned to ‘wellness’ lifestyle trends.
  • Consumers may not be able to readily travel but they continue to broaden their wine horizons - Portugal in particular is tipped to boom with sales of Portuguese wines surging in the US last year.
  • the wine industry is keeping a close eye on disruptors such as hard seltzers and cannabis products. Particularly in the hotly contested millennial segment these are viewed as potential threats to wine consumption, ones which some wine companies are negating through the purchase of companies in that field or piggybacking by the development of cannabis-infused wine and wine-based seltzer products.

Organic Wine

Globally, sales of organic fresh produce and groceries are growing around 10% per annum, and wine is following this trend with organic wine sales growth defying the otherwise static global wine market.

Of the world’s 9m hectares of vines, 10% are now organic or biodynamic and many more are in conversion. New Zealand’s first organic vineyard was Gisborne’s Millton Vineyard, back in 1984, and currently there are around 10% of wineries and 7% of vineyards certified (Central Otago is a frontrunner with 23% of vineyards); numerous other producers practice organic cultivation without certification.

Organic vineyards do not use synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, instead producers must work with nature using integrated pest and disease management (e.g., combatting an insect pest with its natural predator), encouraging soil health and biodiversity, and choosing naturally derived products. Biodynamic practices go further, managing the vineyard as a holistic organism, using special plant, animal and mineral preparations to nourish the soil, and working with the rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars.

It’s an ongoing debate whether organic wine is better for you but it’s hard to argue that fewer chemicals for the land or one's body is a bad thing.

To find organic wines, look for the BioGro logo or the Demeter certification symbol for biodynamic wines. Back labels and websites should also help guide you, especially for those producers practicing organic or biodynamic methods but not (yet) certified.

Sustainable Wines

In 1994, New Zealand became the very first wine industry to establish a national sustainability program, a move that seems very far-sighted considering its importance plus increasing consumer interest in this area.

Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) now certifies 98% of New Zealand’s vineyard area, setting standards and accountability for vineyard and winery environmental practices in soil, water, energy, air, plant protection, people and business.

Members submit detailed annual reports on their use of agrichemicals, water and energy amongst other markers, and can access ongoing support and resources for improving their sustainability efforts.

Typically, SWNZ represents a starting point in environmental and social responsibility for many producers, and there is now a diverse array of initiatives in place including solar and wind-powered wineries (including two independently certified as carbon zero), fully recyclable water systems, establishment of native bird and plant corridors, wetlands development and rehabilitation, and falcon habitat programs.

The benefits are clear and tangible in 2016-17 alone, some 92,000 cubic meters of waste was diverted from landfills and over 2,500ha of land was set aside for biodiversity protection, enhancement or restoration.

Covid Impact on International Wine

Covid’s global impact has been incredibly severe and naturally, the wine industry has not been spared. With bars and restaurants around the world largely off-limits throughout much of the past year, producers supplying the hospitality trade have been significantly affected, and while there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, it’s likely some changes are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

  • People are drinking more and better at home, be it from wine purchased at supermarkets or online from a wide variety of retailers. Many restaurants developed takeaway and/or delivery services that included wine alongside the food, a sector likely here to stay.
  • Digital and e-commerce platforms have expanded and adapted considerably, allowing producers new and innovative ways to connect with consumers
  • Wine tourism – with people still largely unable or unwilling to travel freely, wine tourism expected to take a long time to recover. Direct-to-consumer relationships are more important than ever for producers, with virtual tastings and other online forms of connection helping fill the gaps.
  • Virtual tastings and global shipping of mini-samples (think 80ml bottles topped with argon to preserve freshness) have become normal, and given the online networks of winelovers that have sprung up around them, seem likely to endure well beyond Covid.