Hotel sommelier identifies top 10 beverage trends of year

WORLDWIDE Hotel management company Benchmark Hospitality International has released its Top Ten Beverage Trends for 2010.

“This is an exciting time for the beverage industry, with lots of positive changes occurring,” says Mary Watson-DeLauder, the company’s chief sommelier. “Some of the changes are economically-driven, some taste-oriented, and still others created out of necessity in response to changing palates and a new generation of consumers.”

1. Unoaked chardonnays are replacing the big oak wines of the past. Current wines are easier to enjoy with or without food. Several wineries have backed off on oak completely to focus more attention on the fruit characteristics of the chardonnay grape.

2. Sauvignon Blanc continues to gain popularity, with New Zealand leading the pack. South Africa, Chile, California and Virginia are producing great examples of this wine, as well. Sauvignon Blanc is perhaps the most terroir-influenced of all grapes, an important consideration in today’s locavore dining environment.

3. More obscure grape varieties like Torrontes, Bonarda, Carmenere, Albarino, Chenin Blanc are being embraced today. These also tend to be less expensive alternatives, which is important to today’s consumers.

4. Champagne sales are down this year, but sales of sparkling wines, such as Spanish Cava, Prosecco, French Cremant, are up. New and innovative cocktails and punches are making great use of these less-expensive sparkling wine versions.

5. Sangria is making a comeback, often mixing in less expensive wines currently on the market. A sangria bar is an increasingly popular change of pace from Bloody Mary bars for brunch and cocktail parties. Cava Sangria, made with the sparkling Spanish Cava wine, for example, is refreshing and great fun to enjoy.

6. Retro “with a twist” is in. Basic cocktails like martinis, mojitos, margaritas and sidecars are being revamped with fresh new ingredients such as herbs, spices, and unusual fruits and vegetables. Select bars are making their own mixers like sweet and sour mix, ginger ale and tonics. House-made simple syrups are being infused with herbs and spices. Select bars are creating their own flavored vodkas, gins and rums using fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices.

7. Novelty is au courant in cocktails today. Bars are creating contemporary ways to serve traditional cocktails—including, for example, wine popsicles.

8. Craft beers are hot. “Beer dinners” are growing in popularity, demonstrating the compatibility of beer with food. Beer is also working its way into cocktails, such as with beer margaritas.

9. The slow-food revolution now includes enjoying locally produced beverages. Every U.S. state has at least one winery, and most produce herbs and spices for flavoring cocktails, vodkas and rums.

10. The popularity of wine and wine-pairing classes is strong and gathering steam. Pairings of wine and cheese, herbs or chocolate are exceptionally strong today. Wine dinners are selling out coast to coast as the public yearns to learn more about complementing fine food with the perfect beverage, whether wine, beer or cocktails.