I pitied the teetotaller more than ever in 2009. What a crummy year to have faced without a bracing beverage.
But let's not dwell on the past. Non-abstainers like us are by nature optimistic. We invented the wine cellar. We invented tannic Barolos and vintage ports that take 40 years to come around. There's faith in the future for you.
We also are fond of dispensing predictions and advice. So please pull up a barstool and gather 'round. I want to offer my forecast for next year. Herewith some predictions followed by a few additional scenes I'd like to see (but almost certainly won't).
The new malbec? Malbec!
I have heard some prognosticators declare carmenere to be the next malbec. Sorry. Chile's humble, sharp-edged red will not displace Argentina's star any time soon. For one thing, "carmenere" has too many syllables and is too hard to pronounce after a second glass. More importantly, the malbec party has only just started, and it's going global.
Look for other countries to fall in behind Argentina's lead, including Chile, California, Australia, Italy, even France, the grape's home turf.
"Good evening, my name is Billy Bob, your Applebee's sommelier."
Family restaurants, the ones with free parking and name tags on waiters, are getting wise to our wine obsession. And they're learning there's more profit upside in a fancy wine list than an order of mozzarella sticks. It helps that some of these places are starting to feature better food, thanks in part to the trendsetting efforts of such chefs as Vancouver's Rob Feenie of Cactus Club Cafe and Ned Bell of Kelowna, B.C.'s Cabana Bar and Grille.
Make room for more flavour in your beer mug.
Seen the new Rickard's TV commercial? A guy walks into a bar and asks for a beer "with something to it." The bartender pours a Rickard's while three patrons describe the beer in corny metaphor-speak. "It's the eye of the flavour storm," one says. The company behind the ad? Molson Coors Canada, owner of the Rickard's brand. How about that, a light-beer king touting more flavour rather than less? Next thing you know, it'll be advising us to drink it warm for a satisfyingly bitter aftertaste.
Big Beer gets crafty.
Faced with growing competition from fashionable imports and richly flavoured microbrews, big brewers such as Molson Coors and Labatt will pursue that age-old beer-behemoth strategy: If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em. Two months ago, for example, Granville Island Brewing, a small Vancouver institution, was quietly bought by Molson through its Ontario craft-brewery arm, Creemore Springs. On the bright side, it could mean Granville beers will finally be exported - to Central and Eastern Canada.
Introducing the nanobrewery (because sometimes even micro can be too big).
You've heard of craft breweries (see previous item)? Watch for more pubs and restaurants to ferment and serve their own barley beverages. They're like the brew pubs of old but with better food and better-dressed patrons. It's all about offering an exclusive experience and generating higher profits.
Don't forget to leave room for drink-ssert.
It's a nightcap. It's a dessert. It's both! Bartenders will vie to be the new pastry chefs, churning out booze-spiked shakes such as crème-de-menthe "grasshoppers" and old classics such as the cream-based brandy Alexander. This is one of the several trends for 2010 predicted by Andrew Freeman & Co., a hospitality and restaurant consulting firm based in San Francisco. "Everything old is new again," Mr. Freeman told me over the phone recently. "People are rediscovering things that were popular in the fifties and sixties."
The new colour of wine: orange.
Mr. Freeman also predicts "natural wines" will take centre stage next year. By natural he means wines made not just organically but according to ancient practices, without recourse to modern crutches such as "reverse osmosis" (to concentrate flavours) or "micro-oxygenation" (to soften astringent tannins). Wine geeks sometimes refer to these old-school cuvées as "orange" wines because natural oxidation that occurs in many of them can give the reds a lighter, coppery hue and the whites a darker, rusty-amber colour.
"Bartender, draw me another a pint of merlot."
Get ready for wine on tap: Mr. Freeman says the trend taking hold in San Francisco will spread across the continent (though he's probably not versed in Canada's draconian alcohol-retail laws). Just like draft beer, vino will arrive in kegs or, more quaintly, small oak barrels straight from the winery. It will be served by the glass or carafe as a restaurant exclusive. The concept will earn kudos from the green police because there are no heavy glass bottles to transport or recycle.
Pub culture proliferates.
Mr. Freeman also foresees the spread of hard cider (the apple-based drink with alcohol), cask-aged beers and beer-based cocktails. Examples of the latter: the classic black velvet and new "stout diplomat," created by Yanni Kehagiaras of Nopa restaurant in San Francisco, a sweet mix of dark rum, pedro ximenez sherry and chocolate or regular stout.
The Tupperware party for winos.
While most sane people would pay money to have the wine bore shut up at their dinner parties, more and more gatherings will feature hired professionals as special guests. They'll not only match wines to food but also seed the conversation with scintillating banter about malolactic fermentation and drip irrigation. What fun.
And this brings me to trends I'd rather see but won't.
Wish No. 1: White wine will be taken more seriously. It's come to the point where many people don't ask about colour any more. It's red with the main course or nothing. Yet at least half the food I come across would go just as well, if not better, with a white. And at least half the great wines I taste happen to be white. Here's to equal time for the likes of riesling, gruner veltliner, pinot gris, viognier, gewurztraminer, Chablis, Meursault and Puligny.
Wish No. 2: Barriers to interprovincial alcohol shipping will fall. It's currently illegal to transport wine, beer or booze from one province or territory to another - unless you report first to the provincial liquor board and pony up hefty penalties for the sin. This is nuts. I'll bet good money right now that most judges on the Supreme Court have committed this crime at some point in their lives, which should, ipso facto (to use legal jargon), make it a non-crime as far as I'm concerned. Is anybody in Ottawa listening? Anybody?
Wish No. 3: Liquor stores will stock more brands of: quality sherry, Austrian gruner veltliner, German and Alsatian dry riesling, Provençal rosé, half-bottles of white vermouth (such as Noilly Prat), small-grower Champagnes and B.C. wine.
Wish No. 4: Inflated prices for inferior trophy wines will continue dropping.
Wish No. 5: Laphroaig 10-year-old single malt Scotch, sadly missed by so many readers - and the writer - of this column, will once again be widely available in Canada. The venerable brand was diverted to presumably more vital markets in Asia and elsewhere, and replaced here by a newer product, Laphroaig Quarter Cask.
Wish No. 6: Single malt prices will finally drop after a steep and steady climb over the past decade. Hey, a man's got to dream.