The wine country of 2021 will be … Portugal

The thirst for discovery rolls on, and Portugal is becoming the latest hot spot. Why did sales of the country’s wines surge 35.1 percent in September alone in the U.S.?

It’s simple: quality-price ratio. They’re delicious, food-friendly, inexpensive, and more than worth the cost. Douro Valley reds are stunning, but for 2021 I’m also betting on newcomer region Alentejo, with its fresh, aromatic, savory whites and juicy, plush, smoky red blends, all from unusual varieties (antao vas, argonez), and some fermented in clay amphora. The region boasts rock-star winemakers, a fantastic sustainability program and one-third of the world’s cork forests.

Wine seltzer will be the new hard seltzer

I remain mystified by the massive appeal of bland flavored sparkling water with an alcohol kick from malt or spirits. In 2021, expect more craft breweries and celebrities to offer their own interpretations of these dry, low-alcohol drinks. Yes, I’ll be sampling chef Gordon Ramsay’s brand-new Hell’s Seltzer line, with flavors inspired by dishes in his Hell’s Kitchen restaurants and names such as “Knicker Twist” (passionfruit, pineapple, and orange flavor notes).

But wine seltzers are more my style. In their annual predictions, U.K.-based market research firm Wine Intelligence sees a coming push by wine producers “to ride the hard seltzer wave.” Mass-market wine brand Barefoot launched four last spring made from white wine, seltzer water, and natural flavors, with a mere 4 percent alcohol, as Napa’s Trinchero did with its Del Mar wine seltzer. They’re lighter and crisper than canned wine-based spritzers, which, well, contain more wine. Please let new ones be better.

Virtual tastings will be the new company perks

Winery tasting room visits took a huge hit in 2020, and winemakers quickly pivoted to virtual tastings that allowed drinkers to get up close and personal with brands they love. These are not going away. But to me the more interesting development is the way corporations, which couldn’t lavish travel and entertainment money on reward retreats to Napa, tapped wineries to host special sessions for employee team-building and perks, a trend that’s also here to stay. (No, it’s not day drinking.) Each employee gets mailed a specific set of bottles (snacks, too, sometimes) to sample at home while participating.

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