1) Wine criticism and the internet | Wine information in the U.S. until the past 10 years came primarily from two sources: Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator. There were certainly other publications in the market, but these two had a stranglehold on influencing the buying patterns of retail stores, restaurants and the American public. Both Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator review wines using a 100 point grading system, and this grading system has filtered through both the industry and the public to create a tremendous demand from the public for high scoring wines, and an increased pressure on wine producers to make wines that are most likely to please the most important critics.
The most positive influence the internet has given the public is many voices with many different outlooks in regard to evaluating wine. The two major publications now have to compete with many regional specialists, other internet voices and a diversity of methods used to evaluate and describe wine. Today, as a wine buyer, I find it off putting to have a salesperson come running into a restaurant telling me about the next 90 point wine they have to sell to me. I can't even tell in many cases, from their description, who gave the score. They just know it is an impressive number. Although the score from whatever publication is interesting background information, the real interest, at least for me, is that the wine is great for what it is supposed to be. That information is not in a score. So, I would much rather hear the qualities of the wine, the winemaking, and the winery than hear some score. Then, let's taste it.
2) Return to traditional grapes, growing practices, and winemaking techniques | One of the most exciting developments, and for some it is simply a continuation of traditional practices, is a return to traditional indigenous grapes, traditional grape growing practices (with some modern techniques and adjustments), and traditional winemaking techniques. All over the world, wine is being made with a unique quality that defines that particular place. The term "terroir" talks of a uniqueness of place, and at least in my case, this is the element that divides the wine trade from more commercial or industrial wine to very unique and interesting wine.
3) The fascination with restaurants, chefs and the food industry | Wine has greatly benefited from the interest in quality food and the fascination with chefs. When I began in the wine trade, the primary sale for a wine sales person was to convince the restaurateur they needed to make wine a factor in their restaurant. This is not true today. The public demand for wine is enormous. I believe the growth in popularity of wine is inextricably tied to the increased interest in chefs, restaurants and quality food.
Most food can find a partner with wine, and for those that are not natural pairs, there is definitely another beverage that will pair well. These wine, beer, cocktail and spirits lists help to define the great restaurants from the also rans. Much of the profitability of a restaurant, comes from beverages. Great chefs, brilliant concepts, innovative food, television Chefs, are all driving factors to make customers try a restaurant. Beverages, with wine as a leading force, is the reason most of these places remain profitable enough to stay in business.
4) Wine sales, post-prohibition and the internet | State laws vary greatly, and while it is perfectly legal in one state to have wine in grocery stores, other states forbid it. While some states allow for the licensing of an importer, retailer and distributor in combination; many states are legislated against this licensing. On-premise licensing (consumption on-premise) and off-premise licensing (consumption off-premise) wine and spirits are still very tightly regulated, with in many cases, laws that were passed in 1933 have not been modernized.
One exception is the internet. Although there are state and federal laws that seem to change day by day and week by week; they are increasing amounts of shipments provided by the internet, allowing wineries to sell their wines out of state, and retailers are being allowed to sell to an increasing amount of states. This is all good news for the wine lover.