Category:Wine Curmudgeon

Ask the WC 9: Premiumization, wine bottles, Chicago Cubs

Ask the Wine Curmudgeon

“Damn, that’s a heavy bottle for a cheap wine.”

Because the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular wine advice feature. Ask the Wine Curmudgeon wine-related question .

Dear WC:
I’m confused about all this talk about premiumization. I’m not buying more expensive wine, and none of my friends are. We’re buying the same price wine we’ve always bought. So where do they get the numbers that say we’re buying more expensive wine?
Cheap and confused

Dear Confused:
There is data that shows that the dollar value of U.S. wine sales is increasing and that Americans are buying less wine that costs $7 a bottle or less. Hence, premiumization. What is less clear is why this this is happening. Are we consciously buying more expensive wine? What’s the role of price increases? And what does it mean that the demographic that bought all that $7 wine is getting older and drinking less? No one has really answered those questions. To my mind, it’s not so much that the average price of a bottle of wine is increasing; it’s that the same numbers show wine sales are flat. So, in the end, it’s a tradeoff, and one that’s not good for wine.

Wine Curmudgeon:
Why is so much inexpensive wine still sold in heavy, expensive bottles? You’d think that would add to the cost of the wine, and I don’t want to pay for it. I want to pay for the wine.
The glass is not half full

Dear Glass:
Because wine has to come in a heavy glass bottle with a punt and a cork, or consumers will think it’s crappy wine. Still. The good news is that, as glass and shipping prices have increased, more and more producers are switching to lighter bottles to keep their profit margins. So we’re seeing some change, albeit slowly.

Hey Curmudgeonly One:
Now that your Chicago Cubs are in first place by a lot, are you still going to buy that $300 bottle of wine if they win the World Series? Won’t that destroy your reputation as a cheapo?
Not a Cubs fan

Dear Not:
Do I detect a little St. Louis Cardinals jealousy here? It’s a long baseball season, and the Cubs aren’t playing well after that incredible start. I’d love the opportunity to buy an expensive bottle to celebrate, but I’ve been a Cubs fan for too long to count on anything. Remember 1969?

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 8: Restaurant wine, storing wine, sparkling wine
Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux
Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine

Texas and the Walmart lawsuit

Walmart Texas lawsuitThree things are certain in Texas – the Cowboys, brutal summers, and the god-like power of the Texas Package Stores Association, the trade group that represents the state’s liquor store owners. The package store lobby is why liquor stores are closed on Sunday, why we have unbelievably restrictive laws on liquor store ownership, and why we have a fourth tier in the three-tier system.

All that may be about to change.

Later this year, a federal judge could overturn the ownership laws, and once that happens, many of the other restrictions could end, too. We might be able to buy wine in the grocery store before noon on Sunday or even – God forbid – spirits. And yes, that would be like a 72-degree day here in August, and where it gets chilly enough at night to need a jacket.

I never thought this would happen, but after talking to a variety of people who follow Texas liquor law, it looks like the unthinkable will take place. The package store owners, who have pretty much vetted the state’s liquor laws since the early 1970s, will have to compromise or lose all of the advantages they’ve written for themselves.

More, after the jump: Continue reading

Is it time to end the Champagne boycott?

Champagne boycottThe Wine Curmudgeon has boycotted Champagne for almost two years to support Champagne Jayne Powell, the Australian wine writer who was sued by the bully boys at the Champagne trade group, CIVC, for no reason that any reasonable person would understand. Powell mostly won the suit, which accused her of trespassing on the Champagne trade name, but only after spending A$75,000 (about US$55,000) in legal expenses she will never see again.

Powell, who was under a gag order during the suit, gave one of her first interviews a couple of weeks ago, and she didn’t mince words. “I refused to give in to the CIVC; I have a strong sense of fairness: I would not succumb to such outrageous behaviour,” she told the British trade magazine thedrinksbusiness.

Sadly, almost no one else thought it was outrageous behavior. Too many wine writers ignored what was happening, and people even made fun of me for the boycott. Which wasn’t the worst part, of course. I wasn’t the one being sued, and I didn’t have to pay attorneys and lose business while I fought against a trade group whose members are worth billions. And I didn’t wait in vain for my colleagues to support me and denounce the CIVC.

Hence I am hesitant to end my Champagne boycott. The lawsuit was despicable, and I don’t want to reward the CIVC for trying to deny Powell one of the most basic of human rights, free speech. And yes, I understand that my almost solitary act of defiance made almost no difference, and that the CIVC probably doesn’t even know I did it. But it was still the right thing to do.

That’s the tough part about being one of the good guys. You have to do things even when you know that what you do probably won’t matter. In the end, how we act should not be about money or currying favor or getting free samples, but right and wrong – even if you’re a wine writer.

So consider the Champagne boycott still in force. I’ll taste it when I have to, probably for my El Centro class, and if I run across something that seems worthwhile, I’ll consider writing about it. But the idea of spending my time or money to help a group that did what the CIVC did to Powell remains as repugnant today as it was a couple of years ago.

Beverage management at El Centro

elcentroMy third class at Dallas’ El Centro College ended last week, the first in the Beverage management format. Which means there are now 15 culinary students armed with the knowledge that restaurant wine prices are too high, the three-tier system is not our friend, and that vodka is more adaptable to cocktails than Scotch.

Beverage management replaced the wine/beer and spirits format I started with, as part of the plan to upgrade the Food & Hospitality Institute curriculum (part of which, rumor has it, involves giving adjunct instructors like the Wine Curmudgeon a desk). Beverage management focuses more on the theory and skills the students will need when they work in the industry; hence, a terrific presentation from Eddie Eakin of Dallas’ Boulevardier and Rapscallion restaurants on bar management and especially on how to cost cocktails. Who knew how expensive a dash of bitters was?

Having said that, there is still a consumer side to the class, and we will do 11 class tastings in the fall, from sparkling wine to craft beer to single malt Scotch to cocktails. The goal, over the long term, is to offer beverage management as well as separate wine and beer and spirits classes. Until then, taking beverage management as a continuing education student is one of the best values in the wine world – $177, which includes not only the tastings and some smart and fun guest speakers but my lectures, which are more or less like getting the blog in person once a week.

Finally, a word about this semester’s class. I have taught some version of this class for almost three years, first at the soon to be late Cordon Bleu in Dallas and now at El Centro, and every day I do it I understand why so many teachers enjoy teaching so much. The students paid attention, wanted to learn, and hardly ever used Snapchat in class (because, as cranky as I am, I notice these things). We had intelligent discussions about pairing food not just with wine but with beer and spirits, whether terroir existed in beer (very controversial), and the value of three-tier system. Some of them even disagreed with me on that one, which made me smile that much more.

What is value in wine?

value in wineThis question comes up every once in a while in the wine cyber ether, and then there is a flurry of activity as the various angels dance on the heads of their respective pins. But determining value in wine deserves more attention than that.

It is the ultimate question for any consumer good, be it ketchup or automobiles or blue jeans. Did you get more value from the product than you paid for it? Was the wine worth more than it cost? But this is a complicated question to ask, let alone answer, given how different everyone’s palate is. My idea of value is probably different from yours, which is neither good nor bad. It just is, and people who read the blog know what I like and whether it matches what they want. That’s the best we can hope for

Further complicating the issue: Value doesn’t matter to most of the Winestream Media, which treats every wine the same regardless of price. A 92 is a 92 is a 92, and while you sometimes see a producer boasting that its $12 wine got a 91, only the most cynical or most desperate will boast their their $100 wine got a 91.

So where does that leave us with value in wine?

• Value probably doesn’t matter in very cheap wine. No one buys $3 wine for value; they buy it because it’s cheap. That it tastes good is an unexpected bonus.

• Value also doesn’t matter much for expensive wine. Who pays $200 for a bottle hoping they’re getting $300 worth of wine? Besides, who pays $200 for a bottle and then admits it was crappy? Wine has taught us that it’s an excellent wine because it cost so much, and who are we to argue?

• Value is all in wine that costs $8 to $20, despite the wine business’ best efforts to convince us otherwise. I wrote this in the cheap wine book, and I’ll repeat it until I die at the keyboard: The vast majority of wine that that costs between $15 and $20 isn’t worth it, because it sells us what’s outside the bottle – the label, the name, the appeal to the appropriate demographic – instead of what’s inside. I taste these wines all the time (got eight samples last week, in fact), and it’s the same regardless of where they’re from or whose name is on them – the least expensive grapes and the most basic winemaking, but a label that preens about the wine’s quality. Nowhere is there $15 worth of wine in the bottle.

The third ultimate do-it-yourself wine review

do it yourself wine review

Drinky wants to write his own wine review.

Three years ago, I stole this idea from a Chicago Cubs baseball blog. Is that, I wonder, some sort of Freudian statement about how the Wine Curmudgeon approaches wine writing? Or the Cubs?

Nevertheless, it has become a popular post. For one thing, it taps into so much of the silliness we read in wine reviews. Such as: The graphite flavor in wine “most often emanates from the alchemy of expensive wood and wine. Cabernet kissed with finely toasted French oak most often proves the source of such aromas.” And it allows anyone who drinks wine to take aim at the pomposity that is all around us and that the pompous rarely see.

So write your own wine review, using the drop-down menus in this post. Just click the menu, choose your favorite line, and laugh appropriately. Those of you who get the blog via email may have to go to the website — click here to do so. And, if you like this one, you can do the first and second ultimate do-it-yourself wine reviews, too.

In the glass, this wine looks like:

I swirled the wine, and:

I tasted the wine, and:

All in all, I’d say the wine:

Welcome to Wine Curmudgeon 2.5

wine curmudgeonOr, the Wine Curmudgeon really likes blue.

Call this refreshing the blog, and not a complete redesign; hence version 2.5 instead of 3.0, which went up on Saturday. There are still a couple of rough edges, but we should get most of them worked out over the next week or so.

The changes should make it easier to use the site – faster loading times; easier navigation, particularly for those of you who visit the WC with your phone or tablet; and a cleaner, simpler design. Many, many thanks to Kermit Woodall of Woodall Design, who did an excellent job with the renovation despite my schedule, which meant I took too long to make decisions, and suffered my cranky ex-newspaperman design eccentricities.

The new look should also make it easier to add better and higher quality advertising in my never ending quest to make enough money from blogging so I can retire to Burgundy.

Finally, there are a couple of things we had to do to please our overlords at Google, which probably annoy me more than they will annoy you. Why every post has to say that I wrote it, when I’m the only one who does any writing here, is beyond any rational explanation other than Google says we have to do it. As always, if you have questions or thoughts, .