Category:Wine Curmudgeon

Once more, how consumers buy wine

how consumers buy wine

Even I know — and I’m just a gratuitous cute dog so people will put this on Facebook — how consumers buy wine.

Dear Wine Business:

I know we have our differences, but we do want the same thing — to get more people to drink wine. Hence another of my letters, which I send you periodically to tell you what happens when I talk to consumers about wine. This time, how they buy wine, and it doesn’t have much to do with scores or premiumized wine.

Marlowe, one of the two official dogs of the Wine Curmudgeon, needed a haircut, so I took him to a local place, Kinder Kritter. I know the owner a little, but we’ve never talked about wine. This time, though, she was curious about my license plate, 10 WINE. I told her, and she asked me for some recommendations. What do you drink now? I asked.

I know you don’t want to believe this, Wine Business, but she drinks $10 Bogle cabernet sauvignon, and $12 J. Lohr cabernet when she wants to splurge. So cheap, Big Wine grocery store brands that are easy to find and aren’t sold on the basis of reviews, winespeak, or cute labels. In other words, none of the stuff she is supposed to drink and which makes her a fairly typical wine drinker.

Yes, small sample size, but it’s not like I haven’t heard it before. She likes red wine that is easy to drink, but has a little more going on than just that. I recommended the McManis cabernet and the Rene Barbier Spanish red blend. The former was similar to what she was already drinking, and the latter was like it in some ways, but also different enough so that she could expand her horizons. Because isn’t that what every wine drinker should do?

The owner was also very excited when I told her the Barbier was only $6. So much for premiumization, huh?

I’ll let you know what she thinks of my recommendations. And thanks again for your patience in reading this.

Your pal,
The Wine Curmudgeon

More about consumer wine buying habits:
How people really buy wine
Another study agrees: We buy wine on price
What drives wine drinkers? Price, of course

My apéritif with Randall Grahm

randall grahmDallas, finally, seems to be taking to Randall Grahm. The Bonny Doonster sold out a winemaker dinner at the new and much-praised Rapscallion on Monday night, and Dallas winemaker dinners usually don’t sell out unless they feature men who make massive, gigantic Napa-style red wine that costs too much money. Plus, Grahm’s wines are starting to show up on store shelves here, something that hasn’t happened in years.

Grahm’s trip gave us a chance to hold another of our sort of annual visits, where we taste his wines and solve the problems of the post-modern U.S. wine business. This time, we talked before the dinner, which I didn’t stay for since I didn’t want to stop him from schmoozing with the paying guests (schmoozing being winemaker slang for mingling with the customers).

The highlights of our chat and a few notes about three of the wines served with the dinner:

• The California drought cut yields in 2015, but Grahm said that winter rain seems to have helped all but the worst hit areas. One side effect: Many grapes ripened early, so some 2015 wines won’t have as much structure or acidity, and could be more flabby. That’s something I’ve tasted so far, and it has been quite disappointing.

• He says he is “gaining clarity” about how to approach the Popelouchum Vineyard, where he hopes to create 10,000 new grape varieties (last year’s successful Indiegogo crowdfunding project). Grahm is especially excited about using furmint, a Hungarian white grape, and a native Texas rootstock, Vitis berlandieri, that does well in stony soils. Vines are growing on the property, though money remains a problem.

• On so many wineries — that don’t own land or winemaking facilities — being bought for so much money by Big Wine: “It’s like money in the political process,” he said. “Where does it all come from?” That Big Wine is buying producers for nothing more than their brand is difficult for long-time producers like Grahm to make sense of, given that wine is supposed to be about the land the grapes are grown on.

The wines, as always, were top notch. The new vintage of the Vin Gris de Cigare ($15, sample, 13.5%) was less Provencal and more Bordeaux than usual, with a chalky finish, a less crisp mouth feel, and darker, though still subtle, fruit.

The 2012 Le Pousseur Syrah ($26, sample, 13.4%) is what New World syrah should taste like — earthy, peppery, and spicy, with soft black fruit and the tannins to match, while the bacon fat aroma is textbook. The 2012 gets more interesting as it ages, particularly as the fruit softens. This syrah is my favorite Bonny Doon wine, and I’ve even paid for it. That it tastes so fresh and alive after all this time under screwcap should put all that cork and aging foolishness to rest.

The 2011 Le Cigare Volant ($45, sample, 14.2%) is a Rhone-style blend, mostly mouvedre and grenache, that takes this style of wine toward an elegance I didn’t think possible with Rhone blends. It’s also somehow a food wine (lamb?), a contradiction usually only seen in red Burgundy. Look for a long, long wine with sophisticated tannins, layers of flavor that are only just beginning to show, and cherry fruit in there somewhere. It, too, should keep aging — maybe even a decade.

8 signs you’ve been writing about wine for too long

writing about wine

“Please help me before I Andy Rooney again.”

Because, after more than 2,500 blog posts and even more time spent writing about wine for magazines, newspapers, and the Internet, even the Wine Curmudgeon sometimes wonders what he has wrought:

1. You know the cheap wine inventory at the biggest retailers in town better than the retailers do. And you’ve tasted more of the wine in their stores than they have.

2. You don’t read wine reviews or other wine writers; you read wine industry trade magazines and websites and follow what’s going on the way you used to follow baseball.

3. When you interview younger winemakers and mention a wine you tasted 10 or 15 years ago that was a big deal at the time, they not only don’t know the wine, but give you that kind but dotty old man look.

4. You find yourself, despite your best intentions, launching into Andy Rooney mode when someone says something stupid about wine — and especially if it’s obvious they don’t care if what they’re saying is stupid.

5. You know what someone means when they talk about glassy-winged sharpshooters and vectors, and you aren’t embarrassed by it.

6. You interrupt conversations to offer your insight into odd grapes like ugni blanc or marquette, and you get that kind but dotty old man look when you do.

7. You make a pop culture reference in one of your El Centro wine classes, and you get that kind but dotty old man look when you do. Honestly, does knowing who Catherine Deneuve is make me that out of touch?

8. You get a news release from someone touting a wine, and you realize you first tasted that wine before the person who wrote the release was born.

2,500 posts and free wine glasses

free wine glassesLast week, between preparing for my El Centro class, working on a couple of free-lance pieces, and overseeing the Wine Curmudgeon empire’s day-to-day operations, I didn’t notice that the blog ran its 2,500th post. Which, if it doesn’t make me Ty Cobb, puts me in Hall of Fame company. And since I believe in rewarding the people who have kept this thing going for 2,500 posts — you, the readers and visitors — it’s time for free wine glasses.

Yes, a wine glass giveaway — four Lori Dennis Home Unbreakable Wine Glasses, stemless and made with premium acrylic to work like glass. That means they won’t shatter, stain, or or dull; they’re heavy in the hand like glass; shatterproof, because they’re plastic; and easy to clean (top shelf dishwasher safe). Plus, says Dennis, a portion of the proceeds from every sale benefits Habitat for Humanity.

The usual contest rules apply. That means pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and leave it in the comment section of this post to wine the free wine glasses. You can ?t pick a number someone else has picked, and you need to leave your guess in the comments section of this post ? no email entries or entries on other posts. Unless the number is in the comments section of this post, the entry won ?t count.

If you get the blog via email or RSS, you need to go to this exact post on the website to enter (click this link to get there). At about 5 p.m. central today, I ?ll go to random.org and generate the winning number. The person whose entry is closest to that number gets the free wine glasses.

Finally, you’ll see several changes to the blog over the next week or so — updating its look, making it more mobile friendly, and faster loading times. The site should still be just as easy to use, but a little more 21st century in how it works. Many thanks to Kermit Woodall of Woodall Design for his patience and perseverance through this process, given all the hand holding he had to do.

El Centro wine class evolves into beverage management

el centro wine classMy El Centro wine class has evolved into beverage management this semester, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do wine any more. Rather, it speaks to the school’s commitment to upgrading its curriculum (and there may be big news about that later this spring), and I’m flattered that I get to help.

Beverage management covers most of what students need to know to understand how the wine, beer, and spirits programs at a restaurant work. In one respect, it’s not much different than what we did in the wine class, since I spent class time talking about putting together wine lists, how to deal with distributors and sales people, and the rest of restaurant wine.

What’s different is that the class is more rigorous in what students learn, and that ?s not necessarily a bad thing. The wine class was wine appreciation taught through my perspective; beverage management offers my perspective, but it’s more than that. Par stock may seem boring, but it’s crucial if you’re going run a successful operation. Why do restaurants always not have the wine I order when they never run out of chicken breasts ? That’s one of the secrets of par stock.

Plus, we get to taste beer and spirits as well as wine.

The only drawback is that the class is less consumer friendly than the wine class was. Having said that, it should still be worthwhile for anyone who wants to take it as continuing education, something El Centro emphasizes. Where else can you listen to me rant about three-tier or offer my insights into high alcohol wine?

Finally, a word about my students this semester. I’ve never had a bad class, either here or at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas, and rarely any bad students. This is one reason why I don’t sound like an old white guy when I talk about younger people. But this class, so far, has done most of them one better. They pay attention, they ask good questions (though I wish they would ask more) and they’re a whiz at cleanup after class. What more could a teacher ask for?

Cheap wine: What do I expect?

cheap wineA visitor left a comment the other day in the first $3 wine challenge post: “Hey, it cost less than $3. So what did you expect?” Hence this post, because even though a cheap wine doesn’t cost much, that doesn’t mean it has to taste cheap:

? Varietal correctness. Cabernet sauvignon should taste like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay like chardonnay, and so forth. Otherwise, what’s the point? Should we just have two gigantic Big Wine vats, one red and one white, and everything can come out of that?

? Value for money. No, a $3 wine isn’t going to taste like a $100 wine, and I don’t expect it to. I do expect it to offer value and to be the best $3 wine it can be. Otherwise, what’s the point? If we just want cheap crap to get drunk on, then we can drink Thunderbird and Night Train.

? An honest effort from the producer. The wine business’ cynicism is what keeps wine from being more popular in this country, and too much cheap wine proves that point. Producers make junk like the $3 challenge wines, or this wine club plonk, because they’ve taught Americans — like the man who left the comment — not to expect anything better. Or, even worse, the wine business knows most wine drinkers don’t know any better, think the $3 swill is OK because it costs $3, and are too confused to figure out what’s going on.

All of which is a horrible way to sell anything, and especially horrible for something that’s as much as fun as wine. Can you imagine what would happen if the car business worked that way? Which, as it happens, the car business once did, and the result was the very flammable Ford Pinto. One day, perhaps, the wine business can give us cheap wine as satisfying as today’s cheap cars (like my much beloved Honda Fit).

Until then, I’ll keep expecting more than they want to give us.

Once more into the Super Bowl breach

super bowlOne of the biggest shocks in the 8 1/2 year history of the blog is that Super Bowl Sunday is the worst day for visitors every year. It’s worse than Christmas and New Year’s, both of which are actually pretty good days for traffic.

The Wine Curmudgeon does not know why this is, but I do know that it annoys the hell out of me. I am an ex-sportswriter who was so worn out by pro sports that the only thing I still pay attention to is baseball and my Chicago Cubs, and one can argue that the Cubs are not sports or very professional.

So the country’s obsession with the Super Bowl leaves me at a loss. I haven’t watched the game since 1986, which is more or less the last time I got paid to watch it.

Nevertheless, because so many of you do care, I offer you this wine story about the Super Bowl from the New York Times — “Wine Here! A Football Bud Gets Competition,” which includes a cartoon as badly conceived as that headline and this truly dreadful lede: “Beer and football may go together like wine and cheese. But lately more and more people seem be favoring a Bordeaux over a Bud Light.”

Which would have made me rise from the copy desk, pica pole in hand, to chase down the offending reporter (if my pal Johnny D. Boggs hadn’t already forcefully reprimanded the miscreant).

The point of all this is that since the game is being played in suburban San Francisco, which is in wine country, there must be a wine angle to the Super Bowl (even if Bordeaux is a French wine region). To the reporter’s credit, he quotes an expert, some former NFL types, and a wine person or two. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the story any more interesting, and it’s way too long, but if you’re on deadline and the composing room is screaming for the copy, you spell check it, slap a headline on it, and hope for the best.

Right, Johnny?