Category:Wine terms

Wine terms: Grocery store wine

One of the biggest changes in the wine business over the past decade has been the growth in wine departments in grocery stores. Just a decade ago, they were often small and cramped and dirty, and there wasn ?t much to choose from ? even among the biggest national chains.

Today, they look like this.

There are many reasons why this happened, but the most important was the emergence of the specialty grocer like Trader Joe ?s and Whole Foods. They had well-stocked wine departments, and the national chains and their regional counterparts had to respond or risk losing that more affluent customer. So, today, you can find $100 bottles of wine in your local supermarket.

The irony about all this? That the staple of the new and improved grocery store wine section is not high-end wine or those from smaller, more interesting producers (though, oddly enough, they do seem to carry regional wines). Rather, the mainstays are the dozens and dozens of labels from the world ?s biggest producers that have been developed to sell on grocery store shelves. In this, there are even companies, like The Wine Group, that specialize in these wines.

In many ways, the economics of the grocery store wine business are no different than the economics of laundry detergent or ketchup, taking into account local laws and regulations, of course. Wineries pay for shelf space and prominent displays like endcaps (those stacks on the end of an aisle), just like cereal makers. They offer special pricing to retailers, which is reflected in the sales prices in your weekly circular. And there are even loss leaders ? wine sold at the retailer ?s cost to lure shoppers into the store, just like milk.

Hence a grocery store wine ? a brand probably from one of the largest national producers and sold mostly at supermarkets for $8 to $15. It ?s usually a varietal, often from California, and has a cute label or a cute name. Though they are simple wines, without a lot complexity, they can be good values.

The other thing about the term? It applies even in those dozen or so states that don ?t sell wine in grocery stores, like New York. The concept remains the same, even if the retailer doesn ?t.

Five wine facts that aren’t necessarily facts

wine mythsThe wine world is full of people who know exactly what they ?re talking about, even when they don ?t. My pal John Bratcher loves to tell the story about the guy at a wine tasting who said in no uncertain terms that blended wines were inferior to varietal wines (those made with just one grape, like chardonnay or merlot, instead of more than one grape). John then mentioned that all of the great French red wines were blends; how did that fit into the man ?s world view?

So the next time you ?re buying wine, don ?t be afraid to be skeptical. Taste is in the palate of the beholder, but there are objective truths about wine and the wine business. After the jump, five of the most annoying facts that really aren ?t:

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Wine terms: Wine glasses

wine glasses

Pretty pictures notwithstanding, wine glasses affect the taste of wine.

This may seem like a silly topic for a post. How are we supposed to drink wine unless we use a glass? Would that it were that simple. The concept of wine glasses can be as complicated as wine itself; how else to explain something like Riedel's $139 sommelier black glass?

The trick, then, is to approach glasses with the same skeptical eye that we approach wine with. Do you need a decent wine glass to get the most out of wine, even if you're drinking $10 bottles? Yep. Do you need to go overboard and spend hundreds of dollars on a glass? Probably not.

After the jump, a few thoughts on buying and using wine glasses:

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Wine terms: Vin ordinaire

Cheap_wineWhat do Americans call the kind of wine that they drink every day? Oh, that's right — we don't drink wine every day.

But there is a term for it — vin ordinaire, a French expression that means cheap wine for everyday use. Or, ordinary wine, as opposed to fine wine from Bordeaux and Burgundy, which is traditionally reserved for special occassions.

The term vin ordinaire has its roots in the French wine classification system. Each French wine region grades the quality of its wines, and wine that isn't from one specific region is labled Vin de Table. Many European countries have a similar classification, and one of the goals of the on-going European Union plan to reform the continent's wine laws is to make this more consistent across the various countries. In this, the Vin de Table wines are being replaced by wines labeled Vin de Pays or IGP. More, after the jump:

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Regional wine labels: Is a wine where it says it’s from?

When is a wine made by a winery in your state not from your state? More often than you think.

This is the great conundrum of the regional wine business. The best way for local wineries to market their product is to proclaim its local-ness. But, given the way the wine business works, their wine may not be made with local grapes, but with grapes or juice imported from California or even Europe. Confused? It gets worse. Federal law allows wineries to be appropriately vague about whether the wine is made with local grapes.

All in all, regional wine labeling is a maze that consumers (many of whom are baffled by wine labels to begin with) don’t know they have to negotiate. After the jump — how labeling laws work, what to look for on a regional wine label, and why so many wineries take advantage of this gray area.

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Wine terms: Terroir

terroirThe most controversial term in wine is terroir. A sizeable portion of the wine world — half, perhaps? — says it doesn’t exist, and that even if it does, it’s irrelevant. The rest of us believe truly and deeply in terroir and consider it the key to what makes wine so special. But even we terroirists can’t agree on just exactly what terroir is.

That’s the reason I’ve waited 3 1/2 years to write this post. I wanted to make sure I got it exactly right. More, after the jump:

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Do consumers trust wine bloggers?

Not much, if a report from the United Kingdom's Wine Intelligence consultancy is to be believed. The catch? The man whose company did the report said the results may be flawed.

Wine Intelligence reported at the end of January that independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the United Kingdom, United States, and France. Its study found that only one in five regular wine drinkers in the U.K. trust what independent bloggers say about a wine, compared with more than 50 percent who trust their wine merchant. In the U.S., the numbers were 20 percent and 80 percent, while only 10 percent of the French trusted bloggers.

Which would seem to point out that this wine blogging thing is a waste of time. But Richard Halstead, Wine Intelligence's chief operating officer, told Harpers Wine & Spirit that the study's methodology had some problems. Which didn't seem to placate wine bloggers here or in Europe, who have spent the past couple of weeks using the cyber-ether to take Wine Intelligence to task, with many high-profile wine blogs on both sides of the Atlantic discrediting the report.

Yet the report, once one gets past the headlines, did offer some insight. What that was, after the jump:

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