Wine of the week: Domaine de la Gaffeliere Les Hauts de la Gaffeliere 2015

Les Hauts de la GaffeliereSo much for bellyaching about the lack of quality cheap white Bordeaux. Since that rant, I’ve found several top-notch bottles, and the most recent is the Les Hauts de la Gaffeliere.

Why the Wine Curmudgeon’s fixation with white Bordeaux? It’s French, sometimes a blend but always made with sauvignon blanc, and have offered value, quality, and terroir for decades. If you wanted a cheap white wine, but weren’t sure what to buy, white Bordeaux was always an excellent choice.

That has changed since the end of the recession, as prices went up and quality didn’t get any better. A $10 wine that costs $15 or $18 isn’t a value, and that has been happening all too often.

But the Les Hauts de la Gaffeliere ($12, purchased, 12%) is. This is a delightful white Bordeaux, made entirely with sauvignon blanc, that offers a sort of flowery aroma, lots of lemon, and the minerality and long, clean finish that sets it apart from sauvignon blanc made elsewhere in the world.

Drink this chilled with almost any kind of chicken or grilled fish. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.

Winebits 446: Cheap wine, retailer foolery, U.S. wine sales

cheap wine

You need to take the bag out of the box if you’re going to slap it.

This week’s wine news: College students take to cheap wine, retailers fudge with scores, and U.S. wine sales will remain flat.

Don’t slap the bag: The Wine Curmudgeon was greatly heartened to see a food website at the University of Florida offer solid advice about buying cheap wine and insisting that cheap doesn’t mean bad wine (and that it linked to my site just hows smart the author, Abigail Miller, is). Writes Miller: “The cuter the label, the simpler the wine,” something I have been preaching for years and that producers assume we’re too stupid to understand. Plus, I brushed up on current slang – “bougie,” a derivative of bourgeois, as in “drinking wine is so bougie,” and slapping the bag, a drinking game that uses the bag inside boxed wine.

Scores and retailers: A Massachusetts TV station discovered that the scores used to sell wine on shelf talkers at liquor stores in its area were playing fast and loose with vintage – that is, the wine that got a 90 was not the vintage for sale. It was something that the TV report found in eight of 10 stores. Said one retailer: “I guess it would be good to know that the winery has won medals, but I think that the consumer needs to look at the year, because the year will make a huge difference.” Sadly, despite the retailer’s observations, I’m told this is a common practice throughout the country.

Not much growth: The U.S. wine boom has ended, and the market will grow at just about one percent through 2020. This compares to growth of 3.3 percent before the recession, a fact the short story mentions but doesn’t try to explain. Has wine become what marketers call a mature category, where we’ve seen all the growth we’re going to have? Or is there something else going on that no one can explain? My guess, given that so few Americans drink wine compared to other countries, is the latter.

Follow-up: Restaurant wine prices

restaurant wine pricesLast month’s restaurant wine prices post was so well received and got so many comments, both here and in emails, that it’s worth a follow-up.

Restaurant operators may well have their reasons for marking wine up four times their cost, as one comment explained. Or as this restaurant management website advises: “You can therefore reasonably price a bottle that retails around $20 at $60 and $80” (giving new meaning to the word reasonably).

But the numbers say otherwise. Restaurant wine sales measured by volume have declined for three consecutive years, failing to even meet the flat growth of overall wine sales. And they have not made up the difference with higher revenue, according to any number of national surveys for 2014, 2015, and 2016.

And we know the reason. Restaurant wine prices are too high:

• Emailed one regular visitor: “I don’t buy wine at restaurants because it’s too expensive.”

• Emailed a long-time Dallas restaurant operator, now retired: “I made money selling wine at 2.14 times the cost. The .14 was to cover the state fee. And I sold lots of wine by the glass and the bottle. And most important – staff training!”

• Said a distributor friend of mine: “If the only way for a restaurant to stay in business is to charge four times cost, then how did everyone stay in business when they didn’t do that? Or if they didn’t sell wine at all?”

• Perhaps the best comment in the original post? From a wine producer: “I only wish restaurants marked prices up 3 times. I am finding restaurants marking wine up 4 times. Trust me, the waiter makes more on his tips vs. the money I make producing the wine.”

In this, the restaurant business is alienating its best customers – the Baby Boomers who drink wine and who like to eat out. Because younger consumers are less interested in both, and their preference for delivery and eating restaurant food at home may eventually deserve the term disruptive — something, I think, GrubHub already knows.

Says this year’s annual Silicon Valley Bank wine business study, perhaps the best source of reliable wine industry data: “We believe the reasons for this change are explained by more at-home consumption and a behavior change of our frugal millennial consumers who are more likely to satisfy their restaurant consumption needs by starting with a beer or cocktail, then having a glass of wine rather than a bottle of wine with dinner.”

So, restaurants, keep charging $50 for a $15 bottle of wine. It’s not our problem; it’s yours.

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

La Moneda Reserva malbec – the best cheap wine in the world?

La Moneda reserva malbecIs Chile’s La Moneda Reserva malbec really the best cheap wine in the world? Probably not. But it is a wonderful example of how screwed up wine is.

Where else but wine would a product that no one can buy in the U.S. make headlines throughout the country? “Walmart’s $6 red wine named one of the best in the world,” screamed Fox News. “Wal-Mart brand red wine named one of the best in the world,” shouted CNBC. And, my favorite, from the ultra-hip Daily Meal, “Walmart Brand Red Wine Costing $6 Named One of the Best in the World,” complete with diaper reference.

That’s because the wine business teaches us that only expensive wine is any good, and the U.S. media parrots that line whenever possible. No one in this country can buy the La Moneda Reserva malbec, because it’s a private label sold only at ASDA, a supermarket chain owned by Walmart in Great Britain. But who cares? It’s cheap! Really cheap!!

Can you imagine those news outlets doing the same thing for ketchup or blue jeans or a car that none of their readers could buy? Of course not. But it’s wine! That’s cheap!! Really cheap!!!

To their credit, my colleagues in the Winestream Media didn’t go quite as berserk when the La Moneda Reserva malbec won a platinum medal at Decanter’s World Wine Awards. Some noted that it’s odd that a Chilean wine made with malbec, an Argentine grape, did so well. Some made the point that much of the fuss was silly since no one could buy it. And none made any claims to quality, since none had tasted it.

I haven’t either. But since I’ve probably tasted more grocery store wine that anyone else in the world, I’d guess that the La Moneda Reserva malbec is likely well made and deserving of its medal. I’m a little concerned that one of the judges called it “a crowd pleaser,” which is wine judge for lots of fruit. But is it appreciably better than any other wine in the $10 Hall of Fame? What do you think?

Know, too, that this is almost certainly a one-off success, given the way private label works. The company that found the wine for ASDA, International Procurement & Logistics, supplies products based on pricing, not necessarily quality. ASDA wanted a red wine to sell at retail for £5.75 that it could make a certain margin on, and that’s what International Procurement looked for. It wasn’t about terroir, but the cost of grapes, and the quality was a happy accident.

So be glad that British wine drinkers have a quality $10 wine to drown their Brexit sorrows with. But also wish the media in this country that went silly about a cheap wine being good would pay more attention to what’s on the shelves at their grocery stores. Maybe then we’d have better wine to buy in this country.

Wine of the week: Cantine Monfort Terre del Fohn 2014

Terre del FöhnTired of buying wine not on taste, but on how cute the label is? Worried that the wine may not be drinkable, but not sure how to tell? Fortunately, the Wine Curmudgeon can  recommend the Montfort Terre del Fohn.

That’s because the Montfort Terre del Fohn ($15, purchased, 12.5%) is not cute. It’s an Italian red from the northern area of Alto Adige and made with the wonderfully obscure marzemino grape.

The Montfort Terre del Fohn is another sort of German Italian wine, thanks to the region’s proximity to the Austrian border. That means soft tannins and an earthy, cherryish style that is similar to pinot noir. This is not the wine if you want a tannic, acidic, alcoholic red that will knock you unconscious, but if you are looking for something more subtle, though not especially complex, it’s well worth the $15.

This is a barbecue wine, whether it’s pork or chicken on the grill, and something to drink all summer.

Winebits 445: Wine scores, Veramonte, Tennessee

wine scoresTake that, wine scores: Writes MJ Skeggs in the Portland Mercury about wine scores: “Yep, despite how the tasting industry (the magazines, star reviewers, bloggers, anyone with a palate and a keyboard) claims objectivity, it comes down to personal preference.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, though I’ve probably said it just as well many, many times. Skeggs lists eight other reasons to avoid scores, as well as the best alternative – find a good retailer and go from there. And how can one not recommend a wine article that includes a Spinal Tap reference?

Chilean winery sold: Control of Veramonte, once a star of cheap Chilean wine, has been sold to one of Spain’s biggest producers. This is probably good news, since Vermaonte’s current owners have presided over the wine as it has become more expensive and less well made. The new lead owner, Gonzalez Byass, makes Beronia, always quality cheap wine.

Tennessee grocery store wine: How big a deal is supermarket wine? More than 400 grocery stores in Tennessee started selling wine this month, the first time they were allowed to do so under new legislation. The fight to allow wine in supermarkets in the state dates to the 1970s, and has been called the biggest change in the state’s liquor laws since Prohibition. Where have we heard that before?