Winebits 447: Pennsylvania wine, Judgment of Paris, wine on TV

Pennsylvania wineThis week’s wine news: Pennsylvanians may be able to buy in the supermarket this fall, the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, and a new wine TV show.

Maybe by Thanksgiving: Pennsylvanians may be able to buy wine in the grocery store by the holiday if all goes well, reports the Post-Gazette newspaper in Pittsburgh. The well-written piece explains the obstacles to be overcome and the bureaucratic tussle to be negotiated for grocery stores to sell wine for the first time in the state’s history: They need to get a retail license, renovate their aisles to make room for wine, and to work with distributors to make sure wine shows up at the store. For example, since no distributor in the state sells to grocery stores now, wholesalers will have to set up the process from scratch. Again, another example of how cumbersome and outdated the three-tier system is.

Judgment of Paris: The Wine Curmudgeon mentions the 40th anniversary of the most important event in the U.S. wine business after Prohibition again for two reasons. First, this Jancis Robinson story focuses on Steven Spurrier, the Briton who put the Judgment together, something we don’t see much of in this country. Second, as you read this, I’m in Colorado with Warren Winiarksi, whose Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon was chosen best red wine in the blind tasting. Perhaps Warren and I can find time to record a podcast while we’re here if he doesn’t mind recounting yet again how the California wines bested the best wines in France.

Making wine on TV work: The Wine Curmudgeon has often lamented that wine makes for lousy TV, because an interesting wine TV show could help boost wine’s popularity in the U.S. That may change in August, though, when Hulu airs the English “TV Wine Show” featuring two British actors who apparently make women swoon – Matthew Goode (hope he doesn’t read this) and Matthew Rhys. I have not seen the show, but will watch it and review it. Goode and Rhys are going to have to be very sexy to overcome the plot description, though, which sounds like another wine TV yawner: “[W]ine pros travel the world to experience international wine culture from experts.”

Vinho verde review 2016

vinho verdePremiumization has come to vinho verde, the cheap Portuguese white wine with a little fizz and a greenish tint. In this case, though, that’s not a bad thing.

Too many of the vinhos in the U.S. are non-vintage blends that are indifferently made, with the focus on cranking out as much as possible. The Portuguese, seeing a chance to upgrade quality and sell more expensive wine in the process, have started offering single varietal and vintage vinhos to Americans. The good news is that theses wines are better than the traditional blends, yet still cost around $10.

Our vinho verde primer is here; also know that the wine can be slightly sweet and should usually be served as cold as possible. These four wines will get you started, but these days, there are many to choose from.

Quinta de Raza Rose 2015 ($10, sample, 11.5%): Find this for $9, and buy a case – it’s almost sweet, refreshingly tingly, and with summery red fruit. It’s a little simple for $10, and hence the caveat, but still well made and enjoyable pink wine.

Gazela Vinho Verde NV ($6, purchased, 9%): This is probably the best of the traditional $5 and $6 vinhos that include Santola, Sonalta, and Famega (and that are made by the same couple of producers). That means fizzy and almost sweet, and with soft lemon-lime fruit. You can drink it all day and barely notice.

Quinta da Lixa Pouco Comum 2015 ($13, sample, 13.5%): Vinho as wine and not as a novelty. That means no fizz and varietal character – made with the Portuguese version of albarino, though it’s a little more tart than its Spanish cousin, with more lemon. Nicely done.

Broadbent Vinho Verde NV ($8, purchased, 9%): A step up from the Gazelas and Famegas, though more traditional this year – more fizz, less structure, but still top quality vinho.

For more on vinho verde:
Vinho verde review 2015
Vinho verde review 2014
Vinho verde review 2013

 

Porch wine for the long, hot summer

porch wineHas the hot weather made you as cranky as the WC tasting 15 percent chardonnay? Then take a long, cool sip of the porch wine post.

We haven’t hit 100 in Dallas yet, but 99 for the last week or so is close enough. And, from what I hear from my pals in the rest of the country, it’s too damn hot where they are. Which means it’s time for a porch wine post – focusing on lighter wines, red and white, that are lower in alcohol and that offer relief from the heat. The idea with a porch wine is to drink something that won’t make the sweat bead on your forehead.

These four wines are excellent examples of the type, and should give you an idea about what to look for:

Nik. Weis Urban Riesling 2015 ($15, sample, 9%): Well-made German riesling is difficult to find in Dallas, which makes no sense given how warm-weather friendly the wine is. The Weis is made in a more modern style, with fresher apricot fruit instead of dried and brighter acidity, but it’s also layered with the traditional honey notes. Nicely done, and will even age a little.

El Coto Rosado 2015 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): The El Coto is is one of my favorite Spanish roses, and if it’s not quite as well done as the Muga, it’s still delicious and a tremendous value. Look for strawberry fruit, plus a little earthiness and even orange peel from the tempranillo that’s in the blend.

Torresella Prosecco Extra Dry NV ($15, sample, 11.5%): This Italian sparkler reminded me why I love wine. I much prefer cava to Prosecco, so it’s always a pleasure to find a Prosecco worth writing about – not too sweet, firm bubbles, surprisingly balanced, and more apple and pear fruit than most others. Highly recommended.

Drouhin Domaine des Hospices de Belleville Fleurie 2014 ($25, sample, 13%): Top-notch red from the French region of Beaujolais that has nothing in common with most of the plonk made there these days. Firm but not overbearing, with red fruit and soft tannins, and something you can drink on its own or with food. The only drawback is the cost, but given how expensive this quality of French wine has become, it’s not overpriced.

More about porch wine:
Wine terms: Porch wine
Wine when the air conditioning is broken
Wine of the week: Angels & Cowboys rose 2015
Wine of the week: Chateau Bonnet Blanc 2014

TV wine ads: Almost 40 years of awful

One of the great mysteries about wine: Why did Americans ever take to it, given how difficult it is to understand and how badly wine has traditionally been marketed?

Case in point is this Bolla commercial from 1978, which more or less coincides with the first increase in wine’s popularity in the U.S. Why would anyone want to drink wine based on the commercial, which doesn’t make much sense? How can a wine be both soft and full-bodied? And even then, marketers focused on what we think of today as “smooth,” making sure to call a red wine soft.

And, because sex sells, we learn that if we drink Bolla, we can get a hot chick. This is the one constant over the past 40 years of silly TV wine ads, and like most of the claims in these ads, there is little truth to it. I was there, and we didn’t. We didn’t even drink wine; we drank beer. Lowenbrau, in fact, to impress a girl. (Video courtesy of Vintage Wine Commercials at YouTube.)

More about TV wine ads:
Riunite on ice — so nice
When Blue Nun ruled the world
TV wine commercials and their legacy
How wine commercials on TV have changed — or not

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.