Wine of the week: Charles & Charles Rose 2015

Charles & Charles roseThe Charles & Charles rose from Washington state has played a key role in the rose revolution and embarrassed the Wine Curmudgeon. Both are reasons to recommend it.

First, its role in the revolution, in honor of July 4 this week. The first vintage of the Charles & Charles rose ($11, purchased, 12.2%) in 2008 more or less coincided with the idea that rose was worth drinking, something the U.S. wine industry hadn’t really embraced before then. The Charles & Charles was dry, crisp, and just fruity enough to give wine drinkers a quality pink that was in national distribution just as demand started to increase.

This year’s Charles & Charles rose is another top-flight wine, and should return to the $10 Hall of Fame next year. The 2014 was a touch softer and not as enjoyable, and I was worried that trend would continue. But the 2015 is crisp, fresh, and alive, bursting with tart watermelon fruit and even a hint of herbs (perhaps the Washington version of garrigue). It’s one of the world’s great roses, and just the wine to drink over the long – and forecast to be 100 degrees here – holiday weekend.

And how did it embarrass me? In November 2013, I gave a sold-out seminar at the American Wine Society conference, focusing on unappreciated grapes, wines, and regions. So we tasted all my favorites – a nero d’avola from Sicily, a Gascon white, cava, a Texas red, and the Charles & Charles rose. My point? That in the chardonnay-, cabernet sauvigon-, merlot-dominated wine business, we overlooked a lot of cheap, terrific wine.

The Charles & Charles rose was the biggest hit, and even people who didn’t drink pink loved it. One woman was so excited she asked where she could buy it, and I had to tell her that it was sold out. It was November and the end of rose season, and the producer didn’t make enough given rose’s new popularity. I literally got the last six bottles in the U.S. for the tasting.

I will always remember the dirty look the woman gave me as she asked: “Why did we taste a wine that we can’t buy?” It doesn’t get much more worse for the WC.

Winebits 444: Prosecco, direct to consumer, Barnes & Noble

ProseccoPremiumizing Prosecco: These days, it’s not enough to increase sales of a product eight-fold. You have to trade consumers up, even if that means you’ll sell less of the product. That’s the situation with Prosecco, the Italian sparklng wine, reports the Shanken News Daily website. Sales have passed 4 million cases, almost exceeding Champagne. But that’s not good enough, say marketers, since Prosecco rarely costs more than $15 – just a fraction of what Champagne costs. So the push over the next several years will be to convince consumers to buy higher-priced Prosecco, even though the reason for its growth and popularity is that it can cost one-third less than Champagne.

Take that, Michigan: Remember the good news about three-tier last week? Not so fast, says the state of Michigan. The liquor cops there, who still seem to have a chip on their shoulder from losing the landmark Granholm case in the Supreme Court in 2005, are cracking down on wineries who ship to consumers in the state. ShipCompliant, which helps producers navigate the various local liquor laws, reports that wineries who don’t list their special Michigan license number on the packing label are being cited. If this seems nitpicky, but it’s all part of the fun that is 50 laws for 50 states.

Bring on the booze: What do you do if you’re a struggling national bookstore chain? Sell beer and wine, of course. Barnes & Noble will add alcohol to stores in Virginia, California, New York, and Minnesota this year in an attempt to boost long-depressed sales. Ironically, Barnes & Noble is suffering at the same time that independent bookstores are enjoying a revival; what does it mean that independents who don’t sell wine are doing better? Hmm. Customer service, perhaps?

Drop dead, restaurant wine prices

restaurant wine prices
Restaurant wine prices are too high, which prevents restaurants from selling more wine and restaurant customers from drinking more wine. Everyone understands this but restaurants (see the cheap wine book and various academic studies); nevertheless, the people who run them seem content to charge higher prices, sell less wine, and make even less money.

The Wine Curmudgeon was reminded of this again on Saturday night during dinner at Urbano’s, probably Dallas’ best-known BYOB restaurant and where the food is more or less moderately priced. During the 2 ½ hours we were there, everyone was drinking wine, most of the tables had more than one bottle (including sparkling and rose, not a common sight), and hardly any of the wine I saw was grocery store plonk. The table next to us, in fact, came prepared with a very expensive wine carryall that contained several pricey bottles.

What was the reason for all that wine? Urbano’s charges $5 per bottle for corkage, so no one had to pay $50 for a bottle from a mediocre wine list. Instead, a table of of four will spend $10 at Urbano’s for two bottles of wine, cutting the bill by at least one-third.

The caveats? Urbano is small, with fewer than a couple of dozen tables, and its reputation as BYOB means it attracts wine drinkers. But given the traditional Dallas antipathy to wine – the bottle at my table when I go out usually gets more than a few stares from the sweet tea drinkers – every table at Urbano’s that had wine speaks volumes about the difference price makes. Because, as our waitress told me, 80 percent of their customers bring their own wine.

So, once again, a plea for fair restaurant wine pricing. I don’t expect wine so cheap that it competes with retail pricing. But would it be so awful if restaurants only doubled the price of the bottle that cost them $10 instead of tripling it?

Mini-reviews 86: Meh wine edition

meh wineReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, meh wine — four wines you probably won’t want to buy.

Lindemans Bin 85 Pinot Grigio 2015 ($6, sample, 12.5%): $6 worth of pinot grigio in the cheap Italian style, more tonic water than anything else. It’s certainly drinkable for people who like this sort of thing, and in its own way an honest wine. But you can do much better for not much more money.

Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($18, sample, 13.5%): Nicely done California white, as always, with varietal grassy character. But not for $18 (after a price increase from last year), and it’s not twice as enjoyable as a quality $10 sauvignon blanc or white Bordeaux.

Camino del Peregrino Albariño 2015 ($5, purchased, 12.5%): Spanish white is almost varietally correct, but there is almost nothing going on save some tart lemon. Certainly drinkable, but probably not worth buying again, even for $5.

Sauvignon Republic Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($8, sample, 12.5%): Thinnish, simple, $8 grocery store white from New Zealand that is OK as long as you don’t have to pay any more for it. This is what’s left after the recession-induced collapse of the high quality Republic of Sauvignon Blanc label, and it’s not nearly the same thing.

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

Wine of the week: Moulin de Gassac Guilhem 2014

Moulin de Gassac GuihemThe Wine Curmudgeon’s crankiness, as regular visitors here know, is not an act. It’s because I am forced to taste so much insulting wine that is sold by retailers who don’t care as long as they make their numbers. Hence $8 wine with a $15 price tag and private label junk dressed in winespeak and a cute label.

So when I find something like the Moulin de Gassac Guilhem ($12, purchased, 12.5%), I buy two bottles. Or even more. This is cheap white wine – and French cheap white wine at that – that reminds us what cheap white wine is supposed to taste like. And that it is made with the little known grenache blanc and the even more obscure clairette doesn’t hurt, either. Take that, fake oak chardonnay!

Look for amazing acidity, tempered by just enough white fruit (barely ripe pears?) and a certain white pepper spiciness. It’s easy to tell that the producer, best known for some highly-rated and pricey wines from southern France, cares about the cheap stuff, too.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.

Winebits 443: Three-tier system excitement

Three-tier systemThis week’s wine news features our old pal the three-tier system, but it’s mostly good news – including some of the biggest changes in state liquor laws since Prohibition.

Well done, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania wine drinkers, who have suffered for years at the hands of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and its infamous state stores, will soon be able to buy wine at a retailer not owned by the state. Somehow, despite years of political impasse, the legislature passed a bill that the governor signed that will allow hundreds of restaurants, hotels, and grocery and convenience stores that sell take-out beer to sell bottles of wine. As the story notes, passage was almost anti-climactic given how bitter the debate has been for years.

Wine in N.Y. supermarkets? Perhaps, reports the MPNNow website in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes wine country. New York remains the biggest market where grocery stores can’t sell wine in the U.S., and attempts to allow it have failed for decades. The impetus this time? Pennsylvania’s new law that allows grocers to sell wine, and which not only may send New York residents across the border to buy wine, but reduce the number of Pennsylvanians going to New York to shop in its liquor stores and visit its wineries. The story is well written, and hints at the contentious debate that will ensue if the issue makes it to the state legislature.

Colorado signs up, too: Expect to see wine in Colorado supermarkets, as well, after legislators agreed to a law that allows grocers, Walmart, and Target to compete directly with liquor stores and allows each to expand sales to 20 locations in phases over 20 years. Current law limits each chain to sales at one location in the state. The bill, a compromise, faces a court fight from those who want to eliminate all restrictions and allow groceries to sell wine, beer, and spirits in all locations immediately.