Tag Archives: moscato

wine of week

Wine of the week: Sara Bee Moscato NV

sara bee moscato Sweet wine is not easy to review, and this doesn’t even take into account that a lot of sweet wine isn’t worth reviewing — poorly made, sweeter than Coke, and as cynical as a carnival barker. Many of the Wine Curmudgeon’s readers — half? more? — will skip this review in annoyance and some will even cancel their email subscription in disgust.

But let it not be said that I am easily intimidated.

The Italian Sara Bee Moscato ($7, purchased, 5.5%) is one of the best sweet wines I’ve tasted in years, and especially at this price. Yes, it’s sweet — probably somewhere around a high-end soft drink like Jones Soda — but there is plenty of orange fruit aroma, common to the moscato grape, apricot, some wonderful “fermentato,” which translates into light, fun bubbles, and even a bit of crispness (usually missing in most sweet wines at this price).

I drank it with some delicately-spiced Indian takeout, and the sweetness correctly played off the spice. It would also work as a dessert wine; something with chocolate, perhaps? Sweet wine drinkers, of course, won’t bother with any of that. Chill it well, add an ice cube or two if you want, and enjoy.

So what’s the catch? The Sara Bee is made by Santero, a dependable producer of grocery-store priced Italian sparkling wine, but this is a private label for the Trader Joe’s chain. This means two things: Trying to get information about the wine is almost impossible, since Trader Joe’s doesn’t like to return phone calls, and you can’t buy it anywhere else. If you’re in a state without a Trader Joe’s or one that doesn’t sell wine — in New York and Pennsylvania, for instance — you’re out of luck.

This is a $10 Hall of Fame wine, but because of the availability problems, I probably won’t add it next year. But if you have $7, are near a Trader Joe’s that sells wine, and are curious about the Sara Bee, don’t hesitate to try it.

wine news

Winebits 312: Sales trends edition

? YellowTail growth resumes: Remember all those stories about how the strong Australian dollar and YellowTail’s financial problems were going to mean the end of an era for Aussie wine? Not true, apparently. The biggest imported brand in the U.S. expects 2 1/2 percent gorwth this year, reaching almost 9 million cases. Driving that growth are the brand’s two sweet red labels, including a sangria. That YellowTail has rebounded from its problems says much about its marketing skill, but also speaks about its clout with retailers. How many other brands could have slumped the way YellowTail did, but not lose shelf space and even added space for two more wines? In this respect, Big Wine is becoming more and more like other consumer goods, be they ketchup or detergent, with all the means — good and bad — for the consumer.

? Is craft beer headed for a bust? This matters to wine not only because craft beer competes for drinkers with wine, especially in the younger demographics, but because the growth in craft beer (“But even such a healthy rise in consumer demand won’t be enough to sustain the many new breweries jumping into the marketplace“) has similarities to what happened in California with “boutique” wineries heading into the recession and with the unprecedented growth in moscato and sweet red over the past couple of years. What’s interesting is that someone in craft beer has noticed what ?s going on, while almost everyone in wine was in denial before the recession and during the moscato and sweet red boom.

? If you can sell wine on-line. ..: You can sell a lot of it. That was the experience of the British supermarket chain Tesco, which doesn’t face the three-tier restrictions that U.S. retailers face in this country. The story, on the drinks business trade magazine site, says sales may have gone up as much as 51 percent over the same period last year, and offers all the reasons why that is so. Contrast this with Amazon’s wine marketplace, which after nine months still can’t sell wine in all 50 states.


Barefoot wine review 2013

Barefoot wine review 2013This year, the Wine Curmudgeon picked two Barefoot award winners to review ? the pink moscato, which earned a double gold this month at a prestigious California competition, and the merlot, which got a gold at the 2011 Critics Challenge (the 2013 version of which I judged over the weekend).

The 2014 Barefoot wine review

My impressions? Both were sound, not flawed, provided value, and were much more impressive than the pinot noir and sauvignon blanc in the 2012 Barefoot review.

I write an annual Barefoot review because hardly anyone one else does; the Winestream Media can ?t be bothered reviewing wines that people actually drink. Not surprisingly, the Barefoot post is always among the most popular on the blog, with Barefoot reviews coming in at No. 2 and No. 4 in 2012 ?s top 10. This year, it was heartening to see others taking up the cause, and my annual Google search found a handful of other recent reviews. How can one not appreciate a blog called Honest Wine Reviews?

The pink moscato ($6, purchased, 9%), made with California grapes and non-vintage, was surprisingly balanced for a wine cashing in on the moscato craze. Think of it as sweet pink lemonade with a bit of fizziness, and make sure to chill it. Having said that, it was firmly sweet, much more in the style of white zinfandel than rose. But, having said that, it was one of the best sweet wines I ?ve tasted recently, and especially for the price.

Was it a double gold medal wine? Yes and no. When I first tasted it, the moscato didn ?t seem much more than a very well-made, lemony white zinfandel. But, on a hunch, I tasted it after I tried the merlot, and the difference was amazing. That ?s when I got the pink lemonade, and the wine tasted fuller and more complete. I ?d have given it gold, too, and I think I know what happened.

The contrast with the merlot, which was drier and more tannic, brought out the moscato ?s flavors. This happens all the time in wine competitions, where judges alternate between colors to lessen palate fatigue, and that was probably the case at this competition.

The most noticeable flavor in the merlot ($5, purchased, 13%) was caramel. Who knows how many valiant oak chips sacrificed their lives for this wine? In this, the merlot goes for the chocolate cherry flavor that so many casual wine drinkers look for, and mostly succeeds. It ?s a simple wine (also made with California grapes and non-vintage), and is almost certainly not the one that won a gold two years ago. A merlot from Bogle or McManis would be more interesting. But you ?ll get your $5 worth with the Barefoot.

Ironically, I chilled the merlot before I tasted it, on the theory that some cheap red wines are better cooler. That wasn ?t the case here, and the wine needs to be red wine temperature (60-ish F/16-ish C) to be at its best. And don ?t worry if you smell burnt rubber or cork when you open the bottle, something I ?ve noticed with many Barefoot reds. The aroma goes away quickly (in wine terms, it blows off), and is probably a function of the sulfur used to help preserve the wine.

For more on Barefoot wine:
The Internet loves Barefoot and Cupcake wine
Barefoot and the wine magazines
Barefoot wines (again): Value or just cheap?

Winebits 246: Alcohol laws, wine blogging, moscato

? Think it ?s bad here? Andrew Jefford in Decanter talks about wine laws in Europe, where there seems to be a more civilized approach than what we manage in the U.S. with the three-tier system. At least, writes Jefford, it ?s more civilized most of the time: ?The European scene doesn ?t smell quite so strongly of market control, but the dream of direct shipment from producers to consumers within the European Union remains precisely that: a dream. ? In fact, the state-controlled retailing system in Sweden and Finland doesn ?t sound all that different from the infamous Pennsylvania state stores.

? Must-read wine blogs: And, of course, the Wine Curmudgeon is not among them. Fortunately, the compiler has the wisdom to mention the award-winning Italian Wine Guy. It ?s a good thing that I have such high self-esteem; otherwise, all this being ignored would send me to a dark room, where I would lie on the bed and whimper. And, as long we ?re talking about being ignored, there ?s a long story in the Northwestern University alumni magazine about NU types in the wine business ? which also doesn ?t include me, Medill class of '79. There are some really important people, though, like Stephanie Gallo (yes, of those Gallos) and Dr. Vino.

? Mixing moscato and cognac: Am I the only one who doesn ?t understand what ?s going on with moscato? Or big booze companies? Shanken News Daily reports that Beam, the multi-national drinks company, is introducing Courvoisier Gold, a blend of Cognac and moscato  — yes, moscato, the sweet white wine. And they expect consumers to pay $25 for it, too. Here ?s what ?s confusing: If consumers won ?t pay $25 for a bottle sweet wine, and the story notes that consumers aren't buying as much Courvoisier as before, why would anyone buy a blend of the two?

Winebits 242: Moscato, lawsuits, wine prices

? Is the moscato craze over? The Wine Curmudgeon wonders, because plans have been announced for a $15 moscato called SIP, from the same people who do Layer Cake. Given that moscato ?s popularity is based on the fact that it ?s cheap and sweet, that someone thinks there is a market for a pricey moscato that is not quite as sweet means the wise guys are starting to look at the moscato market. And when the wise guys start to look at something, it ?s time for the rest of us to look elsewhere.

? Copycat bottles? Yes, another wine business intellectual property dispute. This time, reports thedrinksbusiness.com, one Champagne maker is threatening to sue another because the latter ?s bottle shape is too similar to the former ?s. Apparently, there is more than just the way the bottle looks ? this particular shape affects how the wine ages or tastes or something. I ?m not quite clear on that. Still, aren ?t you glad I follow this stuff, so you don ?t have to?

? ?Get over it! ? Or so says the Wine Spectator ?s Matt Kramer, who is apparently tired of hearing people complain about various parts of the wine business, including wine prices. ?Now, you or I may not like it. Hell, we most certainly do not like it. But what we like or don't like is pretty much beside the point. The juggernaut will keep rolling. ? Ah, bliss ? is it any wonder I so enjoy the Spectator?

Mini-reviews 34: Chateau Malescot, Hess, LangeTwins, Henri Perrusset

Reviews 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:

? Ch teau Malescot St. Exup ry 2005 ($28, purchased): This cabernet sauvingon blend from Bordeaux is exceedingly capable wine, and given that it comes from one of the vintages of the century, it's practically a steal. Having said that, it doesn't taste especially French, but more California — a plummy, peppery aroma, lots of red fruit, chalky tannins and a long finish. My brother, who sometimes contributes his thoughts on pricier wines for the blog, would probably enjoy this as a birthday present.

? Hess Collection Sauvignon Blanc Allomi Vineyard ($18, sample): Interesting and solid white wine from Napa Valley, which doesn't taste like too many other sauvignon blancs. That means a touch of oak that gives the wine a little more richness to go with with California grassiness and some citrus.

? LangeTwins Moscato 2010 ($13, sample): This sweet white California wine is clean and fresh, with aromas of orange blossoms and lime. But there isn't much in the middle, and the finish is short — it leaves a sweet aftertaste without any acid to compensate.

? Domaine Henri Perrusset M con-Villages ($20, purchased): Yes, $20 is a lot to pay for a French villages wine, but this comes with the Kermit Lynch imprimatur. So it's worth it. This chardonnay from the Macon region of Burgundy is almost elegant, which is very surprising for a basic level bottle. It has lots of apple and citrus zest, but also an underlying layer of richness that is not often seen on villages wines.

Sweet red wine, part I

sweet red wine

Today’s sweet red wines are much different from sweet reds like Manischewitz.

This is the first of two parts looking at sweet red wine, which could become as important to the wine business as white zinfandel once was. Today, a sweet red overview. Part II, which looks at sweet reds and what they taste like, posted Feb. 20.

Moscato is getting all of the attention, and no one — not even the Wine Curmudgeon — would argue that it ?s not the latest wine craze. It ?s difficult to argue with those sales numbers, even if there are a lot of caveats.

But that doesn ?t mean moscato is the next big thing, like white zinfandel used to be. Dig deeper, though, past the moment, and you ?ll see the trend that has the potential to not only turn into the next fad, but to significantly change the wine business in the United States. It ?s sweet red wine, something that even the most dollar-grubbing producers have always been a little ashamed of.

But be ashamed no more. Sweet red wines are racking up sales, and producers big and small are launching sweet reds. E&J Gallo ?s Apothic was one of the best sellers in the $8-$11 category last year, while Beringer — which knows a thing or two about sweet wine — expects to sell one-half million cases of its red moscato this year.

?Sweet red wine is very relevant to the marketplace, ? says Shawn Bavaresco, who directs brand development for the company that makes Pacific Rim riesling and which sells Sweet Bliss, which has a sweet red. ?We ?ve seen the demand, so we ?re going to be very responsive. We want to be out front on this. ?

Sweet red Sweet red wine has been such a pariah in the U.S. wine business that white zinfandel seems like a first-growth Bordeaux in comparison. I asked one respected winemaker, hardly a traditionalist himself, about sweet red wine, and he just rolled his eyes.

Sweet red was traditionally the province of Kosher wines like Manischewitz and Mogen David (insert joke here). Even today, when Constellation Brands is the second biggest wine company in the world, people still make cracks about its beginnings as an upstate New York winery called Canandaigua that did sweet red wine.

Real wine drinkers don ?t drink sweet red wine, as any number of real wine drinkers will tell you.

That perspective is changing quickly. Sweet red sales, says Nielsen, grew 172 1/2 percent in the 13 weeks ending Jan. 7, which was even faster than moscato’s increase. Yes, some of the same caveats that apply to moscato apply here, like big growth from a small base. But there is more going on than that.

Sweet red wine is relatively easy to make and can be made with almost any red grapes (or white grapes, for that matter). This is in contrast to a varietal wine like moscato, which needs a grape that is in short supply. And the people buying sweet red are women and the other demographic that marketers crave — the Millennials, who will soon replace the Baby Boomers as the most important consumer demographic in the country. (If they haven ?t already.) And they seem be part of the group that continues to elude the wine business — beginning wine drinkers.

?Why is everyone so surprised that Millennials, who drink Coke for breakfast, would want to drink sweet wine says Barry Sheridan, vice president of marketing for Treasury Wine Estates, which owns Beringer.

So how did sweet red go from pariah to favorite in just a couple of years? Talk to different people, and you ?ll get different explanations. But the one consistent seems to be the recession, which knocked so many producers down (and even a couple out). Sweet red wine doesn ?t require expensive grapes, because the wine ?s sweetness masks any flaws that cheaper, bulk grapes might have. So sweet red can be sold for the lower prices that consumers embraced during the recession.

Meanwhile, restoring margins and revenue that went away during the recession will go a long toward placating anyone still embarrassed about making and selling sweet red.

And, as Sheridan, noted, it ?s not a difficult sell to a demographic that likes sweets. It ?s also telling that Pacific Rim ?s sweetest wine accounted for 70 percent of riesling sales over the last two vintages — an amazing figure given that much of the wine business seems to go out of its way to convince consumers that sweet wine isn ?t something they want to buy. Imagine how much sweet red the business can sell if it makes an effort and produces professionally made wine.