Tag Archives: wine laws

wine news

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?

wine news

Is this the end of For Sale in Texas Only?

For sale in Texas onlyA proposed change to federal wine label laws could mean the end for wine that says For Sale in Texas Only – a term that implies that a wine is local when it might be made with grapes from anywhere in the world.

The Treasury department’s tax and trade bureau announced this week that it wants to revise the regulations that allow a wine to carry For Sale in Only designation. In Texas, we call it FSTO – which stands for For Sale in Texas Only – but you’ll see FSO labels in every state: For Sale in Colorado Only, For Sale in Pennsylvania Only, and so forth.

Under the new rules, wines labeled FSO won’t be allowed to list the vintage or the grape it is made with, like cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay. Currently, FSO wines can list both and look local in almost every respect, save that they don’t have a state name or other appellation on the front label. The only clue that they aren’t local is a line in small type on the back label that says FSO, and that only wine writers, wine geeks, and winemakers understand.

FSO is sometimes used to circumvent appellation laws when the wine isn’t made with enough local fruit for it to have a state name. This is unfortunately common in regional wine, and has been an especial problem in Texas for the past decade or so, as the number of wineries has almost doubled and grape acreage hasn’t kept up.

That’s because appellation laws require that 75 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must come from that state for it to labeled Texas (or whatever). If a wine is made with less than 75 percent local grapes, it must use the word American on the front label, something producers don’t like to do because it’s obvious that the wine isn’t local. And what’s the point of local wine that isn’t local?

Hence the FSO label.

It’s important to note that FSO isn’t illegal and that many producers use it legitimately. The problem comes when it’s used to disguise non-local wine as local. That, apparently, was the impetus for the rules change – a Georgia winery selling an FSO wine made with Napa Valley grapes in North Carolina, and which caught the attention of a key Napa trade group and the Napa Valley’s U.S. congressman.

In fact, a spokeswoman for U.S. House Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif)., who chairs the Congressional wine caucus, emailed me to say that FSO in the Georgia case was “a TTB labeling loophole” and “works against strict and rigorous labeling rules to ensure that consumers know exactly what they are purchasing.”

The actual rules proposal is almost indecipherable unless you practice liquor law. My thanks to Austin attorney Kimberly Frost, who did her usual brilliant job in explaining it to me. The new rules will limit FSO wines to terms like red wine or white wine on the front label, in the hope that producers will use the more accurate American appellation so they can list the grapes and the vintage..

One irony to all this? The new FSO rules may give regional producers incentive to buy California bulk wine and put their label on it. That means  we could see more California wine sold by wineries in the other 47 — Texas-bottled Russian River pinot noir, anyone? That’s because the revisions will allow producers to use grape names and vintage on California bulk wine, which they couldn’t do if they bought California grapes or grape juice and combined them with local grapes to make FSO wine.

The tax and trade bureau is taking comments until Aug. 22, but there’s no time frame on when the rules will take effect. My guess, given how slowly the agency works, is that we won’t see anything until the middle of next year, and it could be even later than that.

 

wine news

Winebits 351: Wine glasses, wine laws, and economic growth

wine news wine glasses ? Do wine glasses matter? The answer is no, says the Vinepair website in a post that includes the sentence, “Any industry that marries the existence of experts, the spending of cash, and the words ‘acquired taste’ as exquisitely as the wine industry does is bound to intimidate the uninitiated.” Which was a guarantee the Wine Curmudgeon would write about it. The post dismisses the idea that different shapes matter — a Bordeaux glass, a Burgundy glass, and so forth — and cites several studies and zings Riedel, the big glass company, repeatedly. Most of which makes sense, since I’ve never been convinced spending $100 for a glass is going to make all that much difference. The difference comes, I think, in whether you use well-made glasses instead of poorly-made ones. I buy the Forte from Schott Zwiesel, about $10 a glass, and am content. That’s about the twice the price of Libbey glasses, but the expense seems worth it.

? Hell no, we ain’t reformin’: Pennsylvania’s state-controlled liquor store system has been the subject of much controversy as well as repeated demands for privatization. Reform seems as far away as ever, despite all the effort, and I’ve discovered the reason: Money. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which runs the stores, is a $2.24 billion business. Which is damned big — almost twice the annual sales of Crate & Barrel and only one-sixth the total of Whole Foods, even though the upscale grocer is a national company with more than 360 stores. How many state legislators, regardless of political persuasion, are going to throw away that much money? I’m not even sure I would.

? Not just rich people drink wine: There’s a long and surprisingly boring post on Forbes discussing whether wine sales can predict economic growth. If someone can figure out what it actually says, let me know. As near as I can tell, it says that high-end wine sales are a predictor of U.S. economic health, which is not true and seems a silly thing for someone at Forbes to say. Because only five percent of the U.S. population buys wine that costs $20 or more, and the average price of a bottle of wine is about $10. So what the price of vineyard land in Napa Valley has to do with economic growth is beyond me. Which is probably why I do this and don’t write for Forbes.

wine news

Winebits 346: Lawsuits, drunks, cheap wine

wine lawsuits ? Get off my horse: Chateau Cheval Blanc, the top-rated Bordeaux producer whose wines can cost thousands of dollars a bottle, is suing Domaine du Cheval Blanc, a small family-owned Bordeaux winery that hardly anyone has heard of, claiming the latter must change its name. The Wine Curmudgeon mentions this because of his interest in wine lawsuits and their inherent foolishness, in which the biggest companies pursue legal action for no other reason than they can. Because, honestly, who would confuse this wine with this wine? But not this wine with this wine? Wine-Searcher.com reports that Chateau Cheval Blanc, which lost the case once, won on appeal and has returned to court to force Domaine du Cheval Blanc to pick a new name. The story is complicated, as most are for those of us who aren’t trademark attorneys, but the upshot is that it looks like Chateau will win. And people wonder why I get so cranky.

? Turn up the Beethoven: Commit lots of alcohol-related crimes in London? Then you’ll be forced to wear ankle tags that monitor the levels of alcohol in your sweat. Yes, it’s all very “Clockwork Orange,” but London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has other concerns. Drunks deter ?law-abiding citizens from enjoying our great city, especially at night.” The impetus for the idea? The success of similar ankle systems with drunk drivers in the U.S. So glad the British can learn something from us, especially after all they have given this country.

? Drink that cheap wine: English wine consultant Jerry Lockspeiser writes in Harpers, a British trade magazine, that consumers are perfectly happy buying cheap wine, noting that there is no correlation between price and wine people like. Then he asks: If consumers are happy, why does the wine business try so hard to sell them expensive wine? The Wine Curmudgeon practically swooned when he read that. The interesting bit, of course, is the question, which he answers in two parts: That the business is convinced it will make more money off pricey wine, which may or may not be true, and that they’re snobs: “… we pity the poor souls who have not see the light. We know, because we are chosen.” I should send this guy a cheap wine book, no?

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 234: Internet alcohol, Burgundy, Ray Bradbury

? British on-line booze ban? A report has called for the government to crack down on on-line liquor sales in the United Kingdom, reports the Harpers trade publication. The author told the magazine that traditional retailers were doing such a good job in preventing underage drinking that more teens and pre-teens were turning to on-line retailers to buy alcohol. This study follows in the wake of a U.S. report that found much the same thing here, and called for stronger state and federal laws to prevent underage purchases.

? More affordable Burgundy? Regular visitors here know that the Wine Curmudgeon has long lamented the high cost of wine from the French region of Burgundy, and especially red Burgundy, perhaps the world ?s best pinot noir.  That may be changing, thanks to new a appellation law that changes the way the old AOC, entry level wines were made. This may well help producers to make better and more affordable wine, reports Shanken News Daily. That ?s the goal, anyway. Whether it actually happens is something far too complicated to predict, given the French winemaking mindset.

? Ray Bradbury: Someone else found Ray Bradbury ?s death worth noting on a wine blog. Wrote Paul Mabry at Vintank, who once briefly met Bradbury: ?I watched mesmerized by the man whose books I ?d devoured through my childhood. He spoke as passionately and as effortlessly as it felt reading his writing. At the end, on his way out of the chateau, I was allowed to shake his hand. I offered him a clumsy letter that I had taken three weeks to write thanking him. When I handed him the letter he softly touched my face and said, ?Do great things, son, do great things. ? ?