Tag Archives: wine rants

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Buzzfeed puts wine in its place

The Buzzfeed website, the arbiter of all things cool for everyone who isn’t an old white guy, takes on wine in this 3:20 video. And wine doesn’t come off well — at all. Or, as one of the participants says, “I could get really drunk on that.”

The Wine Curmudgeon mentions this as part of my decades-long campaign to demystify the wine business, on the assumption that consumers will drink more wine and enjoy it more if they understand it. Also, to remind my colleagues that most U.S. wine drinkers don’t care about toasty and oaky, points, or orange wine. They want affordable quality, and quality is not measured by most of the foolishness we bore them with.

Because, as another video participant says, “Oh, these wines, they really taste like something you’d pour on a cut.”

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Is it time to end the Champagne boycott?

Champagne boycottThe Wine Curmudgeon has boycotted Champagne for almost two years to support Champagne Jayne Powell, the Australian wine writer who was sued by the bully boys at the Champagne trade group, CIVC, for no reason that any reasonable person would understand. Powell mostly won the suit, which accused her of trespassing on the Champagne trade name, but only after spending A$75,000 (about US$55,000) in legal expenses she will never see again.

Powell, who was under a gag order during the suit, gave one of her first interviews a couple of weeks ago, and she didn’t mince words. “I refused to give in to the CIVC; I have a strong sense of fairness: I would not succumb to such outrageous behaviour,” she told the British trade magazine thedrinksbusiness.

Sadly, almost no one else thought it was outrageous behavior. Too many wine writers ignored what was happening, and people even made fun of me for the boycott. Which wasn’t the worst part, of course. I wasn’t the one being sued, and I didn’t have to pay attorneys and lose business while I fought against a trade group whose members are worth billions. And I didn’t wait in vain for my colleagues to support me and denounce the CIVC.

Hence I am hesitant to end my Champagne boycott. The lawsuit was despicable, and I don’t want to reward the CIVC for trying to deny Powell one of the most basic of human rights, free speech. And yes, I understand that my almost solitary act of defiance made almost no difference, and that the CIVC probably doesn’t even know I did it. But it was still the right thing to do.

That’s the tough part about being one of the good guys. You have to do things even when you know that what you do probably won’t matter. In the end, how we act should not be about money or currying favor or getting free samples, but right and wrong – even if you’re a wine writer.

So consider the Champagne boycott still in force. I’ll taste it when I have to, probably for my El Centro class, and if I run across something that seems worthwhile, I’ll consider writing about it. But the idea of spending my time or money to help a group that did what the CIVC did to Powell remains as repugnant today as it was a couple of years ago.

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The wine premiumization stranglehold gets tighter

wine premiumizationA $28 rose sample arrived the other day, which says pretty much everything that needs to be said about the speed and ferocity of wine premiumization’s takeover of the wine business. The world needs a $28 rose like we need more terrorism, pestilence, and famine, but since the wise guys and their numbers say we want to drink more expensive wine, we’ve got one.

In addition, California grape prices continue to rise, despite what seems like a plentiful supply of grapes. That’s because the best quality grapes, which are used in more expensive wines, aren’t as plentiful, and their prices have increased by as much as 50 percent over the last couple of years. In fact, speakers at a recent trade seminar said that as prices continue to go up, wineries may have to use cheaper and lesser quality grapes to maintain their profit margins. In other words, $15 wine as the new $8 wine.

This embrace of wine premiumization also explains many of the dozens of high-dollar winery acquisitions over the past couple of years. Big Wine’s thinking (and even that at some not so big wine companies) is that it’s more efficient to buy an existing winery, which already has customers and a brand (as well as grapes), than it is to start from scratch. So if you have to overpay, so be it.

In this, quality seems to be the one thing left behind. I wrote in January that the push to premiumization has resulted in some of the worst winemaking I’ve seen since I started the blog, and things have only gotten worse. The $28 rose was not exceptional in any way, and that was one of the least offensive wines I’ve tasted this spring. A four-year-old California pinot noir not only had too much fake oak, but tasted purposely oxidized. I mentioned this decline in quality to a colleague the other day, not nearly as cranky, and he agreed with my assessment, and especially for wine from California and wine that costs as much as $20 a bottle.

That’s the difference between now and the bad old days before the recession, when it seemed like everyone was racing to charge $100 a bottle. Those wines were overpriced, but at least you could drink some of them. Increasingly, more and more premiumized wines are barely fit for the drain in the kitchen sink.

So until things change, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll just have to pour and bear it.

More about wine premiumization:
Premiumization: Are wine drinkers really trading up?
Is the U.S. wine boom over?
Wine prices up, wine quality down in 2016?