Mini-reviews 124: Freemark Abbey, Bogle rose, Lacrima, Terra Alpina

Freemark AbbeyReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month

Freemark Abbey Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2018 ($21, sample, 13.7%): Competent, mostly enjoyable California style sauvignon blanc (some grass, some citrus) with richness in the mouth but a surprisingly short finish. Hence, this white wine speaks to how difficult it is to offer value in entry level Napa wine. Because these days, $21 is entry level Napa wine.

Bogle Vineyards Rose 2018 ($10, sample, 13%): Thin, bitter, and slightly sweet California pink wine with almost no redeeming qualities. Rose for people who buy buy rose at the supermarket because someone tells them they should buy rose.

Marotti Campi Rùbico 2018 ($18, purchased, 13%): Intriguing Italian red made with the little known lacrima grape from the Marche wine region, which is best known for white wine. It resembles a quality Beaujolais – lots of red berry fruit, not too much acidity, and just enough heft to be interesting. Price is problematic, since you can buy better wine for less money. Imported by Dionysus Imports

Terra Alpina Pinot Grigo 2018 ($15, sample, 12.5%): Alois Lageder makes some of the best Italian white wine in the world.  This is apparently its second label, but why it would sully its name with this very ordinary and overpriced tonic water pinot grigio is beyond me.

Photo: “When in Italy” by simon.wright is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Follow-up: Paul Tincknell and the woes of wine marketing

More examples showing that wine marketing lacks imagination and doesn’t focus on why people drink wine

Last week’s podcast with Sonoma wine marketing guru Paul Tincknell elicited a fair amount of comment, especially since it ran at the end of the summer when most people have other things to do besides listen to podcasts about the decades-long failure of wine marketing.

As one reader emailed me: “Commercials showing people drinking grocery store wine at swank parties? People get paid for coming up with that stuff?”

Paul received some feedback, too. A colleague shared data with him about a 2009 wine consumption survey: “The results,” Paul emailed me, “are fascinating and confirm that – guess what! – people drink wine with family and friends at meals or in casual situations.” The colleague told Paul that the survey results were given to almost every important wine marketing and trade group in the country, but that, “of course, the industry immediately ignored their work.”

In other words, the business has known for at least a decade how U.S. consumers enjoy wine and the best way to market to them: Show people drinking wine at dinner with their friends and family. That hardly seems like a creative reach. (And we’re not the only ones who have seen this — check out this rant from Paul Mabray, who is generally regarded as one of best wine and consumer experts in the country).

Instead, we get epic silliness like the Kim Crawford “Undo ordinary” commercial, a long-time favorite of blog readers. And, no, it didn’t get an almost unprecedented 33 comments or become one of the blog’s most visited posts because everyone thought it was cutting edge genius.

In fact, Kim Crawford (owned by Big Wine’s Constellation Brands) seems to go out of its way to show up in these kinds of analyses. Paul sent me two especially foolish commercials; the one that made me giggle the most is at the top of this post, called “Make it Amazing.” Who knew I had sway my butt just so to be a cool, sophisticated wine drinker? The other, called “Elevate the Moment,” looks like something from a short-lived 1990s PBS series about rich people.

Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

Video courtesy of Kim Crawford Wines via YouTube using a Creative Commons license

Wine of the week: Chateau La Graviere Blanc 2018

The new vintage of the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year shows the Chateau La Graviere Blanc at its $10 best

What does the Chateau La Graviere Blanc, the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year, do for an encore? Produce another interesting, value-driven wine in the new vintage.

The Chateau La Graviere Blanc ($10, purchased, 13%), a French white blend from Bordeaux, has been one of the joys of my wine drinking over the past couple of years. It has remained high-quality $10 wine at a time when too much of the wine world cares more about adding sugar and raising prices.

The 2018 version of the Chateau La Graviere Blanc is richer and heavier than the 2017, thanks to the semillon blended with the sauvignon blanc. But know that neither is a bad thing; it shows off the wine’s terroir and reminds us that vintage differences can make a wine more interesting.

Look for some citrus and an almost California aroma of grassiness. There is lots of minerality, which is what a white Bordeaux should have, and the fullness in the mouth moves toward a long and clean finish. This is a food wine, but you can also chill and sip it when you want a glass of after work.

Highly recommended, and it will return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2020.

Imported by Luneau USA

Winebits 607: Amazon wine, cheap wine, ancient wine

amazon wineThis week’s wine news: Amazon may deliver wine in San Francisco, plus one wine reviewer fails to find quality cheap wine and archaeologists discover an ancient winery

Amazon wine delivery: Amazon, twice thwarted in its attempt to sell wine over the Internet, may have found a way around the problem: Local delivery. The cyber-ether giant has applied for a license to open a liquor store at its San Francisco warehouse, where it would sell beer, wine, and spirits. Amazon’s license application says the store would be open 8 a.m.-4 p.m., but it would deliver alcohol from 8 a.m. to midnight. Oddly, this seems to be what Amazon has been doing in Los Angeles, without anyone finding out until Blake Gray visited the store. He reports that it seems to be violating a variety of California’s liquor regulations.

Where is all the cheap wine? All Winethropology’s Steve McIntosh wanted to do was buy “a mixed case of inexpensive wine. My target price range was $10-13, and my objective was to have some bottles around to enjoy with weeknight meals. Nothing extravagant, just a handful each of summer-friendly reds and whites.” Which, of course, is what most of us want. Does it seem like asking a lot? So what happened after visits to three independent retailers in and around Columbus, Ohio? “I failed. Miserably. Five bottles with an average price of $14 made it home with me. … Has wine become so expensive now that drinkable $10-12 wines are the unicorns of the industry?” Regular visitors here well understand what happened to Steve, since I’ve been lamenting the same thing for a couple of years. Steve’s analysis of premiumization is spot on.

A long, long time ago: Excavations in a northern Israeli hilltop town have discovered the largest Crusader-era winery yet found in that part of the world. The winery dates from the mid-12th century, when European Christians established a series of small kingdoms and principalities in the wake of the 11th century First Crusade. The area around the winery had been planted with vines during the Roman and Crusader periods. As such, it would have likely been the center of wine production in that region, where local grape growers would be required to bring their crops as rent or dues.

Federal appeals court slaps down Texas Walmart liquor stores

Texas Walmart liquor storeDoes the appeal court’s Texas Walmart liquor store ruling diss the Supreme Court?

Remember the Supreme Court’s June Tennessee decision about out-of-state retailers?

That’s the one that was supposed to free us from the shackles of the antiquated, Prohibition-era three-tier system of liquor regulation. If so, the U.S. Fifth Circuit of Appeals wasn’t paying attention. It ruled last week that a Texas law that forbids public companies like Walmart from owning liquor stores may not be unconstitutional.

In other words, Tennessee can’t discriminate against out-of-state retailers, but Texas may be able to discriminate against publicly-owned retailers.

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

“We could be right back at the Supreme Court,” says Taylor Rex Robertson, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in Dallas. “The appeals court may have taken the easy way out.”

In this, Robertson says, the appeals court didn’t exactly rule that the Texas law is constitutional. Instead, it disagreed with the way the trial court judge analyzed the case and applied the law. Rather than make a decision, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial judge to do what needs to be done to analyze the case correctly. Call this a technicality, but one of the technicalities that oils the gears of the legal system.

And why not a technicality, since this is three-tier? If anything, the almost totally unexpected decision in the Texas Walmart liquor store case proves just how resilient three-tier is. Because it was a shock; the trial court had called the Texas law “irrational.”

Controversy, controversy, controversy

Still, it’s not like these kinds of contradictory decisions are unusual. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruling that allowed wineries to ship directly to consumers was supposed to end three-tier’s stranglehold. Until it didn’t.

Or, as a friend of mine put it: “Precedent? There’s no such thing as precedent when it comes to three-tier.”

Legally, the two decisions weren’t about exactly the same thing, even if an out-of-state retailer and a publicly-held retailer may seem to be pretty much alike to those of us who buy wine. But in the convoluted and tortured system that was set up to keep Al Capone out the liquor business after Prohibition, they’re vastly different. (Which, without boring you with legal-ese, is sort of why the appeals court did what it did.)

Hence, the Supreme Court ruled that barring out-of-state retailers wouldn’t necessarily promote the health and safety of Tennessee residents, which is the litmus test for a law’s constitutionality. The Supremes said an out-of-state retailer could just as effectively promote the health and safety as a local retailer. But in the Texas Walmart liquor store case, the appeals court said that there is no evidence that publicly-held retailers couldn’t promote the health and safety of Texas residents as effectively as privately-held companies could.

In other words, a Total Wine employee in Tennessee would card underage shoppers, fill out the state’s booze-related paperwork, and buy only from approved wholesalers more effectively than a Walmart employee in Texas would.

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

No, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. The only certainty, says Robertson, is that the Texas Walmart liquor store saga isn’t gon away anytime soon. What I do know is that whatever glimmer of hope we had that it would be easier to buy wine in the near future has glimmered away.

Drawing courtesy of Peter Hudspith via Flickr using a Creative Commons license

Winecast 38: Paul Tincknell and the woes of wine marketing

Paul Tincknell

Paul Tincknell

Wine marketing guru Paul Tincknell says wine marketing lacks imagination and doesn’t focus on why people drink wine. Which is why we get foolishness like Yellow Tail’s Roo

Paul Tincknell, a partner in the Sonoma marketing consultancy of Tincknell & Tincknell, has watched wine market itself every which way but well in his two-plus decades in the business.

The problem, he says, is simple: People drink wine with dinner, but when’s the last time you saw wine sell itself that way? Instead, we get stupid humor or faux sophistication, none of which appeals to the younger consumers who see wine as something that their parents and grandparents drink.

We talked about why this is and how to solve it, as well as how to to market wine in the face of the neo-Prohibitionists. Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 10 minutes long and takes up 3.6 megabytes. The sound quality is almost excellent, despite several problems during the recording (and my inability to remember that the Mexican beer we talk about is Corona).

More about wine marketing:
Wine business: Watch this beer spot to see how TV wine ads should be done
Hendrick’s gin: How to do a TV booze commercial
TV wine ads: Almost 40 years of awful

Wine prices, razor blades, and premiumization

razor blads

“Dude, shaving is so old school.”

“Lower shaving frequency” is a fancy way of saying razor blades cost too much, which means men don’t shave as often

More men are apparently growing beards, costing one of the biggest companies in the world $8 billion this year. The reason? “Lower shaving frequency,” according to the financial analysts. I prefer the reason given by one of the Millennials quoted in the story in the link: Razor blades cost too much money.

In other words, men aren’t shaving as much; they’re shaving better. Sound familiar?

In this, the wine and razor businesses are eerily similar. A handful of big companies control each category, which means oligopoly pricing. A razor and two or three blades can cost more than $20, and there’s no way the actual cost of a little metal and some plastic is anywhere near that.

And razor-speak can be as indecipherable as wine-speak: “Gillette Fusion ProGlide Razor Handle with FlexBall Technology,” for example. Can anyone who doesn’t work for Gillette’s ad agency explain what that means?

The high cost of shaving

Obviously, there’s more going on here than the high cost of shaving. Most importantly, the culture has changed; the days of coats and ties and offices, where men had to shave every day, are something for TV shows like “Mad Men.” My beard dates to the late 1980s, and even then they weren’t common. And we certainly didn’t grow them to be hipsters, a common occurrence these days.

But you can’t ignore the cost of razors and blades. Says a Millennial in the MarketWatch story: “I don’t love the $5 price for a replacement blade, since it equates to a yearly expense of more than $200 — an amount equal to a good dinner at a decent restaurant, even perhaps with a bottle of wine. And trust me: I’d much rather be dining in style than shaving.”

In all, the men’s shaving products market has shrunk by more than 11 percent in the past five years. This dovetails with a recent Nielsen survey, comparing the drinking habits of Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers.

Overall, a little more than two out of five Millennials don’t drink for health reasons and almost one-third don’t drink because it’s too expensive. Drill down, and Nielsen finds that the youngest group is 11 percent more likely to not drink because it costs too much, compared to their parents and grandparents.

High wine prices, decreased consumption. High razor blade prices, decreased use. Does anyone else see a pattern here?