Stop hyping cheap wine like Two-buck Chuck rose just because it’s cheap

Two-buck Chuck roseCheap doesn’t mean a wine is worth drinking, and the Two-buck Chuck rose is almost undrinkable

The cyber-ether is agog with praise for the new Two-buck Chuck rose: “Who needs Two-buck Chuck when you can get $4 organic rose from the same brand at Trader Joe’s?” And, “Trader Joe’s Made $4 Organic Rose Just In Time For Memorial Day Weekend.”

Obviously, no one tasted the wine.

The only good thing about the Two-buck Chuck rose ($4, purchased, 11.5%) is the closure. It’s one of the new Helix corks that works like a screwcap. The wine itself is almost undrinkable – thin, bitter, practically no fruit flavor, badly sweet, and devoid of any rose character other than its light pink color.

In this, it’s everything that’s wrong with Big Wine, where more money is spent on the bottle and the marketing than on the wine. The back label actually refers to “the Charles Shaw family,” which doesn’t exist. Call that the height of marketing cynicism. The wine is made for Trader Joe’s by Bronco Wine, the seventh biggest producer in the country with at least $200 million in sales.

But none of this matters to the cyber-ether. The Two-buck Chuck rose is cheap. It comes from Trader Joe’s. What more does anyone need to know?

A lot, actually. Cheap wine is not worth drinking just because it’s cheap. Anyone who thinks that hasn’t been paying attention for the past 25 years. Besides, you’re hurting the cause when you write that. Cheap wine should offer quality and value, just like any other cheap product. Would you praise a broken car or a broken computer just because it’s cheap? Of course not. And the Two-buck Chuck rose is seriously broken.

Hence, this Wine Curmudgeon offer: The next time anyone in the cyber-ether wants to write about wine, . I’ll help you figure out what’s going on so you don’t recommend a wine most of us will pour down the drain.

Father’s Day wine 2018

Father's Day wine 2018Father’s Day wine 2018: Four wines that offer quality and value — because that’s what Dad taught you

The Father’s Day wine 2018 news releases have been landing in my mailbox for a month or so, and most of them bore me to tears. I mention this not to bash wine marketing again, but to note that the releases don’t understand what Dad wants. It’s not about spending money; it’s about value and pleasure.

Which is the point of this year’s Father’s Day wine post. Keep the blog’s wine gift-giving guidelines in mind throughout the process: Don’t buy someone wine that you think they should like; buy them what they will like.

This year’s Father’s Day wine suggestions:

d’Arenberg The Footbolt 2014 ($18, sample, 14.6%): Australian shiraz’s fall from grace should not apply to d’Arenberg, an Aussie producer that makes some of the most interesting red wine in the world. d’Arenberg does it by combining terroir, top quality grapes, and — believe it or not  —  high alcohol in a fresh and intriguing fashion. This is shiraz for people who love wine, and not booze. Highly recommended. Imported by Old Bridge Cellars

Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): Prices for this Italian white are all over the place — probably because it’s more than the citrus-flavored tonic water of cheaper pinot grigios. Look for some lemon fruit and minerality, plus something that can only be called character. Imported by HB Wine Merchants

Zolo Signature Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.9%): This Argentine pink reminds me why I love wine — a $10 wine bought with no expectations and that gave me more than a bottle of enjoyment. It’s a syrah blend with lots of just ripe strawberry fruit, but not too heavy, too fruity, or sweet at all. Highly recommended. Imported by Vino del Sol

Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose NV ($25, sample, 12.5%): I drank this at the Friday night reception at this year’s Critic’s Challenge. And then I drank some more. And some more. It’s beautiful, well-made, and delicious — tight bubbles, strawberry aroma, and soft red fruit flavors. Highly recommended.

More Father’s Day wine:

Father’s Day wine 2017
Father’s Day wine 2016
Father’s Day wine 2015
Expensive wine 106: Graham’s 20-year-Tawny Port

Wine of the week: Bogle Pinot Noir 2015

bogle pinot noirThe Bogle pinot noir is, as always, $10 Hall of Fame wine. The same can’t be said for the label’s cabernet sauvignon

How amazing is the Bogle pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%)? It mostly tastes like pinot noir. This is unheard of in a $10 wine, and it’s not all that common for pinot noir that costs as much as $30, either. That Bogle can do it speaks to the producer’s emphasis on quality and value.

That’s the good news. The bad news, and it pains me to write this, is that the 2015 Bogle cabernet sauvignon ($10, sample, 13.5%) is as disappointing as the pinot noir is not. The cabernet is soft, flabby, and bereft of almost any varietal character. In this, it’s another example of winemaking by focus group; someone, somewhere, decided that U.S. wine drinkers don’t want tannins or spice or pepper or earth or anything that adds interest to cabernet. Instead, all we want is great gobs of gushy fruit, so any number of red wines that were once worth buying aren’t (like this one and this one). I never thought to add a Bogle wine to that list.

Regular visitors here know of my respect – almost reverence – for Bogle. That is borne out in the pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%), which is as subtle and elegant as a $10 pinot noir is going to get. Look for cherry fruit, some peppery spice, a little foresty something or other, and oak that is there to be barely noticed. Again, all qualities I rarely seen on wines at this price.

Hopefully, the decision makers at Bogle will realize wine drinkers prefer wines like the pinot and will return the cabernet to its former style. That, more than anything, is why I included it in this review. Because it’s easy to buy cheap wine; it’s much more difficult to buy cheap wine that reminds us why we love wine.

Winebits 545: Alcoholism, Big Weed, wine fraud

alcoholismThis week’s wine news: Alcoholism in the restaurant business, plus Big Wine wants to move into weed and more Chinese booze fraud

Staying sober: Nation’s Restaurant News looks at subject rarely discussed – what it calls “the culture of alcoholism and substance abuse in the restaurant business. “ In this part of the on-going series, Bret Thorne talks to a prominent Atlanta-area chef who had a choice at age 30 – stop drinking or die. “The whole lifestyle — you’re in a place that has alcohol. There’s always alcohol in the kitchen, behind the bar, and after the adrenaline of an awesome service, it was typically followed by chasing that buzz with alcohol, and then usually cocaine.”

If it’s good enough for wine: Marijuana Business Daily (and no, I’m not making that up) reports that North America’s largest wine distributor will become the the exclusive product distributor for one of Canada’s largest licensed cannabis producers. Great North Distributors, a wholly owned Canadian subsidiary of U.S.-based Southern Glazer’s, will serve as exclusive representative for Aphria’s adult-use cannabis products in Canada. This is yet another foray by U.S. wine-related companies into Canada’s legal weed business, including Big Wine stalwart Constellation Brands..

$15.6 million worth of fakes: Chinese police arrested 15 people suspected of producing more than 55,000 counterfeit bottles of high-end booze, says Reuters. Police in the southern province of Fujian broke up three gangs running workshops that made fake bottles of several famous brands of baijiu, a fiery Chinese spirit. The gangs bought cheap liquor for about 10 yuan (about US$1.56) a bottle and pour it into the counterfeit bottles, which they would sell for up to 400 yuan (about US$62) each. To give you an idea about what they were doing, this is not unlike filling empty bottles of pricey white Burgundy with Two-buck Chuck chardonnay.

Expensive wine 109: La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Rioja 2008

La Rioja Alta Viña ArdanzaThe La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza speaks to terroir, tradition, and quality – and at a more than fair price

Rioja, the Spanish red wine made with tempranillo that comes from the Rioja region of northern Spain, is one of the world’s great wine values. And it doesn’t matter whether you want to spend $10 or $100. Case in point: the La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza ($37, purchased, 13.5%).

In the past decade, Rioja producers have been caught between Parkerization, which demanded riper, higher alcohol wines for a high score, and traditionalists, who believed in Rioja’s legendary terroir.

The traditionalists won; even Parker likes the La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza, giving it 93 points.

Their victory is a triumph for everyone who appreciates terroir and making wine taste like where it came from. The blend is 80 percent tempranillo and 20 percent garnacha, and the latter smooths out the tempranillo but doesn’t cover it up. The result is a full, open, expressive, and traditional Rioja that is a joy to drink.

Look for an inviting earthiness, the lovely and telltale orange peel, and rounded cherry fruit, all balanced by a subtle acidity and a hint of tannins. There is even a little baking spice tucked in – the whole is truly greater than the sum of the wine’s parts. This vintage should age and improve for another five years or so, but is ready to drink now.

Highly recommended, and especially as a Father’s Day gift for a red wine drinker who wants something different. Or who appreciates classic wine produced in a classic manner.

Are we making progress in adding ingredient labels to wine?

ingredient labels

Why does rum have an nutrition facts label, but not wine?

Some small steps are being taken to let wine drinkers know what’s in their wine

The wine industry, terrified that we’ll balk at paying high prices for wine made with ingredients that aren’t grapes, has fought long and hard to prevent wine from carrying ingredient and nutritional labels. Even today, when almost everything else in the grocery store must have those labels, wine is exempt.

But there may progress in letting us know whether our wine is made with industrial adhesives:

Vinepair reports that another small California winery, Donkey & Goat, has added ingredient labels to its wine. It joins a list that includes heavyweights Bonny Doon and Ridge, but which is still not nearly long enough.

• Two studies found that the best-selling categories over the past four years in the beleaguered grocery store business were fresh foods, more often meat and produce, that were “antibiotic free, no growth hormones and free of pesticides or fertilizers.” And how do we know this? Because those products say so on the label.

• The NPD Group, perhaps the leading food consultancy in the country, says about half of U.S. adults are trying eat less sugar and that we check ingredient labels for sugar more often than ever. And what is the leading wine style trend these days? Sweet red wine, which is made with added sugar. But no one knows, since there aren’t ingredient labels.

More about ingredient labels and wine:
• Nutritional labels for booze
• Wine falls further behind in nutrition and ingredient labels
• Wine, ingredient labels, and what’s next

Making more expensive wine doesn’t necessarily mean higher profits

expensive wine

Stefano Castriota: “The key is not whether higher quality implies higher prices, but rather whether it boosts profitability, and it does not.”

Italian study finds that cheap wine producers are more likely to do better than those investing in premiumization

No one was more surprised than the Wine Curmudgeon after my email chat with Stefano Castriota, whose working paper about price and quality (“Does Excellence Pay Off? Quality, Reputation and Vertical Integration in the Wine Market”) was recently published on the American Association of Wine Economists website.

“How can you say if price and quality match?” he wrote me. “You can only see whether they are correlated. And they are, in my research and in the previous literature. The key is not whether higher quality implies higher prices, but rather whether it boosts profitability, and it does not.”

In other words, premiumization – the biggest wine trend in the past decade – may be leading the U.S. wine business in the wrong direction. U.S.  producers have been spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to make more expensive wine in anticipation of higher profits, because U.S. wine drinkers are supposed to be abandoning cheap wine for something they perceive as better.

Castriota, who teaches at Italy’s University of Bolzana, did find that improved wine quality leads to higher prices. But he also discovered that higher quality is irrelevant when it comes to profitability.

“I was expecting these results,” Castriota wrote me. “The outcome of this research did not surprise me, but surprised many others. Most people – both in the academic and in the business sectors – look only at the advantages of excellence, but do not consider the costs/disadvantages. Many entrepreneurs end up over-investing in quality and reputation.”

Producers spend so much money to achieve higher quality – more expensive land, higher-priced grapes, better technology, increased marketing, top-notch winemakers – that they don’t necessarily make the same return on their investment as cheap wine producers, who don’t do any of those things.

The latter just sell more wine: “Being able to sell the wine is more important than producing good wine,” Castriota said in an email. “This is why in my analysis the firm size is the most important driver of profitability.”

The bigger, the better

That’s because the “issue is business scalability, the possibility to increase production once you achieve excellence,” Castriota wrote. “If you spend a lot of money and invest huge capitals to become famous, but cannot increase the supply, firm profitability can be low or even negative. In the restaurant sector is the same: hiring the most famous chef and interior designer and buying the best raw materials is expensive. You have surely higher revenues, but also higher costs and capital invested. In the end, with respect to the capital invested, are you more or less profitable than a whatever medium-level restaurant?”

The caveats now: First, the study measured wine quality using ratings from Italy’s Veronelli, a leading wine guide. We’ve noted here the tenuous link between critical ratings and wine quality. Second, the Italian wine industry is not exactly like ours, and U.S. and other New World producers may not be as constrained as those in Italy. Having said that, Castriota emailed that it would be reasonable to expect the same results “or something similar. We don’t know until we see some study with other data.”

Finally, the study doesn’t specifically address premiumization; that’s my interpretation. But that approach makes sense, given the rationale to premiumization – that producers will make more money selling more expensive wine. Which Castriota says isn’t necessarily true.

“If you succeed in selling bottles at $50 or $100, you make a lot of money, but for every very profitable firm there is another one which is losing money,” he emailed. “On average, looking at the data, I did not find any significant return of excellence, which is very expensive. [A]chieving quality and reputation is not a necessary condition to become profitable because the costs and the required capitals increase a lot.”

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