Wine of the week: Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Tinto 2017

protocoloThe Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Tinto is cheap Spanish tempranillo the way it should be

The Spanish wine regions around Madrid aren’t famous, unless someone is sneering about the tanker cars of cheap red wine produced there every year. Let them sneer, because they’re missing out on terrific cheap wine like the Protocolo.

In fact, one reason why Spanish tempranillo is among the best red wine values in the world is that regions like Castilla-La Mancha do more than make tanker cars of cheap red wine. Much of it is cheap wine the way it should be – varietally correct and following the style of the country, simple but not insulting. And, since producers in these regions can do cheap so well, it holds down the price of better quality tempranillos from Rioja and Ribera.

The Protocolo ($9, purchased, 13.5%) is everything one hopes for in a cheap Spanish tempranillo — soft tannins, just enough acidity to show that it’s red wine, and ripe but not too ripe berry fruit. Plus, it has flavors at the beginning, the middle and the end (a sort of rustic earthiness), just like more expensive wines.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for both the 2020 Hall of Fame and the Cheap Wine of the Year. Drink this with almost any spring and summer barbecue, and then keep drinking it the rest of the year.

Imported by Fine Estates from Spain

Winebits 590: Shipwreck wine, Gregg Popovich, liquor laws

shipwreck wineThis week’s wine news: Century-old shipwreck wine off the coast of Cornwall, plus NBA coach Gregg Popovich’s and wine and the National Review takes on the three-tier system

Under water for 100 years: The Wine Curmudgeon must confess to a weakness for stories about shipwreck wine. Why is there such enthusiasm to rescue it, given that it’s probably not going to be drinkable? The most recent story comes from Cornwall, where a ship sailing from Bordeaux was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1918. Now, a group wants to salvage the cargo. There’s no word on what wine it might include, though a spokesman associated with the operation claims it’s a “one-of-a-kind opportunity to be a part of one of the most significant historical discoveries of the century. The rarity of such a cargo is unprecedented. …” On the other hand, it could be nothing more than pinard, the cheap red wine French soldiers were issued during the war.

NBA wine culture: I don’t often get to write about wine and sports, but this item, from Psychology Today, does just that: “In a neo-Temperance public health period, Gregg Popovich stands apart.” The piece cites Popovich’s embrace of wine culture as something good – not something that will kill all of us if we have one glass. Popovich “is the son of parents from Serbia and Croatia. … For him, wine is essential to group gatherings.” And who can argue with one of the greatest coaches in NBA history?

Too much government: Caleb Whitmer, writing in the National Review, asks: “Are crazy state liquor laws constitutional?” Regular visitors here know the answer to that question, but it is good to see one of the country’s leading political journals address the question. Whitmer misses the role the country’s alcohol distributors play in keeping the system buttoned down, blaming three-tier on local retailers and state legislatures. Still, it’s worthwhile reading, and especially his discussion of Mississippi’s quaint Prohibition-era liquor laws.

Illustration courtesy of Points: The blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society, using a Creative Commons license

Amazon Wine 3.0: Is the on-line retail giant getting back in the wine business?

Has Amazon figured out how to make wine work after two e-commerce flops?

Amazon has twice given up selling wine over the past decade, perhaps the two most notable flops in the e-commerce giant’s history. But it looks like the company may be getting ready to try again – call it Amazon wine 3.0.

The evidence comes from two places: First, a Washington, D.C.-area job posting for a “manager of alcohol public policy” – someone to “create, execute, and manage key public policy issues related to alcohol procurement and sales.” In other words, someone to navigate the three-tier system for the company, which it wouldn’t need unless it was getting ready to launch a major booze initiative. (A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to blog reader Tony Caffrey, who spotted the ad.)

Second, rumblings in the trade press that Amazon might buy or lease abandoned Kmart and Sears locations (and even Pier 1?) to open more Whole Foods; to set up some sort of warehouse/retail operation; to build more Amazon Go pop-up stores; or for something that no one but Amazon knows yet.

Amazon didn’t respond to an email request for an interview. But I talked to several supermarket analysts, and they agreed something may well be going on.

“Amazon doesn’t really get all that wrapped up in failure,” says Bill Bishop, the co-flounder of the well-respected Bricks Meets Clicks consultancy in Chicago. “It’s very much a learning organization. Wine in particular, and alcohol in general, is very attractive for an organization like Amazon.”

What makes Amazon think this effort will succeed when the first two failed? In 2009, it killed a test project called AmazonWine, in which it would have sold wine just like it sells books, computers, and garden hose, because the company couldn’t make it work given the complications of U.S. liquor laws. In 2017, it closed AmazonWine 2.0, in which it didn’t sell wine but sent buyers to winery websites to make the purchases – again, because of the complications of U.S. liquor laws.

It does sell wine on-line through Whole Foods, but the orders must be made using your local store’s website and you’re limited to the inventory at that store. Plus, you have to deal with a third-party delivery service and a potential delivery fee. Which is hardly the same as Amazon’s seemingly unlimited inventory and free Prime shipping.

The sense from the analysts is that the company figured out how to work within the three-tier system for what it’s going to try next, in much the same way that alcohol delivery apps like Drizly and Internet retailer Wine.com have figured it out. But don’t expect delivery, although that’s possible, as much as a variation on the current Whole Foods setup.

Amazon Wine 3.0

One possibility:

• You order wine from the Amazon website, which sends the order to a company distribution center in your state in one of those empty Sears stores. In this case, your choice could well be every wine available from your state’s distributors, based on the Drizly model.

• The Amazon retail/warehouse in the old Sears would have a standing inventory of the most commonly ordered wines, while special wines could be shipped from the distributor to the warehouse.

• You pick your order up at the old Sears store, in much the same way you can drop off Amazon returns at some Whole Foods stores.

The advantages here are obvious: Amazon has the booze supply chain infrastructure in each state where it operates Whole Foods, plus the leverage of existing Whole Foods liquor licenses. And, since you pay for the wine on the Amazon website, there’s less legal hassle about underage drinking. All you have to do is show an ID at the old Sears store when you pick up the wine.

In addition, says Bishop, advances in robotics may make it possible to run the retail/warehouse in the old Sears with a minimum of employees, trimming costs and allowing Amazon to undercut traditional wine retailers. Think of R2-D2s scurrying around the building, picking and sorting orders. The only humans needed would be to check IDs.

Will this happen tomorrow? Probably not. Will it happen in exactly this way? If I knew that, I’d be living in Burgundy. But I talked to some very smart people, and their consensus was that something like this makes sense, and it especially makes sense given Amazon’s seeming obsession with wine.

Coming soon to a YouTube near you: Wine Curmudgeon videos

Wine Curmudgeon videosIs the cyber-ether – let alone the wine world – ready for Wine Curmudgeon videos?

Is the Wine Curmudgeon going to be the Internet’s next viral sensation? We’ll know early this summer, when the first of two wine videos I made this week goes live.

I did the videos, featuring helpful, useful information about summer wine and restaurant wine, for the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association. The videos are part of the trade group’s quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort – because, of course, Winking Owl. I’ll post a link when the summer wine video goes live.

The experience was unique. How else would an ink-stained wretch see a process that involves makeup, story conferences, green screens, and long discussions about what I should wear? I haven’t spent that much time worrying about my clothes since since my mother picked them out. I should also mention that I have spent much of my writing career gently mocking – or worse – those of my friends who did have to worry about that stuff. I suppose I will have to endure their gentle – or worse – mocking now.

The goal with each video was to avoid winespeak as well as the deadly dullness that overwhelms most wine videos (even those with big names and big budgets). We wanted to offer information that wine drinkers could use when they were staring at the supermarket Great Wall of Wine. Which I think we did.

A very large tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Sonia Petrocelli, the videos’ producer, and Richard Dandrea, who wrote them. Both made the process infinitely easier than I thought it would be, and their patience with my ignorance of all things video was much appreciated.

TV wine ad survey: 1980s Richards Wild Irish Rose

Constellation Brands sold its birthright in this month’s $1.7 billion fire sale to E&J Gallo — Richards Wild Irish Rose is the brand that made the company wealthy

There were many surprises when Constellation Brands sold 30 of its labels to E&J Gallo this month, but perhaps the most surprising was that Richards Wild Rose was included in the deal. The sweet fortified wine was named after Richard Sands, the son of company founder Marvin Sands (and who would eventually become its chairman when Constellation  expanded around the world). How important was Richards Wild Irish Rose to Constellation’s success? As late as the beginning of this century, it was selling 30 million cases a year. Those are Barefoot numbers.

Obviously, those sales weren’t because of this commercial. It’s not as offensive as some, and it’s certainly not as stupid. Rather, it’s almost bland, as if the ad agency can’t decide how to market a product with a less than stellar reputation. And I can’t figure out why the blonde playing the bass is in the band, other than to shake her very 1980s hair.

Video courtesy of tvdays via You Tube

Wine of the week: Marques de Caceras Verdejo 2018

Marques de Caceras verdejoThe Marques de Caceras verdejo is grocery store wine that does what grocery store wine should do — it’s cheap, drinkable, and available

Quality grocery store wine should do a couple of things. First, it should be fairly priced, and not include a premium for a cute label or the marketing budget. Second, it should taste like what it is, so no cabernet sauvignon that tastes like a sweet red blend and no sauvignon blanc that tastes like a sweet white blend. That both of those are increasingly rare these days speaks to the crisis in cheap wine.

Which is where the Marques de Caceras verdejo ($9, sample, 13.5%) comes in. It’s a Spanish white made with the verdejo grape, so it fills two of the requirements for quality cheap wine – less expensive region and less known grape. And it does what quality grocery wine should do, too.

That means the Marques de Caceras verdejo is fairly priced, and it more or less tastes like verdejo – lots of lemon fruit and a clean finish. It’s simple, and the fruit could be less New World in approach, but it’s not insulting. This is the kind of wine for Tuesday night when you have to stop at the supermarket on the way home to get something for dinner, and you want wine as well.

Winebits 589: The world revolves around the three-tier system edition

three-tierThis week’s wine news: It’s all about three-tier — a merger called off because it would have raised pricers, the “unique” U.S. distribution system, and tussling in New Jersey

No deal: Breakthru Beverage Group and Republic National Distributing Company, which had announced a $12 billion merger in 2017, have called it off. The reason? The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees these deals, said it would have caused “likely anticompetitive harm.” An FTC official said the agency found that “this transaction likely would have resulted in higher prices and diminished service in the distribution of wine and spirits in several states.” The Wine Curmudgeon, who is not an attorney and doesn’t pretend to know anything about anti-trust law, has just one question. If this deal was anticompetitive, why did the FTC allow the 2016 Southern-Glazer’s merger, worth $16.5 billion, to go through? The new company controls one-quarter of the wholesale spirits and wine market, and is bigger than the next three companies combined.

Just a happy family: Who knew that alcohol distribution was just another family business? That’s the latest from the industry’s trade group, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association, which wants the world to know the “story of wholesalers and the three-tier system while highlighting the value and uniqueness of America’s beverage alcohol system.” The Wine Curmudgeon, who does know how to read a news release, got a giggle out of this one. Unique indeed – so unique that almost no one but liquor law attorneys and wholesalers understand how the damned thing works. And yes, value, especially when the FTC doesn’t object.

Not in Jersey: New Jersey’s legislators are trying to decide if they should loosen the state’s direct shipping law, one of the most restrictive in the country. The article is exceptionally well written by Bloomberg.com reporter Stacie Sherman – easy to understand, direct, and almost devoid of winespeak and legalese. In other words, it’s everything almost all other mainstream media booze stories aren’t. My favorite part? Her description of three-tier: A “patchwork of laws that, as with those governing so many other industries, were ill-suited for the advent of e-commerce.”