Charles Bieler, right, and his father Philippe. They’re a long way from the pink Cadillac.
Charles Bieler is one of the best rose maker in the world; more importantly, he is one of the reasons the rose boom exists. For which we are all most grateful.
Charles Bieler was between jobs in the late 1990s when his father suggested Charles help sell the family rose in the U.S. Charles took up the challenge, painted a Cadillac pink, and traveled the country to convince retailers and restaurants to sell dry pink wine. As Charles says, that was at a time when everyone thought rose was sweet, and he truly wondered if dry rose had a future in the U.S.
Which, of course, it did. We talk about the rose boom, the pink Cadillac trip, and the challenges facing rose today — with advice on how to find the best cheap pink.
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a thin crust America’s Test Kitchen pizza
Pizza is as much a part of the Wine Curmudgeon’s being as wine and the Chicago Cubs. How could it be otherwise, growing up, going to college, and starting my career in the Chicago area?
But leave Chicago, and pizza becomes something to miss. In the three decades I’ve lived in Texas, I’ve had a handful of great pizzas (not including Louie’s, since Lou was from the Chicago area as well). Hence, I usually make my own, and the thin crust America’s Test Kitchen pizza works much better than I hoped.
This recipe, adapted from from ATK’s Christoper Kimball days (and no, we don’t want to go there) is about as close as you can get to top-notch professional pizza in a home oven. Yes, it’s thin crust, but that’s because it’s almost impossible to replicate authentic Chicago-style thick crust at home. And believe me, I’ve tried.
Plus, it takes just one rise by using Rapid Rise yeast; there is a minimal amount of kneading; and no special equipment is required other than a full-size sheet pan. In all, from taking the ingredients out of the cupboard to eating it, the process takes less than 90 minutes – or about as long as it takes pizza delivery on a rainy Friday night.
• Azul y Garanza Tempranillo 2017 ($10/1-liter, purchased, 13.5%): This vintage of the Spanish red is a little tighter and not as soft as previous vintages; so I enjoyed it more. But there is still lots of cherry fruit balanced by refreshing Spanish acidity, making it’s one of the great values in the world. Imported by Valkyrie Selections
• Three Thieves Rose 2017 ($8, purchased, 13%): Never doubt Charleis Bieler, rose maker extraordinaire who contributes to this pink when he isn’t making the Bieler Sabine or the Charles & Charles rose. It’s another terrific value, sitting somewhere between Bota Box and the Charles & Charles — not too heavy, a little tart strawberry fruit, and a clean finish.
A Northwestern University study says the most successful producers focus on wine status and image, and not necessarily quality
Quality matters to most wine producers. But the status and image of their product may matter more in the U.S. market, says a study by two Northwestern University professors. The report, completed last fall in association with the Wine Market Council, found that the most successful wine companies focused on their products’ status before anything else.
In other words, when you’re staring at the grocery store Great Wall of Wine, the producers aren’t trying to sell you on how good their wine is; they’re trying to sell you on how special it is. This is especially true for wines costing more than $15 – the sweet spot for premiumization.
“We found that the most profitable producers, and those with the biggest margins, for them it’s a status game,” says Ashlee Humphreys, PhD, who co-authored “Status Games: Market Driving Through Social Influence in the U.S. Wine Industry” with Northwestern colleague Gregory S. Carpenter. “They don’t care so much about what consumers think as they want to lead the way, so the consumer will follow.”
In one respect, the study’s findings are not new. Those of us who focus on value and quality have always assumed neither was as important as toasty and oaky when it came to marketing wine. But this may be the first time that someone has actually investigated the question and found it to be true in a peer-reviewed academic journal. My favorite line from the study? “Embracing a wine-as-art approach, winemakers’ choices often contradict market-based logic.”
Producers sell their status message by focusing on wine’s so-called gatekeepers – the critics, sommeliers, and wine magazines that shape public opinion. The producers educate the gatekeepers about what makes their wine special, whether it’s a certain style like ripe fruit or a specific appellation like Napa Valley or a superstar winemaker. The gatekeepers then tell consumers the wine is worth buying because it is special, and that “special-ness” gives it a status that other wines don’t have. The consumer, given how confusing wine is, accepts the gatekeepers’ word as gospel and buys the wine. Call it wine’s trickle down effect.
Hence the foolishness in so much wine writing
Which explains the pretentious adjectives in wine reviews, which are so pretentious that they aren’t adjectives but “descriptors;” the schmaltzy travel writing that gushes over wine regions, regardless of what they are; and the snotty restaurant wine lists, which don’t explain as much as they intimidate.
Note that this isn’t exactly fibbing. Napa Valley is a top-notch appellation. Rather, says Humphreys, the idea of status comes from “creating a difference for their wine that sets it apart from everyone else’s wine, and then selling that difference to the gatekeepers. They tell the gatekeepers, ‘We craft a beautiful wine,” and that’s what the gatekeepers report.”
This approach isn’t common for wines costing less than $15, where the reverse is mostly true, says the study. Producers hold focus groups to find out what consumers want, and then make the wines according to those results. Cheap grocery store wine is smooth and boring because that’s what the focus groups say they want. (Whether we actually want smooth and boring, or it’s a failing of the focus groups, is a discussion for another day).
So what’s a wine drinker to do who wants value and quality? Humphreys, who was a casual wine drinker before the study and is more serious now, laughed when I asked her. “I’ve never really thought about that,” she says. “Wine is a social experience, isn’t it? So shouldn’t you ask your friends what they like, and go from there?”
Perhaps. It couldn’t be any less effective than depending on the gatekeepers, could it?
The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem is a French red blend that tastes like a French red blend, and not something smooth and soft
The Big Guy texted me the other day: “What’s with all these great cheap wines you’ve found lately?” His point? That I have spent much of the past two years wailing about the disappearance of great cheap wine. I’m not sure why we’ve been on such a winning streak, but the Moulin de Gassac Guilhem is one more terrific $10 wine.
The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem ($10, purchased, 13%) is from the Languedoc in southern France, home to much cheap wine of indifferent quality and to not so cheap wine that tastes cheap. This red blend, though, is what the French have done so well for centuries: A professional, well-made vin ordinaire, the sort of quality wine for Tuesday night takeout that seems to be disappearing.
The blend – made with a little more syrah than grenache and carignan – offers rich, dark red fruit, some spice, a bit of that funky French aroma that I like, and well developed tannins and acidity. In this, the latter are quite impressive for a wine at this price.
Drink this with dinner — delivery pizza, burgers on the grill, and even fajitas or enchiladas and burritos.
This week’s wine news: We’re going crazy for Aldi and Lidl, plus a high-end wine theft and wine is missing from the country’s political divide
• Discount grocers: A report from a leading consultancy says discounters Aldi and Lidl “are here to stay. People are very happy with this format.” The Bain & Co. study says the two European chains have as much as 30 percent of the market in some parts of the country, an amazing number given how new each are to the U.S. The thing that matters to wine drinkers? That the two chains are investing heavily in high quality private-label products: “They’re not just filling shelves with something cheaper.” That’s what Aldi and Lidl do in Europe with wine, and if we haven’t seen that yet in the U.S., the report is one more reason to hope the chains will upgrade their U.S. wine inventory to its European level.
• No lock can stop them: A Chicago wine collector says the men he rented his condo to stole almost $50,000 worth of wine, including what he called an $8,000 bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. The story, from a Chicago TV station, is rife with errors, including the name of the Napa winery. But the story is worth noting several reasons. First, I once lived in the same neighborhood, near Wrigley Field, and there were no condos with $8,000 wine then. Second, because the TV station has a long and proud history, and shouldn’t screw up like that. Third, because the story doesn’t explain why the condo owner was so lax about security for what was termed a “short-term rental.”
• No wine, please: A study outlining the booze preferences for Republicans and Democrats includes lights of light beer and bourbon, but wine is mostly missing from the results. And no, I have no idea what that means. Wine does seem to skew Democratic, save for cabernet and riesling, but the preferences are not nearly as striking as those for bourbon – decidedly GOP – and tequila and vodka, much more Democratic.
The Le Cigare Volant shows screwcap wines can age with style and grace
Randall Grahm, the Boony Doon impresario who only uses screwcaps, has insisted for years that wine ages under screwcap. This remains heresy in the wine business, which has grudgingly allowed that screwcaps are OK for cheap wine, but not for fine wine that can cellar for years. Which means not enough of the wine business has tasted this vintage of the Le Cigare Volant.
The Le Cigare Volant ($45, sample, 14.5%) is the Bonny Doon flagship, a fine red wine made in Grahm’s trademark Rhone style. Hence, Old World style and attention to terroir, but New World sensibility and technique. That means subtle tannins and a clean finish, but earthiness and spice (cinnamon, in the way it can be almost chili hot) on the front. There is also a mix of red and fruit black fruit (raspberries and plums), plus an almost gaminess that you don’t expect from California wine. Despite the high alcohol (and very high for Grahm, who prides himself on restraint), the wine is neither hot nor overwhelming.
Grahm says screwcap wines age differently than cork wines, which is not bad – just different. That this wine is still so young but intriguing speaks to this; as it continues to age over the next 8 to 10 years, the Le Cigare Volant will become richer and more complex, and it’s complex already.
Highly recommended. Serve this with lamb or duck, and enjoy not just the wine, but how easy it is to open the bottle.
Clos Chanteduc, a French red Rhone blend, is the kind of wine that reminds us why we love wine
The Clos Chanteduc is the kind of wine that explains why the Wine Curmudgeon loves wine: It’s not just that its sum is greater than its parts, but that it’s so honest and so direct that when I taste it, I can imagine sitting in the French farmhouse near where the grapes are grown.
Am I being a bit too poetic, especially given how cranky the last 18 months of wine tasting have made me? Nope. That’s the reason for all my waxing – because this wine has nothing to do with the overpriced plonk that I’ve had to plow through to do my job. The Clos Chanteduc ($18, purchased, 13%) is what red wine from France’s Rhone should be:
• Funky, with that appealing rustic aroma, yet also fresh.
• Fruity, with lots of wonderful red grenache fruit, but also earthy – forest floor and mushrooms, from the syrah in the blend.
• Traditional in style, but done with modern winemaking. How else to explain this quality for this old a vintage at this price?
I didn’t know this when I bought the wine, but Clos Chanteduc is owned by cookbook author Patricia Wells and husband Walter. Wells made her name writing about French bistro cooking (I own a couple of her books), and the wine fits that style perfectly. It’s steak frites and roast lamb with potato and tomato gratin and chicken braised in red wine – the sort of food to serve your friends with lots of wine and conversation and hope that dinner never ends.
Highly recommended. There are a couple of later vintages, and I would assume they are just as delightful.