2020 $10 Wine Hall of Fame Sticky

2020 $10 Hall of FameJust six wines entered the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame, and it’s probably going to get worse

Remember how distraught I was about last year’s $10 Hall of Fame? I’m even more distraught this year; compiling the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame was an exercise in misery — and that’s even before I started worrying about tariff-induced price increases.

Just six wines entered the Hall, five dropped out, and none of the new wines were roses or from California. My notes contained so few “HoF 2020” notations that I went through almost all the wines I drank last year, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I didn’t.

How did we get to this point? Premiumization, of course, as well as the dumbing down of what’s left of wine costing less than $15. Big Wine, Big Retail, and all the rest are convinced that if they make wine taste less wine-like by adding sweetness, fake oak flavors, and purple grape juice concentrate, they’ll convince people who don’t drink wine to drink it. Which, as White Claw demonstrated, doesn’t really work.

Availability, always a problem, got worse last year thanks to wholesaler consolidation. There are too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they prefer Big Wine products. Since most of the most interesting cheap wines are from smaller, niche producers, they can’t find a distributor (or suffer a small one with little clout) and disappear from shelves.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s proposed 100 percent tariff would double the price of European wine, which means there would be almost no $10 wine worth drinking or writing about. If that happens, the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame might well be the last one.

Some good news

The six wines that entered the Hall are top-notch, as good as anything I’ve tasted in 20-some years of wine drinking. That includes the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year, Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay; the return of the Gascon classic, Domaine Tariquet; the stunning Portuguese red and white Herdade do Esporão Alandra; the 1-liter Azul y Garanza tempranillo; and the French white blend, Little James Basket Press.

The complete 2020 $10 Wine Hall of Fame is here. You can also find it at the Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $13 or $14 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.

You’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF. Look for the printer icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

Panic wine buying

panic wine buying

Panic wine buying, as the Wine Curmudgeon stocks up before a possible 100 percent European wine tariff.

The Wine Curmudgeon, faced with the prospect of a 100 percent European wine tariff, does some panic wine buying

The picture pretty much says it all. I spent an hour or so last week at Dallas’ biggest wine retailer, stocking up in case worse comes to worst. The result? 28 bottles of wine for $290. It’s good to know that the Wine Curmudgeon hasn’t lost his touch in the face of an international crisis of epic proportions.

A few thoughts after my panic wine buying:

• Lots of gaps on the shelves. Lots. I bought the last two bottles of the Chateau Bonnet white, and there wasn’t any Chateau Bonnet red or new Hall of Fame member Azul y Garanza, the $11, 1-liter Spanish tempranillo. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has panicked.

• Lots of cheap wine I haven’t seen before. It looked like the retailer had done some buying, too, stocking up on inexpensive European wine before the 25 percent tariff raised its prices. I bought some of these new wines, and will report back as the situation warrants.

• I even bought California wines. This included the always dependable McManis as well as the Shannon Wrangler red blend, which was the wine of the week 4 ½ years ago. Oddly enough, the wine cost $2 less this time.

SVB wine report 2020

svb wine report 2020

“I know those younger consumers are down here somewhere.”

SVB wine report 2020: The wine business is hurting, and things are going to get worse before they get better

How upside down is the wine world? This week, during the annual Silicon Valley Bank state of the wine industry webcast, one of the panelists said something that was almost unprecedented:

“We need to pay better attention to consumer demand.”

Which, as regular visitors here know, is the opposite of what we’ve heard for decades, and especially since the end of the recession and the growth of premiumization. The wine business knew best, and sold us what it said we needed, and not necessarily what we wanted.

Because that’s how we ended up where we are today, with decreasing wine sales, decreasing demand, and decreasing interest in wine among younger consumers. Which, not surprisingly, was the theme during this year’s wine industry webcast. Rob McMillan, the executive vice president and founder of the Silicon Valley Bank wine division, put it bluntly on Tuesday morning: The wine industry has to change the way it does business and focus on what makes wine worthwhile. It can no longer assume that consumers will drink wine because they always have.

And, reinforcing just how different things are from where they were just a couple of years ago, McMillan said it was time for wine to reconsider its objection to nutrition and ingredient labels. Because, of course, that’s what consumers want.

We ain’t in Kansas anymore, are we?

The rest of the webcast was depressingly familiar for anyone who has been paying attention to something other than wine scores and premiumization for the past decade:

• A price bubble exists for California’s best quality grapes, as prices continue to increase while demand doesn’t.

• Retail wine sales, measured by volume, have declined to where they were in spring 2015.

• The amount of bulk wine on the market is at record levels, which is a key gauge of wine industry health. More bulk wine means less demand, which means lower wine prices, which means wineries make less money.

Will the wine business take its head out of the sand and act on the report? McMillan isn’t necessarily optimistic. I talked to him this week, and he said that there is still tremendous denial among producers, save for the very biggest. Big Wine, he says, “is looking for ways to change the industry,” but it’s about the only ones.

Wine of the week: Cantina di Casteggio Barbera 2016

Cantina di Casteggio Barbera

The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera offers much more than $9 worth of value in a tart, leathery style

Barbera grapes produce some of Italy’s best known and best expensive wines. So what’s a barbera doing as a wine of the week?

Because the Wine Curmudgeon can find value even in a grape that produces $80, $90, and $100 wines. The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera is the kind of wine that reminds us that one of Italian wine’s reasons for being is to produce affordable wine to drink with dinner.

The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 13%) is wine for a cold winter night, a fire place, and a house full of rich tomato sauce aromas accentuated with a hint of garlic and the beef braising in the tomatoes. In this, it’s leathery, fruity (black cherry?), agreeably tart, and very Italian – and much more than $9 worth of wine for anyone who appreciates this style.

In fact, it needs food, and would be be a bit off putting without it, being so tart and leathery. But not to worry – it will also work in the summer with barbecue.

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff unless noted

Imported by Premium Brands

Winebits 628: Randall Grahm, Walmart booze, health news

randall grahm

Randall Grahm

This week’s wine news: Randall Grahm sells Bonny Doon, Walmart booze plan in Texas suffers setback, and why there’s no health news on the blog

Boony Doon is sold: Randall Grahm has sold his Boony Doon Vineyard, marking the end of one of the most unique and iconoclastic wine operations in the U.S.  The new owner is WarRoom Ventures, a marketing company that owns California’s Lapis Luna Wines. No sales price was disclosed. Grahm, who pretty much invented the non-traditional wine label and pioneered screwcaps and ingredient labels, will become a partner in the new venture and oversee winemaking. The new Bonny Doon will make just four wines, and not its current 15 — its outstanding rose, a picpoul, and its flagship red and white Rhone blends. Boony Doon, regardless of whether the new company is successful, will be missed. For one thing, I will have less reason to talk to Grahm, who is always a treat, and I won’t be able to buy his standouts syrahs, some of my favorite wines in the world.

Banging head against wall: The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to re-examine Walmart’s attempt to open liquor stores in Texas. The ruling means the retailer can try to appeal to the Supreme Court or give up on its plan, which seemed quite possible after it won on the district level in 2018. But the Fifth Circuit has twice refused to hear the Walmart suit questioning the constitutionality of a Texas law that prohibits publicly-held companies from getting a retail liquor license. Its reasoning? That Texas law discriminates equally against in-state and out-of-state publicly held companies. Cue the three-tier meme. The only good news from this? If Walmart appeals and the Supremes agree to hear the case, it could be one more chip in the wall of three-tier.

More of the same: The Wine Curmudgeon banned health news from the blog years ago, since most of it was stupid or foolish or both. So here comes one more story to remind us why the ban is in place: Coffee may help people lost weight. Someone, somewhere, got money to do what appears to be legitimate academic research to discover the same thing that companies that make over the counter diet pills already know. Caffeine is a stimulant. Stimulants are diet aids. Coffee has caffeine. Sigh. And I once had an academic impugn the integrity of this research. Had only I known….

Expensive wine 128: Chateau d’Epire Savennieres 2017

Chateau d'Epire SavennieresThe Chateau d’Epire Savennieres shows chenin blanc can make classic white wine

Chenin blanc has a crummy reputation in this country, since it’s moistly used to make sweet bulk wine or soft, drab white blends with a cute label. Both approaches overlook the grape’s ability to astound, as it does in wines from various parts of France’s Loire. The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres is just one such example.

The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres ($25, purchased, 13%) is gorgeous, delicious chenin blanc from the Savennieres region in the Loire. And, frankly, at this price it’s an infinitely better value than much of the $25 chardonnay made here or in France.

Know that chenin blanc can be similar to chardonnay, especially in pear and apple flavors. But it is also quite different. For one thing, oak is rarely used to temper the wines, so the fruit flavors are a little more crisp. And classic Savennieres is quite minerally, almost steely.

The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres fits the classic mold: A pear sort of fruit, but also steely and minerally. It’s ready to drink now, and should age for at least several years. Highly recommended, and it’s easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of years.

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted

Imported by Kermit Lynch

2020 Cheap Wine of the Year: Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017

Le Coeur de la ReineLe Coeur de la Reine Gamay, a French red, is the blog’s third annual Cheap Wine of the Year

One of the charges leveled against cheap wine is that it’s bland and boring. Yes, Winking Owl is bland and boring. But to assume that all cheap wine tastes like Winking Owl is silly and more than a little snooty. So, for those of you who don’t believe in cheap wine quality — but especially for those of us who do — we have the Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017, the blog’s third annual cheap wine of the year.

How much Le Coeur de la Reine ($10, purchased, 13%) did I drink last year? At least a case. It was especially helpful in washing out the aftereffects of all those $18 fake oak “there’s a lot of winemaking going on here” samples that I have to spit through to do this job.

The Le Coeur is a French red made with gamay in the Loire, so don’t be surprised that you haven’t heard of it. If gamay is known at all, it’s for wine from Beaujolais; it’s not even the most common red grape from the Loire. That’s cabernet franc, which is hardly well known itself. Nevertheless, this wine does everything a $10 wine is supposed to do – and then some.

There is lots of tart berry fruit, a suggestion of baking spice, and an amazing freshness that  many $15 wines made with gamay don’t bother with. And it is a food wine in the most wonderful bistro sense, in that it will go with almost anything you have for dinner, whether fried catfish, steak frites, or a Brussels sprout Caesar salad.

A tip of the WC’s fedora to Emily Peterson at Valkyrie Selections, the wine’s importer. She promptly returned emails and answered all my questions, which doesn’t happen much these days. Hence, I can report the wine is available in 26 states and the District of Columbia. That includes most big states except California, and even there it is on Wine.com’s website. Also, the current vintage is 2018, but there is still plenty of 2017 on shelves.

Finally, Peterson reports the importer and producer are trying to hold the line on the price despite the tariff, and it shouldn’t go up more than a dollar or two. Meanwhile, she is urging wine drinkers who think a new, proposed 100 percent tariff is foolish to leave a comment with the feds. Go to www.regulations.gov, enter docket number “USTR-2019-0003” and click search. Then, click “comment now” and leave your comments/concerns. Comments are open until Jan. 13.

More Cheap Wine of the Year:
2019 Cheap Wine of the Year: Château La Gravière Blanc 2017
2018 Cheap Wine of the Year: Bieler Pere et Fils Rose 2016