Winebits 673: Wine.com sales, restaurant wine, tasting notes

wine.comThis week’s wine news: Wine.com reports 217 percent sales increase, plus restaurants are headed in the opposite direction and another critic ponders the need for toasty and oaky

Wine.com sales: Wine.com, the U.S.’ biggest on-line wine retailer, ended the first six months of its fiscal year with a 217 percent sales increase compared to the previous 12 months. Can anyone say pandemic? Even without the increase in on-line retail caused by the coronavirus, sales for the previous 12 months were up 102 percent. One key to the jump: repeat sales from customers who pay $49 a year for free shipping, similar to Amazon Prime’s free shipping. Sales from those customers increased by about one-fifth more than overall sales for the past 12 months, as more of those customers bought more wine on-line. This raises the question again: How, once the retail world returns more or less to normal, will we be able to go back to thinking of on-line wine as something special, and not something we buy every day?

Not so good news: Tom Wark, writing on the Fermentation blog, asks: “Do we allow a huge swath of restaurants across the country to simply disappear in the wake of COVID and state’s restaurant shutdown orders or do we act to aid these institutions?” This has been the elephant in the room as the pandemic continues, with restaurants — rightly or wrongly — bearing the burst of government restrictions. I don’t know that I agree with all Tom writes, but his piece is well worth reading.

No tasting notes: Guy Woodward, writing in the British trade magazine Harpers, pulls no punches: “Who reaps the benefit, for example, of reading that a wine has notes of  ‘gentian, elderflower, seaweed, mussels, salt spray, chicken stock, sage, fennel, peach kernel, lemon, alkali and wet stone’?” This is the second British shot over the winespeak and tasting notes bow in recent weeks — quite a surprising development, given how entrenched the two are. Again, reason for optimism that some in the wine business understand the need to make wine more accessible.

Expensive wine 138: Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee 2017

 Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker's CuveeThe Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee offers quality and value in time for Thanksgiving

One thing we can count on this year, despite all of the disasters and sadness, is quality and value in Oregon pinot noir. Yes, premiumization made some inroads, and I tasted some disappointing wine.

But, for the most part, wines like the Panther Creek pinot noir are all they have always been.

The Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee 2017 ($28, purchased, 13.5%) has long been a Wine Curmudgeon favorite, but I haven’t always been able to find it on store shelves. So when I saw it this summer, I bought it immediately.

The 2017 is typical of the producer’s style: An earthiness that I like and that is almost Old World; restrained berry fruit, so not quite brambly but not California, either; and refined tannins. The latter are noticeable, but don’t get in the way and are not easy to do with pinot noir. Too many wines, even at this price, either forgo the tannins entirely or boost them so it seems like they sould be in cabernet sauvignon.

Highly recommended, and more than a fair value. This is on its way to being quite complex, and should be even more interesting in a couple of years. Yes, Thanksgiving wine, but a red wine for any occasion that calls for something well-made and a step up.

Friday Birthday Week 2020 giveaway: 3 cheap wine books

cheap wine book

Yes, three autographed copies just for you.

Win three cheap wine books in the Friday Birthday week 2020 giveaway

The winner is Karen Jo, who picked 653. The winning number is 662 (screenshot to the bottom). This was the final prize giveaway for this year’s Birthday Week. Thanks to everyone who participated and an especial thanks to everyone who said such nice things about my work here.


Today, to celebrate the blog’s 13th anniversary, we’re giving away three autographed copies of the cheap wine book. This is the final  giveaway for Birthday Week 2020.

Complete contest rules are here. Pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and leave it in the comment section of this post. You can’t pick a number someone else has picked, and you need to leave your guess in the comments section of this post — no email entries or entries on other posts. Unless the number is in the comments section of this post, the entry won’t count.

If you get the blog via email or RSS, you need to go to this exact post on the website to enter (click the link to get there). At about 5 p.m. central today, I’ll go to random.org and generate the winning number. The person whose entry is closest to that number gets the books.

Thanksgiving wine 2020

thanksgiving wine 2020Four Thanksgiving wine 2020 suggestions

Don’t feel too thankful this year, what with all the damn terrible things that have happened? The Wine Curmudgeon understands, but wants to remind everyone: At least we’re here to enjoy the holiday. A lot of us are much worse off.

So take a look at these Thanksgiving wine 2020 suggestions. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.

Louis Jadot Beaujolais 2019 ($12, purchased, 13%): This French red is about as old-fashioned as wine gets, and I can hear the wine geeks snickering in the background. But the 2019 is a little heavier than usual, which makes it more of a food wine and which isn’t a bad thing. Look for berry fruit, a hint of tannins, and even a little pepper, Imported by Kobrand

Branchini Pignoletto Frizzante 2019 ($12, purchased, 11.5%): Frizzante, in this Italian white, means fizzy. And that means you get a Prosecco-style wine without any of the off-putting qualities of cheap Prosecco. That means it’s not only delightfully fizzy, but minerally,  with a hint of pear, maybe, and barely sweet. Highly recommended — much, much more than I thought it could be. A  tip of the WC’s fedora to Paul DiCarlo at Jimmy’s in Dallas for telling me about this. Imported by Serendipity Wines

Calcu Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Especial 2019 ($12, sample, 12.5%): An intriguing and enjoyable white from Chile, with about 60 percent sauvignon blanc and 30 percent semillon. It’s not light like a supermarket New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and it needs food. But it’s quite Chilean in character (soft lemon instead of grapefruit) with a pleasantly long finish. Not for everyone, but a fine value. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers

Mezzacorona Rose Vigneti delle Dolomiti 2019 ($10, purchased, 12%): An Italian pink that does what it does quite well and for more than a fair price. It’s soft-ish but not sweet — lots of berry fruit, with a hint of acidity and a pleasing, long fruity finish. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports

More about Thanksgiving wine:
Thanksgiving wine 2019
Thanksgiving wine 2018
Thanksgiving wine 2017
Wine of the week: El Coto Rioja Blanco 2018
Expensive wine 131: Justin Isosceles 2015

Birthday Week essay 2020: Wine as expensive shiny baubles instead of something to savor and enjoy

cheap wine

“Ha! Just try and keep me from writing about cheap wine.”

How did we end up in a Peloton wine universe, when all we want is something to drink with dinner?

How does one keep cheap wine in perspective, given this year of living depressingly – the pandemic, the Trump wine tariff, the presidential election, the sommelier sex scandal? In fact, why even bother? Why not just load up on Winking Owl at Aldi, get hammered, and leave it at that?

And who would blame us if we did? Has cheap wine ever been worse off in the blog’s 13-year history? Yes, I know I seem to write that in each of the blog’s annual Birthday Week essays, and I am writing it again for the blog’s 13th birthday. But that’s because, sadly, it always seems to be true.

We’ve been dumped into some sort of bizarre Peloton wine universe, where everything is sold to us as an expensive, shiny bauble – even when it is neither expensive, shiny, nor a bauble. And, most infuriatingly, even if we don’t need it. I got a $17 sample this fall, and the tasting notes were past snotty (let alone indecipherable): “Polished fore palate with ample fine grain tannins on a generous mid palate.”

We want quality and value, and the wine business gives us $15 supermarket plonk because surveys say that’s the hot price point. The cost of the wine in that $17 sample, allowing for some crude math, was probably less than $4; does that mean the tasting notes cost more than grapes? We aren’t customers anymore, but lines on a spreadsheet, metrics to be parsed, trends to be analyzed, and preferences to be focus grouped.

How did we get to this point?

It starts with the state of the world, and is not exclusive to wine. It’s what one observer has called late-period capitalism, which is based on “taking beloved institutions and destroying everything that made them great so that a few billionaires can get even richer.”

Wine’s contribution is consolidation. Today, most of the world’s wine production is in the hands of maybe a couple of hundred companies, and the U.S. business is even more top-heavy. The top five producers account for about three-quarters of U.S. sales, even though there are some 10,000 wineries, while the two biggest distributors control half the wholesale business.

The result? An almost surreal wine market:

• Cheap wine that tastes cheap — poorly made, stemmy, and bitter, and produced for no other reason than to cost $3 or $4 a bottle.

• $15 wine made for a mass audience — sold in supermarkets and the biggest retailers, slightly sweet and “smooooth,” and where more money may be spent on label copy than on the grapes.

• Expensive wine that exists for no reason other than that it’s expensive, and which commands the fawning supplication of the Winestream Media.

The idea that wine should taste like wine, and that it is something that most of us can afford to drink with dinner – which was the idea of wine for much of the past 200 years – is a quaint, old-fashioned notion. Which only cranks like me still believe – because, of course, late-period capitalism.

So is it time for the Winking Owl?

Hardly. Wine is a pleasure, something to be enjoyed, and something that makes life more enjoyable. A glass of wine after a day of good writing is something to be savored and appreciated, not scored and cataloged and trophy-ized. Why should I let people whose idea of success is as offensive as it is self-defeating spoil it for me?

Yes, cheap wine is in a bad place – we’ve lost much quality cheap wine over the past couple of years thanks to producer and distributor consolidation, and consolidation has wreaked havoc with availability. And it’s not like availability was easy even in the good old days.

But there is still great cheap wine out there, it’s still worth looking for, and I’m going to keep looking for it. Call it the cheap wine version of grace under pressure – if something is worth doing, then we should do it, even when it may not be easy. No, finding great cheap wine won’t solve the world’s problems, but it may help us endure until we can figure out a way to solve them. That’s a fine job in and of itself, and one I am happy to do –because we must solve them.

More Birthday Week perspective on the wine business:
How do you write about quality cheap wine when the system is rigged against it?
Have we reached the end of wine criticism?
• 10 years writing about cheap wine on the Internet

Thursday Birthday week 2020 giveaway: Four Schott Zweisel wine glasses

schottWin four Schott Zweisel wine glasses

And the winner is: James, who selected 267; the winning number was 259 (screen shot below).  Thanks to everyone who participated. Tomorrow’s giveaway — three autographed copies of the cheap wine book, just in time for the holidays. That will be the final daily giveaway.


Today, to celebrate the blog’s 13th anniversary, we’re giving away four Schott Zweisel wine glasses, just like the ones the Wine Curmudgeon uses. This is the the fourth of five daily giveaways; check out this post to see the final prize.

Complete contest rules are here. Pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and leave it in the comment section of this post. You can’t pick a number someone else has picked, and you need to leave your guess in the comments section of this post — no email entries or entries on other posts. Unless the number is in the comments section of this post, the entry won’t count.

If you get the blog via email or RSS, you need to go to this exact post on the website to enter (click the link to get there). At about 5 p.m. central today, I’ll go to random.org and generate the winning number. The person whose entry is closest to that number gets the glasses.

Wine of the week: Chateau de Campuget Rose 2019

 Chateau de Campuget RoseThe French Chateau de Campuget rose is a standout cheap pink wine at a time when we need one

What better way to celebrate the blog’s 13th annual Birthday Week with a wine of the week that symbolizes everything the blog stands for? In other words, the Chateau de Campuget rose.

The Chateau de Campuget Rose 2019 ($10, purchased, 13%) is well-made, it’s consistent from vintage to vintage, and it tastes like pink wine from France’s Rhone. I have tasting notes dating to 2012, with nary a discouraging word. Plus, given how difficult it has been to find quality cheap wine on store shelves this year, it is supposed to be more than widely available.

In fact, this vintage is step up from the usual fine effort – a Hall of Fame candidate, even. It’s still a bit fruity (red berries?), but there is more structure instead of just the fruitiness in the front. It’s blend of syrah and grenache, and the former seems to be keeping the latter in its place. In addition, there is a cleaner, more savory finish.

Highly recommended, and just the wine for Thanksgiving. Or, buy a case, drink it throughout the holidays, and enjoy the simple pleasures of fine $10 wine.

Imported by Dreyfus & Ashby