Wine of the week: Coltibuono Chianti Cetamura 2015

Coltibuono ChiantiThe Coltibuono Chianti is one more Italian red that combines quality and value for $10

One of the most surprising things about cheap wine in the second decade of the 21st century is how much quality Chianti exists for $10 or less. Maybe it’s because Chianti is passé among the wine geeks, given the popularity of pricey Super Tuscans. Maybe there’s so much of it that supply keeps prices down. And maybe it’s because so many Chianti producers are happy to make great $10 wine.

Regardless, the Coltibuono Chianti ($10, purchased, 13%) is one more terrific value. This Italian red wine, made with the sangiovese grape from the Chianti region of Tuscany, is more old fashioned than some of the others. That means it’s a little more rustic and earthy. Which, of course, isn’t a problem, but part of Chianti’s terroir. So no, it’s not like this.

Look for Chianti’s traditional tart, slightly cherry taste, a clean finish, and those wonderful red fruit aromas that make me think of sausage and garlic. There’s even a little baking spice somewhere in the mix.

Bring on the red sauce, especially as winter hangs around in much of the country.

Imported by Coltibuono USA

Winebits 529: Ancient wine, wine on airplanes, bootlegged wine

ancient wineThis week’s wine news: The history of wine may be older than we think, plus Alaska Airlines offers free wine shipping and Canadians enjoy bootlegged wine

Very, very old: Scientists have discovered wine residue in clay pots more than 5,000 years old. If it is wine, will force archaeologists to reconsider how long we’ve been making and drinking wine. This discovery, in caves under the Monte Kronio volcano in Sicily (along with a similar find in the republic of Georgia), means wine use may be a couple of thousand years older than believed. Even more amazing, the wine in the caves may have been part of a complex system of international trade, bringing copper goods to Sicily in exchange for wine. And without the three-tier system, too.

Free shipping: Who knew airline free wine shipping would be a draw? But Alaska Airlines thinks it is, part of their “Wine Flies Free” program. Those of us who travel to wine regions served by Alaska, which includes parts of California and the Pacific Northwest, can check a case of wine without paying the fee. You have to belong to the airline’s frequent flyer program, but that’s about the only condition save whether your state allows it.

Not in my province: Canadians, who usually seem more sensible about these things, are embroiled in a trade war over wine and oil. The province of Alberta, which has the oil, wants to build a pipeline through neighboring British Columbia, which has the wine but doesn’t want the pipeline. The premier of Alberta has imposed an embargo on B.C. wine until the latter allows the pipeline. In other words, much U.S.-style foolishness – and even someone trying to make money off the embargo. The Calgary Herald reports that a luxury wine tour company, Butiq Escapes, is offering a “B.C. Wine Smuggling Escape for Albertans,” complete with private jet to fly you to B.C. wine country.

Big Wine 2018: The good, the bad, and the ugly for consumers

Big wineBig Wine’s continuing dominance over what we drink means less interesting wines to buy, as well as fewer places to buy them

This is the second of two parts looking at Big Wine 2018. Today, what Big Wine’s dominance means for wine drinkers. The first part – Big Wine 2018’s stranglehold by the numbers – is here.

My mother took a copy of the blog to a Chicago-area Kroger affiliate recently, looking for a wine that I had bought at a Dallas Kroger. The guy at the Chicago store looked at her as if she was crazy. “Why would we have something that was in Dallas just because we’re Kroger?” he asked her.

The conversation took place next to a huge aisle display of E&J Gallo’s Barefoot, which is in every Kroger store in the country. So who was the employee kidding?

Big Wine has changed the wine business in countless ways since I started doing this 20-plus years ago, but the biggest change is the idea of national brands. In the early 1990s, save for Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, there wasn’t a national brand like Tide detergent or Heinz ketchup. And even Kendall-Jackson wasn’t quite national.

Today, though, walk into a retailer anywhere in the U.S. and you’ll find at least a handful of national brands – Barefoot, certainly, as well as Yellow Tail, Woodbridge, and Kendall-Jackson. They may not be in smaller, independent stores, but they are in the supermarkets and chain retailers like Total Wine that are beginning to sell most of the wine we drink.

Big Wine’s dominance is not new, and it has benefited wine in so many ways – more women and minorities and improvements in winemaking standards among them. What’s different now, and what has developed over the past couple of years as Big Wine has gotten bigger, are the national brands — and they are not a benefit. Wine is not laundry detergent or ketchup.

The top 10 companies in this year’s Wine Business News ranking of the the U.S. largest producers account for about 80 percent of the wine made in this country. Almost without exception, they are national brand-style wines – technically competent perhaps, but boring and dull and devoid of varietal character and terroir. They are, says a friend in the wine business, the wine equivalent of a Big Mac – something to eat, but hardly worth eating.

After the jump, what Big Wine dominance means for wine drinkers and especially for those of us who want to drink quality cheap wine. Continue reading

The power of Big Wine 2018

Big Wine 2018

Three out five bottles on the grocery store Great Wall of Wine could come from just three companies.

Big Wine 2018 accounts for nine out 10 of bottles made in the U.S. How can that be healthy for the long-term growth of wine?

This is the first of two parts looking at Big Wine 2018. Part I, the numbers. Part II, what that dominance means for wine drinkers.

Nothing illustrates the power of Big Wine 2018 more than the half a pallet of Meiomi pinot noir sitting on the floor in the wine department at a Central Market in Dallas. Meiomi, owned by Constellation Brands, is mass market wine, not exactly what you’d expect to see by the case at Central Market, which positions itself as Whole Foods with a Texas twist.

But there it was. And why not? Big Wine is so big, as noted in Wine Business News’ annual ranking of the U.S. largest producers, that it can make almost any retailer an offer that it can’t afford to refuse.

In 2017, Big Wine continued to dominate what we drink, according to the Wine Business numbers. The 10 biggest companies accounted for 81 percent of the wine made in the U.S. In addition:

• The three biggest producers, E&J Gallo, The Wine Group, and Constellation, kept their market share from last year – almost 60 percent. In other words, they make three out of every five bottles of U.S. wine.

• The share of the top 10 companies actually declined from 2016, from 84 percent to 81. That’s not because they’re less powerful, but because the next 20 brands took business away. The Josh Cellars label, owned by Deutsch Family, was little known a couple of years ago. Today, though, it is the 12th biggest “winery” on the list, with 2.2 million cases. Stop and consider what that means: Two years ago, hardly anyone had heard of Josh Cellars. Today, it accounts for close to one percent of all the wine made in the U.S.

• The top 50 companies on the list represent 90 percent of U.S. wine production. Given that there are almost 10,000 wineries in this country, this means the other 9,950 make only 10 percent. Is that healthy for the wine business over the long term?

• In the first Wine Business list in 2003, a winery had to produce 350,000 cases to make the top 30. This year, that threshold had doubled. So yes, the big are getting bigger; given that wine consumption is flat, how long until that starts hurting the other 9,950 wineries?

• The 10 best-selling grocery store wines in the country are owned by Big Wine; Gallo owns No. 1 Barefoot, and No. 10 Apothic. These 10 account for almost one-quarter of sales as measured by dollars. That’s depressing enough, but measuring by dollars probably under-represents their dominance. These are cheap wines, most costing less than $10 a bottle, so they could account for as much as 40 percent if measured by cases sold.

More on Big Wine:
Big Wine takes over
Big Wine growth 2016
Big Wine to become one company

Enough with the Champagne glass conspiracy already – can’t we just drink and enjoy?

Champgne glass

$60 will buy two Reidel Veritas Champagne glasses — and won’t we sleep better at night after that purchase?

Once again, we’re being told that we aren’t drinking bubbly from the correct glasses, and we’d better stop – or else

A couple of months ago, when I wrote about the most recent Champagne glass conspiracy, I thought we were done with worrying about what a Champagne glass should look like. The glass in that post was so over the top that only the geekiest among us would pay attention. And the rest of us could enjoy our bubbly in whatever glasses we had, content that the wine business has passed us by.

Silly me.

Once again, we’re being told that we aren’t drinking bubbly from the correct glasses, and that we must spend $30 a glass to do it the proper way. It’s called the Veritas glass from our friends at Reidel – with a wider middle and narrow top, two design changes that are supposed to help us enjoy more aromas and flavors. No, this isn’t as bizarre as the cement mixer glass from the previous post (which also needs to be dusty to work most efficiently), but it’s overkill nonetheless.

Most of us spend less than $15 a bottle for sparkling wine. Why do we need to pay twice as much for the glass? Why can’t we enjoy our bubbly in whatever glasses we have and be done with it?

Because this is wine, and if they aren’t telling us what to do, they’re reminding us that what we do is wrong. And, by the way, spend more money.

I wrote this in the previous Champagne glass post, and it’s worth repeating: “What difference does the design make to the vast majority of wine drinkers? Can we tell the difference between the bubbles in a flute glass and in the cement mixer glass? Isn’t the wine just as enjoyable in the former? The answers: Almost certainly not, and of course. And I can’t imagine most of us want to drink wine out of a dusty glass.”

But then again, what do we know? We’re just the slobs who pay for everything.

Wine of the week: Mulderbosch Rose 2017

mulderbosch roseThe Mulderbosch rose demonstrates, once again, that you don’t have to spend more than $10 to get terrific pink wine

Is the Mulderbosch rose pink wine for The Holiday that Must Not be Named? Check.

Does it have a screwcap? Check.

Consistent quality? Check.

Tremendous value? Check.

Tasty? Check.

In other words, South Africa’s Mulderbosch rose ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is everything a great cheap wine should be. And, believe it or not, widely available – grocery stores, even.

The 2017 vintage (which we’re getting now because the southern hemisphere is six months ahead of the northern in the harvest cycle) is much fresher and more flavorful than the 2016 that I tasted at the end of last year. That’s a reminder that most roses don’t age well, and you should always buy the most recent vintage and never one that is more than 18 months old.

The Mulderbosch is an odd rose since it’s made with cabernet sauvignon, which is a heavier-tasting grape than rose needs. But that’s rarely a problem with the wine; this vintage shows a little cabernet zippiness and some blackberry fruit, as well as a classic rose clean finish. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Terroir Selections

Winebits 528: Utah liquor, canine bars, and flavored wine

Utah

“Bring on the craft beer!”

This week’s wine news: Utah, despite some of the strictest anti-drinking laws in the country, sees more booze consumption, plus craft beer and shelter dogs and flavored wine

Only in Utah: Mormon-dominated Utah has some of the strictest anti-drinking laws in the country, something we’ve noted many times before. So why do alcohhol sales keep increasing every year, up three percent per capita from 2106 to 2017? State officials say its because of more residents from out of state plus thriving tourism. Which, of course, overlooks all those anti-drinking laws, including the most stringent DWI regulations in the U.S. It demonstrates a point that we’ve been making on the blog for years, that anti-drinking laws don’t slow consumption. Education does, but hardly anyone wants to invest in that. It’s easier to get tough.

Craft pooches? Who knew that we would one day take our pets to a do-themed bar? But that’s what happened in suburban Portland this week, when Fido’s Taphouse opened. Its owners say Fido’s is the first of its kind: “Fido’s blends foster housing for shelter dogs with a craft beer tap room. Patrons will be able to drink craft beer and play with shelter dogs, with the goal of rehoming these dogs to loving owners.” It’s an odd approach (even allowing for the PR person who used “rehoming,” which is not a word). I’m more concerned, as someone who has owned dogs his entire life, about people who drink beer while contemplating adoption. Hard to make a rational decision, isn’t it?

Flavored wine? No, apparently not, reports Flavorman, the Beverage Architects (and no, I am not making this up). The Louisville, Ky., company says “Maple, the sweet sign of spring and uniquely North American ingredient, is the top trending flavor for the upcoming year. It is famous for its complex sweetness and unmatched flavor. More recently, it is front and center for its role as an alternative sweetener and extensive list health and nutritional benefits.” The bad news for wine drinkers? Sadly, there will not be any maple flavored wine – only “Matcha Tea, international coffee blends, botanical-heavy beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic and in craft beverages including sodas, beer and spirits.” How will we ever survive?