Winebits 564: Kroger wine, wine importers, magazine death

kroger wineThis week’s wine news: Kroger wine and home delivery, plus the best wine importers, and a noted beer magazine closes

The great wall of wine wine at your home: Kroger will offer home wine delivery in 14 states. This Bloomberg story, which looks to be written from a news release and isn’t quite clear about the project, doesn’t quite get what a big deal this is. Which it is, if only because Kroger is one of the largest wine retailers in the country and it’s not just selling wine. Apparently, it will be private label wine from California, Italy, France and Spain, costing between $11 and $17 a bottle and come only in six- and 12-bottle “assortments.” In other words, grocery store wine premiumization.

Only the best: Frank Whitman, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, lists four of the best wine importers – names on the back of a bottle that almost always deliver quality and value. You’ll see the four importers mentioned in the story – Kermit Lynch, Rosenthal, Skurnik, and Louis/Dressner – frequently on the blog, and regular readers know how picky I am about these things. It’s not surprising, though, given the way wine works that distinguishing between the best importers and everyone else can be complicated and time consuming.

So long, All About Beer: Yes, it’s not a wine magazine, but those of us who write for a living know exactly what happens when a magazine folds – and doesn’t pay the contributors. Hence, this item about the respected All About Beer magazine, which apparently did just that and left its writers in the lurch. Reports Forbes: “Reporters and editors have complained for years about late and missed paychecks, and recent editor John Holl and at least ten other staffers left their positions because of bounced checks and failure to make vendor payments.” Sadly, I am all too familiar with that in the world of magazine freelancing.

Five things I noticed about Texas wine during an Amarillo road trip

texas wineTexas wine is making inroads in the least likely places

• The shock of seeing a Hampton Inn – yes, a Hampton Inn – with a Texas wine on its Happy Hour list is almost indescribable. I’ve been in chain hotels in some of the biggest cities in the world that didn’t have any local wine. But a Hampton Inn in Amarillo? It’s hardly the garden spot of wine country. But the Bar Z winery is in the area, and someone, somewhere in the chain bureaucracy let the hotel do the right thing. This is just one more example of drink local’s move into the mainstream.

• Even more amazing: Much of this part of Texas has historically been dry, but has embraced the state’s wet trend. Since 2004, almost 80 percent of wet elections have been successful.

• I grew up in Chicago where you can buy any kind of booze at the drugstore; a fifth of Scotch at midnight, anyone? And I’ve spent lots of time in California, where you can buy a bottle of gin in the grocery store at 7 on a Sunday morning. But I will never understand the drive-thru liquor stores so common in so many small towns in rural Texas. I passed a couple of them between Dallas and Amarillo, and there were cars in line in each.

• One is never out of Texas wine country. It’s 350 miles or so between Dallas and Amarillo, and almost all of it is in the middle of nowhere. So what did I pass, about 40 minutes northwest of Denton? Brushy Creek Vineyard. Again, if someone had told me there would be a winery in this part of the state when I started writing about Texas wine, I would have laughed.

• The owners of the legendary Big Texan Steak Ranch want to do the Hampton Inn one better. Owners Bobby and Danny Lee want to expand the Texas wines on their list, since they see the tie-in between Texas wine and Texas food. That’s impressive enough. But they also want to price them so that customers can afford to buy them – $20 or $25 Texas restaurant red wine. Could they be on to something that the rest of the restaurant wine world hasn’t figured out?

Corks: The most dangerous wine closure in the world

Watch this video, and you’ll understand how dangerous corks are

The Wine Curmudgeon will make no other comment on the following, other than this: “This young man would not have nearly blown up his kitchen if all wines had screwcaps.”

The complete story is here, via BuzzFeed. Lawrence Guo of San Leandro, Calif., wanted to open a bottle of rose, but his corkscrew broke. Disaster then ensued. He tried opening the bottle with a lighter, similar to a video he had seen on YouTube (and which we have detailed here).

When that didn’t work, he used the flame on a gas stove. The results were, in Guo’s words, disastrous – “we could have died,” he said. The bottle shattered, glass flew everywhere, and Guo and his friend were lucky to avoid injury.

He offers a lengthy explanation about what went wrong, quoting thermal shock, molecular vapor expansion, and vapor pressure. But we know the real reason.

Corks.

“We tried everything we could to open it, but the cork wouldn’t budge,” Guo told Buzzfeed. “I would advise to wear some better protective gear covering vital body parts if this were to be replicated.”

None of which you need with a screwcap.

Has the next phase of the wine slowdown started?

wine slowdownToo many grapes, younger people who don’t drink alcohol, and slowing sales among all age groups are signs of a wine slowdown

Call it a tipping point if you don’t mince words or an easing of momentum if you do, but the results are the same. It looks like a major change in U.S. wine consumption is underway. Call it the post-recession wine slowdown.

Know four things:

• California wineries, faced with an oversupply of grapes from yet another bumper harvest and lagging sales, don’t seem to be buying as many grapes this year. In fact, their attempt to get out of grape-buying contracts in some parts of the state is causing controversy and bad blood.

Wines sales have slowed, so that even an industry cheerleader termed growth for this year at a “sluggish 0.2% projected pace.” These numbers, from the company that publishes the Wine Spectator, confirm what has been reported elsewhere many times – U.S. sales by volume won’t exceed the increase in the drinking age population for the foreseeable future.

• One of the world’s biggest spirits companies expects that the “low-[alcohol] and no alcohol cocktail movement will increasingly shape the bar world” in 2019. The report went on: “What is most notable, though, is the differing consumption habits of the younger demographic, with 46 percent of people under the age of 35 likely to order a mocktail (non-alcoholic cocktail), versus just 16 percent of over-35’s. “

Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank, one of wine’s leading statistical gurus, says the industry is at that tipping point. McMillan says there will be more grapes than are needed to meet slowing demand, and that the industry must come up with a Plan B to sell its product in this more challenging environment.

In other words, we have too many grapes, younger people who don’t necessarily want to drink alcohol, and slowing sales among all age groups. But the industry is hellbent on selling more expensive wine as if none this was relevant – if it was still the heyday of scores and wine magazines in the 1990s and that post-recession premiumization would go on forever.

Consumers – and that includes most wine drinkers – vote with their debit cards. You can only sell overpriced and lower-quality wine for so long before they put their debit cards away. If that is happening now, and I think it is, then we have a wine industry selling something fewer people want to buy. And that is not a recipe for success.

Wine of the week: Ken Forrester Petit Rose 2018

Ken Forrester petit roseThe Ken Forrester petit rose may be the best rose no one has ever heard of

There’s no easy way to say this, so here it is: The Ken Forrester petit rose is a brilliant wine, consistent from year to year, and a tremendous value. But good luck trying to buy it, given the failures of the three-tier system.

In fact, the Ken Forrester petit rose ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is one of several top-notch wines from this outstanding South African producer that are difficult to buy in the U.S. Why? Because it’s South African wine, hardly the darling of the distributors or retailers; because Forrester isn’t a big winery; and because the winery has had importer problems for at least as long as I have been writing about it.

In a perfect world, where we could buy wine the way we buy pants and computers, none of that would matter. But since wine has the three-tier system, we have to make do. Which is a shame, because the rose is everything a great pink wine should be.

Look for strawberry aromas, but not the syrupy, overdone kind that poorly made roses sometimes show. There is fresh, just ripe raspberry fruit flavor, and the finish is precise and almost stony. All in all, the kind of wine to buy again and again. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.

Winebits 563: Wine snobs, wine theft, legal weed

wine snobsThis week’s wine news: Are tasting notes the last refuge of wine snobs? Plus, a tragic end to one of the biggest wine thefts ever and Big Beer gets into legal weed.

Wine snobs: Tim McKirdy, writing in VinePair, strikes a chord with anyone who has struggled with a tasting note: “But convoluted tasting notes inevitably alienate at least as many prospective consumers as they entice. It begs the question: Is it time to change the way we talk about wine?” The answer, of course, is yes, and if McKirdy sometimes writes as if he composing a university research paper, his points are well made. “If wine industry professionals truly want to make wine more open and accessible — besides providing free wine education for all.” he says, “sommeliers and critics should carefully consider when to use technical language. In wine, as in most things, it’s better to keep things simple.”

Suicide: A man charged with stealing more than $1.2 million worth of rare wine from Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon apparently killed himself last week while his lawyers waited for him in court. The BBC reported that Nicolas De-Meyer, who was Solomon’s personal assistant, fell from the 33rd floor of the Carlyle Hotel in New York. Police said De-Meyer had used the money from the sale of the stolen wines to fund a 14-month globe-trotting adventure. He was facing up to 10 years in prison.

Big Beer and weed: One more multi-national booze company is getting into legal marijuana. Molson Coors Canada has foremed a joint venture with Canadian cannabis producer The Hydropothecary Corporation, or Hexo, to sell cannabis-infused drinks. Called Truss, the new company will develop non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian market, following the country’s vote to legalize the recreational cannabis. This is at least the third deal between a leading alcohol producer and a Canadian company to get into the legal weed business.

The sommelier cheating scandal: Once again, wine reminds us it’s big business

 sommelier cheating scandalFirst, fame and fortune, and now a sommelier cheating scandal

Wine’s biggest secret is that it’s a business, just like coal mining or car manufacturing. That’s because it pretends to be something else, this huge family of wine lovers where yes, we have to make money but that’s not the main reason we do it. Which is just more hypocrisy to anyone paying attention, and which the sommelier cheating scandal amply — and sadly — demonstrates.

Know that I’m not tarring the innocent with this brush. The cheating scandal, revealed last week by Esther Mobley in the San Francisco Chronicle, involved a master sommelier giving a list of the wines to be used for the blind tasting portion of the 2018 exam to one of the candidates. The accused has apparently been struck off the Court of Master Sommeliers, and everyone who took the test will have to take it again. No one has said that the cheating goes past that, though Mobley noted that 24 people passed the 2018 exam, compared to 274 in its almost 50-year history. Still, the organization that runs the certification has seemingly been  open and transparent about what happened.

Sommelier-ing has become an industry in and of itself – movies, even. Sommeliers are the current rock stars of the wine business, perhaps even more quoted and revered than the celebrity winemakers who used to dominate the discussion. Or, as this story amply demonstrates – “curated by a master sommelier for taste” – why not cheating if those are the results? Talk about pedestals; only someone with initials after their name can decide if wine is worth drinking.

Consider that someone who earns an MS can make twice as much money – high six figures, in fact – than someone without the distinction. Which, regardless of anything else, is all the incentive one needs to cheat in 21st century America. Because, as a good ol’ Texan famously told me at the bar at Louie’s, “If you have to ask how much money is enough, you don’t understand the question.”

The best perspective on the sommelier cheating scandal came from someone who must take the exam again. The person, who asked not to be named, told the SevenFifty Daily website: “I will probably be one of the candidates who will not retake the exam. I know this is not the intent, but I feel like a martyr. I am embarrassed, though I did nothing wrong. I want to find a different industry to work in. I want this to be over.”

How sad is that? Isn’t wine supposed to be fun?