How do you write about quality cheap wine when the system is rigged against it?

Look out! They’re shelling us with premiumization and the wine tariff!

You keep a stiff upper lip, try to ignore the frustrations and complications, and soldier on – because quality cheap wine is worth it

How do you write about quality cheap wine when the wine industry and the federal government have gone out of their way to make quality cheap wine an anachronism?

Because, as we celebrate the blog’s 12th birthday, that’s the situation I find myself in. Premiumization and the 25 percent European wine tariff have made it all but impossible to find the kind of $10 and $12 wine that’s worth writing about. I feel like a character in one of those British Raj movies where the garrison is stranded in a fort on a remote hilltop and we’re being picked off one by one and we know the relief column isn’t going to arrive in time.

Yes, there is still plenty of cheap wine on store shelves, but just because a wine is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking.

So what’s the Wine Curmudgeon to do? Carry on, of course. What else is a stiff upper lip for?

The irony here is that I seriously considered ending the blog after this final birthday week post (with a Hall of Fame wrap-up in January). And if I had known about the wine tariff when I was pondering the blog’s fate this summer, it would have been that much easier to close it after 12 years.

Changing my mind

But two things happened to make me change my mind: First, and most practically, the site’s hosting company charged me for another year in August. So, if I closed the blog with this post, I would have been stuck paying for nine months of service I didn’t use. Second, four people whose opinions I admire and respect pointed out that if I didn’t keep doing this, who would? And that despite my frustration with the blog, there is and will be a need for it.

For the frustrations have been endless. These days, it’s not just about paying homage to our overlords at Google or dealing with out-of-touch producers and distributors and too many incompetent marketers. Or fending off the sponsored content and the fluff pieces that so many others in the wine writing business have turned to in an attempt to make money at something where there is little money to be made.

These days, it’s about making sense of a business that is divorced from reality. Which, frankly, makes me feel like I’m using a croquet mallet to comb my hair.

Consider just these two items: A group of Washington state wine producers, faced with declining sales, say they aren’t worried since the wine they are selling is more expensive. Meanwhile, Italian pinot grigio producers, also faced with declining sales, want to know how to sell more expensive wine to make up the difference.

Making money the hard way

Am I missing something here? Aren’t declining sales a bad thing? Shouldn’t an industry do something to reverse the decline, instead of furthering it by raising prices?

But not, apparently, if it’s the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century. Because, of course, premiumization. I’ve probably written entirely too much about the subject, but mostly because I can’t believe anyone in wine still takes it seriously. Though, and this is welcome news, there are others who are beginning to question its validity. Damien Wilson, PhD, who chairs the wine business program at Sonoma State University, is blunt: Premiumization can be a path to ruin, since sales decline and higher prices scare off new wine drinkers.

The less said about the tariff the better. It’s as counterproductive as premiumization, and its adherents are blinded by politics to economic reality. That the tariff could forever wreak havoc on U.S. wine consumption is beyond their comprehension.

So let me shepherd my ammunition, keep my head low, and hope against hope that the relief column gets through. And keep a very stiff upper lip.

More Birthday Week perspective on the wine business:
Have we reached the end of wine criticism?
• 10 years writing about cheap wine on the Internet
• Premiumization, crappy wine, and what we drink

Thursday Birthday week 2019 giveaway: Four Schott Zweisel wine glasses

schottWin four Schott Zweisel wine glasses

Today, to celebrate the blog’s 12th 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: Casillero del Diablo Reserva Pinot Noir 2018

Casillero del Diablo Reserva pinot noirWe celebrate the blog’s 12th birthday with the $10 Casillero del Diablo Reserva pinot noir

This fall, wine guru Roberta Backlund recommended Chilean pinot noir, and those who listened to the podcast with Roberta probably heard the skepticism in my voice. Shows what I know: The Casillero del Diablo Reserva pinot noir shows Roberta may be on to something.

The Casillero del Diablo Reserva pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%) was about the last thing I expected. It’s not just that Casillero is owned by Concha y Toro, one of the three or four biggest wine companies in the world, but that making $10 pinot noir that’s worth drinking is almost impossible. And I have the hundreds of tasting notes to prove it.

But this Chilean red is a pinot noir that tastes like pinot noir. Isn’t tarted up with residual sugar, overloaded with over-ripe fruit, or blended with a couple of other grapes to “smooth” out the wine. Instead, it’s almost earthy in the front, with soft tannins and a pinot-like, almost restrained, approach in winemaking. There is a lot of berry fruit, but it’s not overdone.

Highly recommended, and especially with the uncertainty about inexpensive French pinot noir given the 25 percent wine tariff. Pair this with any weeknight dinner or something like Italian takeout – and even enjoy a glass or two in the afternoon.

Imported by Eagle Peak Estates

 

Wednesday Birthday week 2019 giveaway: $100 Wine.com gift card

wine.com gift card

And the winner is: Laura, who selected 656; the winning number was 665 (screen shot to the left).  Thanks to everyone who participated. Tomorrow’s giveaway: four Schott Zwiesel wine glasses. Thanks to wine.com, a long-time supporter of the blog. This is the third of five daily giveaways; check out this post to see the prizes for the rest of the week.


Today, to celebrate the blog’s 12th anniversary, we’re giving away a $100 Wine.com gift card, good for anything on the site of the world’s largest Internet wine retailer. Thanks to Wine.com, a long-time supporter of the blog. This is the third of five daily giveaways; check out this post to see the prizes for the rest of the week.

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 gift card.

Winebits 620: Birthday week 2019, or the end of the Internet wine search

Internet wine search

Please, please, Google — help people find this really terrific cheap wine.

Birthday week 2019 wine news: Internet wine searches matter less and less, plus our overlords at Google and poor Linux

How quaint: More visitors got the blog from RSS and email between November 2018 and November 2019 than ever before, about three-quarters of you. That’s up from about two-thirds a year ago. Long gone are the days when people found the blog by searching for a great cheap wine to drink. Remember this? This is annoying, since I want people to find great cheap wine by searching for it on Google. But that’s not how the Internet works these days, thanks to our overlords at Google.

Speaking of Google: The search giant’s web browser, Chrome, was the most popular, with about 45 percent of traffic. Interestingly, that’s about 25 percent less than its worldwide market share. The main reason for that, I think, is that almost 60 percent of visitors get here with an iPhone, and Chrome isn’t Apple’s default browser.

Poor, poor pitiful Linux:  How disrespected is my beloved Linux when it comes to the blog? It totaled 0.7 percent of visitors, just a notch above the total for four Windows operating systems hardly anyone uses anymore (Windows XP, 8.0/8.1, and Vista). Which means, I suppose, that we will have to keep waiting for the year of the Linux desktop.

Tuesday Birthday Week 2019 giveaway: Letter-shaped wine cork holder

Win a letter-shaped wine cork holder — perhaps the best use ever for corks

And the winner is: Clifford, who selected 31; the winning number was 21 (screen shot to the left).  Thanks to everyone who participated. Tomorrow’s giveaway the $100 Wine.com gift card. Thanks to wine.com, a long-time supporter of the blog. This is the second of five daily giveaways; check out this post to see the prizes for the rest of the week.


Today, to celebrate the blog’s 12th anniversary, we’re giving away  a letter-shaped cork holder. Choose a letter from A to Z, and use up the wine corks cluttering the house. This is the the second of five daily giveaways; check out this post to see the other prizes.

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 wine cork holder.

Monday Birthday Week 2019 giveaway: $50 Bonny Doon gift card

bonny doonWin a $50 Bonny Doon gift card

And the winner is: Chaz, who selected 981; the winning number was 935 (screen shot to the left).  Thanks to everyone who participated. Tomorrow’s giveaway a wine cork holder in the shape of a letter — and yes, there are men’s sizes, too. This is the second of five daily giveaways; check out this post to see the prizes for the rest of the week.


Today, to celebrate the blog’s 12th anniversary, we’re giving away a $50 gift card from Bonny Doon, one of my favorite California producers. This is the first of five daily giveaways; check out this post to see the prizes for the rest of the week.

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 gift card.