Bud Light debuts new and improved ingredient labels

If Big Beer understands the need for ingredient labels, why is it so difficult for wine to do the same?

ingredient labelsBudweiser is beefing up the ingredient labels on its Bud Light beer. Yes, that Budweiser, whose marketing gurus think the above video is witty and whose product is seen by many as the reason for craft beer.

Yet, somehow, Bud and its parent, Anheuser-Busch, are smarter and more modern and more progressive then the wine business. Wine has  viewed nutrition and ingredient labels as the spawn of the devil since the end of the 20th century, despite their value in the fight against the neo-Prohibitonists. Is it any wonder I’m not the only one worried about the future of the wine business?

Writes the Associated Press: “Bud Light went with a big, black-and-white label, similar to the ones required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on packaged foods. … ‘We want to be transparent and give people the thing they are used to seeing,’ said Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light. … [He] said the brand’s research shows younger drinkers, in particular, want to know what’s in their beer.”

Shocking news, of course, to everyone but the wine business. I’ve been writing about nutrition and ingredient labels for wine since since my newspaper days, and the message has remained the same: Why ketchup and not wine? Why not transparency? What is wine trying to hide?

Or, as consumer advocates said in this 2009 story I did for Palate Press, the refusal to add ingredient labels ”puts the industry outside of the mainstream given developments in food labeling and consumer information. The goal, they say, is more information, not less. ‘It’s all about transparency,’ says dietitian Kathleen Talmadge, RMA, RD. ‘Any time the consumer gets more information, that’s a good thing. You want them to be knowledgeable about what they’re buying.’ ”

So Bud Light, one of the most simple and inexpensive alcohol products, has better ingredient labels than a $25 California wine. How much sense does that make?

The epic LeBron James wine birthday present

lebron james wine

LeBron, there’s a Ralphs near the Staples Center — and it’s open until 2 a.m.

LeBron James received 16 very nice and expensive bottles for his birthday, but even the NBA’s ranking superstar should know a little about cheap wine

Dear LeBron:

The wine world is all agog with your recent birthday present – 16 expensive and rare wines worth thousands of dollars. But I’m here to tell you, as someone who also has close ties to Cleveland (my dad went to college there), pro sports (I used to write about it), and wine that there is more to enjoying wine than all that pricey stuff.

Yes, each of those 16 bottles is wonderful, but even someone who makes as much money as you do needs to know what’s available at your neighborhood Ralphs. What happens if you want a glass or two when you get home from the Lakers’ game and don’t feel like like opening the Sassicaia?

Which is where I come in. Because who knows more about cheap wine that you can buy at the grocery store than I do? Dare I use the term GOAT?

So here are a few cheap wine supermarket suggestions to keep in mind when you’re just not in the mood for the Opus One. Most of these are in the $10 Hall of Fame, by the way.

• The Bieler Provencal rose, about $10. It was the blog’s 2018 Cheap Wine of the Year, and is always one of the best roses in the world regardless of price. Plus, winemaker Charles Bieler pushes for it to be sold in grocery stores.

• The McManis chardonnay, about $10. My pal Jay Bileti, a noted wine judge, can’t believe how well made this California white is; similar wines cost $18 or $20.

• The Cannonball cabernet sauvignon, about $15. Classic California cab – lots of ripe fruit and soft tannins – but not overdone like other, more expensive California reds.

• The Matua sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, each about $12. Who knew a Big Wine company could produce varietally correct and satisfying cheap wine like this?

• The Banfi Centine red, white, and rose, each about $10. Full disclosure: A good friend of mine is a big deal at Banfi, but these are so well done that I’d buy them even if he wasn’t. Which I do. Great with red sauce, by the way.

Let me know if you need any more cheap wine advice.

The Wine Curmudgeon

2019 SVB wine report

2019 SVB wine report

SVB’s Rob McMillan: “The U.S. wine industry needs new direction and a changed focus.”

2019 SVB wine report says U.S. retail wine sales may decline this year, and the future  doesn’t look much better

Someone in the wine business may be more worried about its future than the Wine Curmudgeon. Consider these projections, from the 2019 SVB wine report that was released yesterday:

• How about a forecast that says retail wine sales in 2019, as measured by volume, could actually decline? This would be almost unprecedented in the post-1980s history of U.S. wine.

• Or that growth by value may be less than one percent, with even premiumization starting to slow?

• Or that younger wine drinkers, more interested in legal weed and paying off their student loans, aren’t showing any interest in picking up the slack left by the aging Baby Boomers?

Why does this matter to those of us who drink wine? Because Silicon Valley Bank’s Rob McMillan, the study’s author, is one of the smartest people in the wine business. How important has McMillan’s annual report become? This year, a vice president for Big Wine’s Constellation Brands participated, and the company doesn’t usually do those sorts of things.

So if McMillan says a slowdown is coming and the wine business needs to reexamine how it does business, then it had better. Or else we all suffer.

“This is probably the most important report we’ve ever put together,” McMillan said during Wednesday’s live videocast. “Starting now, wine has reached a tipping point. We’re not closing in on a tipping point, we’re feeling it.”

The videocast threw around a lot of jargon – I even heard psychographics – and several of the other panelists nitpicked about some of the conclusions.

But that didn’t change the hard news: Younger people don’t care about about wine the way their parents and grandparents did, They are focusing more on beer and spirits and legal weed, and they’re hampered by lower relative incomes and intimidated by the repeated attacks on wine drinking by the neo-Prohibitonists.

In other words, wine is too old, too Anglo, too snotty, and too out of touch with the younger consumers. So, said McMillan, “We have to look at what the wine industry is doing about it now and what can we do in the future to fix the problem.”

Also worth noting: McMillan, who invented the term premiumization to describe consumers trading up to more expensive wine, said he’s surprised to see it slow as it faces price resistance from consumers. Price resistance? What an amazing concept.

Finally, the Wine Curmudgeon’s suggestion to the wine industry: Sweetening dry wines and calling them dry ain’t going to do it. How about giving younger wine drinkers quality and value? I know — almost as revolutionary as the idea of price resistance.

Wine of the week: Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Line 39 sauvignon blancThe Line 39 sauvingon blanc is a $10 California grocery store white that has remained dependable for years

If more grocery store wine tasted like the Line 39 sauvignon blanc, the Wine Curmudgeon wouldn’t get nearly as many emails and comments from blog visitors bemoaning availability.

This vintage of the Line 39 sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a little more disjointed than previous efforts; that is, all of the parts don’t fit together as neastly as they have in the past, and the wine has some rough edges. Having said that, it is still California-style sauvingon blanc – a little grassy aroma, some citrus fruit (lime, perhaps, but not grapefruit), and a clean and refreshing finish.

In our California sauvignon blanc hierarchy, the Line 39 fits below Ryder and Wente – not quite as layered as either of those, but that’s OK since it’s a couple of dollars less. If it’s not quite up to the $10 Hall of Fame quality of past vintages, it’s still a fine value.

This is wine for roast chicken thighs marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and rosemary, as well as something to drink when you get home from work and feel like a glass to soothe the rigors off the day.

Winebits 574: Restaurant wine, wine apps, mock wine cocktails

restaurant wineThis week’s wine news: One more example of restaurant wine’s inability to deal with reality, plus the failure of wine apps and wine drinkers should try booze free cocktails

Restaurant wine, yet again: That the Wine Curmudgeon can find so many of these restaurant wine pricing faux pas speaks to the problem: Those who price wine in restaurants aren’t living in the same world with the rest of us. A recent on-line story featured an up and coming sommelier bragging about his wine list: “These are my favorite things to pour for our guests: the wines that sell for $45 to $70 but completely knock it out of the park.” Given restaurant pricing, that means he looks for values among wines that cost $25 to $40 retail. Which misses the point of how much most of us actually pay for wine. A $40 bottle accounts for a couple of points of U.S. sales (if that much, depending on whose numbers you use). Hence, the sommelier is running his wine list for a tiny, tiny share of U.S. wine drinkers.

Waste of a download? Most of us use wine apps fewer than a dozen times and then discard them, writes Robert Joseph in Wine Business International. There are exceptions like Vivino, but most of us who “ downloaded the app did so because they were briefly attracted by the novelty of the technology. But that interest soon wore off; they seldom if ever feel the need to record their views of the red or white in their glass, or scan a bottle before buying it.” This matters because wine apps were supposed to making wine pricing more competitive, since consumers could compare prices on their phones. Apparently, though, that isn’t happening.

Bring on the mocktail: Do wine drinkers want to try booze-fee cocktails? Yes, says one of the leaders in devising mocktails that mimic their alcohol counterparts. “While it seems this may be only about soft cocktail recipes, the bigger picture is that it’s about connection, community, inclusion and taking good care of people,” she says. One suggestion for wine drinkers: spice mulled “wine,” made with apple cider and cranberry juice.

The wine retailer’s New Year’s resolutions 2019

wine retailer’s New Year’s resolutionsFive wine retailer’s New Year’s resolutions for 2019

The Wine Curmudgeon has long supported the independent wine retailer, both here and in the cheap wine book. The best independent retailers are the wine drinker’s best friend – someone more concerned about making the customer happy than selling them plonk because it seems like a good idea at the time.

In addition, those of us who care about quality and value have fewer and fewer options in a wine world of ever more gigantic producers, ever more massive distributors, and ever more mega retailers. This makes the quality independent wine store more important than ever.

Hence, these five wine retailer’s News Year’s resolutions, because we’re all in this together:

• The customer is not your enemy. This seems obvious, but I am always reminded of the pizza restaurant owner I once interviewed. Yes, he said, the pizza business would be a lot of fun if not for the customers – always complaining about tardy deliveries, cold food, and incorrect orders. Retailers, caught up in the day-to-day aggravations of small business, can lose sight of why they’re in business. Once that happens, it’s not too long until you’re as irrelevant as Montgomery Ward.

• The employee isn’t your enemy, either. That same pizza operator disliked his employees almost as much as his customers – how dare they ask for a raise or time off? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two best independent wine retailers in Dallas respect their employees and are rewarded with minimal turnover and top-notch efforts.

• The customer is not stupid. This is an especially irritating 21st century development, in which we’re treated as if we’re sheep ripe for shearing. How else to explain things like World Market’s phony pricing? Treat the customer with the same respect as your employees, and that’s most of the battle.

• Sell wine for a reason, not because you think you know best. I wrote a trade magazine story this month, asking long-time wine industry types about their biggest mistakes. One told me that he always goofed up when he thought he knew more than the customer did. This was not necessarily about wine knowledge, he said, but that he thought he knew what they should drink instead of helping them find what they wanted to drink. The best independent retailers always do the latter.

• Keep showing why you’re different from everyone else. Walk into any grocery store, regardless of who owns it or where it is, and the wine department looks exactly the same – the same Big Wine labels, the same deceptive pricing, the same stupid shelf talkers promising wine quality that only a marketer could believe in. That’s why there’s room for someone who offers interesting wine af fair prices, and why so many small wine shops continue to thrive.

Wine trends 2019

wine trends 2019Wine trends 2019: Higher prices, less choice, more plonk, and the return of sweet pink wine

Wine prices 2019

Most of the wine trends 2019 stories on the Internet describe a wine wonderland of rare vintages, exotic tastings, and unlimited opportunity. Which is probably true for the few who live in that particular wine bubble – they don’t have to worry about how much they pay and they can get their hands on any esoteric wine they want.

For the rest of us, wine trends 2019 are not particularly encouraging. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business? Here’s what to expect this year:

• An attempt to bake higher prices into the marketplace, not because prices should be higher – a grape shortage or better quality wine – but because the oligopoly that controls wine pricing wants higher prices. It’s worth noting that consolidation, which gave us the oligopoly, is no longer a trend. It’s an everyday part of the wine business.

• More three-tier reform failure. Yes, I am well aware that every smart liquor attorney and wine analyst expects the Supreme Court to kick the three-tier system in the groin in the upcoming Tennessee retailers case. And I want them to be correct. But it ain’t going to happen. This Supreme Court, which sees the 1950s as the Golden Age of American life, isn’t going to change three-tier in any way, shape, or form.

• The return of white zinfandel. It won’t be called that, of course, but will be disguised as dry rose. One example: The Seaglass rose. The 2016 vintage was made with pinot noir, “with barely ripe strawberry fruit and surprising freshness instead of the cloying, almost sweet quality that some wines have.” So what did the 2017 vintage (apparently minus the pinot noir) taste like? Cloying and almost sweet.

Bring on the recipe

• More formula wine, as producers treat wine production like a recipe at a chain restaurant. We’ve seen a lot of this already, especially in the $10 to $15 range, but it will expand to wines costing as much as $25. Who ever thought we would see wines at that price made to focus group specifications, with residual sugar, barely any acidity, and washed out tannins? One large bulk winery owner told me last week that he has to make two styles of wine now: sweeter for the U.S. market and drier for Europe.

• Top-quality brands losing distributors and importers, further reducing consumer choice. We saw this when the French Domaine du Tariquet lost its U.S. importer in 2018, and that was just the beginning of the bad news. Last year, California’s McManis Family Vineyards, which makes 300,000 cases annually, had to sign a distribution deal with The Wine Group, the fourth biggest producer in the country. McManis couldn’t find a distributor with national scope willing to carry its wines; in the age of consolidation, 300,000 cases isn’t big enough for Big Distributor. The McManis family still owns the winery, but it has to depend on another producer’s sales force to sell its product. How screwed up is that?

• Continued flat demand here and in Europe. As one California winemaker told me recently, “No one is buying wine anymore. What’s going on?” Or, as Wall Street put it: “Shares of Constellation Brands skidded as much as 11 percent Wednesday morning. … [thanks to its] disappointing wine and spirits business. …”

• The attack of previous vintages. Flat demand, combined with increased wine production, means there is lots and lots of older wine on warehouse shelves. More retailers – and even some that are usually more scrupulous about this – are mixing the older vintages in with the current stuff in hopes you won’t notice. Or, you’ll see older wines discounted, even if they’re so old they aren’t very drinkable.