Category:A Featured Post

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

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

 

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.

Wine Curmudgeon most popular posts 2019

popular posts 2019

Looks like it’s time to crank out another Barefoot epic.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s most popular posts 2019

The blog is truly part of the Internet as we celebrate its 12th annual Birthday Week.

This means two things: Its reason for being is not necessarily cheap wine, but whatever Google sends its way when someone searches for a wine, a wine term, or wine news. Only the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame made the top 10 list this year. In the old days, two, three and even four Halls of Fame were among the 10 most popular sites.

Second, that the blog is truly international — Beijing was the top city for visitors, with 3.6 percent, easily ahead of Chicago and New York, while Guangzhou (1.1%) was eighth. The U.S. remains the top country, but its share declined by about one-quarter, while China moved up to second from fourth last year.

Meanwhile, traffic was down a couple of percentage points. I think. The blog still got approximately 600,000 visitors between November 2018 and November 2019, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be more precise without paying for a sophisticated third-party app. Google Analytics, for example, says I got about one visitor a month.

What else happened between 2018 and 2019?

• Blog readers continue to get younger (more than half younger than 40) and the number of women continues to increase (2 1/2 out of five). Again, murky counting.

• A different Barefoot wine post took the No. 1 spot this year, Barefoot wine: Why it’s so popular. This 2016 post replaced the long time No. 1, Barefoot wines (again): Value or just cheap?, written in 2010. It dropped to third. And there were three Barefoot posts in the top four.

• The most common search term was “Wine Curmudgeon,” followed by “residual sugar in wine.” Apparently, Google has associated the site with my efforts to label sweet red wine as sweet, instead of pretending it’s dry.

The most popular posts from 2019 — as well as a couple of other highlights — are after the jump: Continue reading

When is buying expensive wine worth it?

expensive wine

“So this is really worth $50, and not some over-priced, premiumiuzed thing I won’t like?”

Three things to keep in mind when your’re deciding if expensive wine is worth the extra money

This post from the Lifehacker website, “When spending the extra money is worth it,” didn’t include wine. Which is probably a good thing, given Lifehacker’s track record with wine.

But it did get me thinking: How do we know when it spending extra money for wine is worth it?

The Lifehacker post poses an intriguing question in our “lots of crap available to buy all the time” age, where any kind of junk is just a click away on the Internet. It’s also relevant given that the holidays will soon be here, and that usually sets off all kinds of wine buying foolishness, where money takes a back seat to common sense.

In this, the post included some obvious choices – paying for movers and buying better quality sheets among them. But the wine question does not have an obvious answer, given how confusing wine is and how wine prices today reflect quality much less than they used to. Plus, there’s no need to spend more than $10 or $12 most of the time; what’s the point of paying $40 for a bottle for Tuesday night Chinese takeout or $50 for a Saturday afternoon barbecue with the neighbors?

So consider the Wine Curmudgeon’s three pointers for knowing when it’s worth buying more expensive wine:

• Is it a memorable occasion? The late Darryl Beeson always insisted the occasion made the wine memorable, and not vice versa. But I’d argue that if you’re celebrating a milestone, it makes sense to spend the extra money. Yes, my definition of milestone might differ from yours, but I don’t regret for a minute paying $150 for a bottle of red Burgundy to celebrate the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory.

• Did someone you trust recommend the wine? I can’t emphasize this enough. How many of us, including people who drink wine for a living, have paid a premium for a bottle only to experience buyer’s remorse after the first sip? Most of the time that’s because we took the advice of someone who didn’t know what they were doing, had an ulterior motive, or just assumed we would like what they like. And that’s when the $60 of wine ends up being used for cooking.

• Are you in a position to appreciate the wine? That is, will it be a long leisurely event with lots of time to sip and assess, and to enjoy a couple of glasses or more? Or will it be a cocktail or holiday party, where you’ll get barely more than one taste of the wine and never remember anything about it? Or will the goal of the function be to get drunk, in which case Winking Owl will do?

How about some $5,000 holiday wine?

holiday wineDig deep, because who wouldn’t want to buy a $5,000 holiday wine?

If you spend $5,000 for a bottle of wine, do you actually drink it? That, to me, would be the most fascinating part about a wine auction next month at Christie’s in New York. Among the variety of rare wines for sale: a red Bordeaux, tthe 1990 Chateau Haut-Brion, expected to fetch between $4,000 and $6,000. And such a deal: it’s a large format bottle, an imperial, the equivalent of eight regular-sized bottles.

We’ve discussed this before on the blog: These auctions, their fantastic prices, and the idea that people who pay this much money for wine don’t necessarily drink it. Instead, they keep it in their cellar and show it off like an Old Masters painting or a rare postage stamp.

A good friend of mine, who associates with a much more Gatsby-esque crowd than the Wine Curmudgeon does, says he once knew someone like that. The guy would invite him over to look at the wine, but not to drink it. My friend, after this happened several times, asked the guy when he was going to open a bottle. “Never,” the guy said. “These aren’t for drinking. They’re for looking.”

Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

The other thing worth noting is the price discrepancy between the French and California wines in the auction. The top estimated prices for California are about $600 a bottle, which is about half of the top price for a variety of red Bordeaux and Burgundy. Which makes this about the only place where paying $300 for a bottle of Shafer, a top Napa cabernet sauvignon, can be seen as a bargain.

Photo: “A Great Selection” by toddwight1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0