This week’s wine news: Wine.com reports 217 percent sales increase, plus restaurants are headed in the opposite direction and another critic ponders the need for toasty and oaky
• Wine.com sales: Wine.com, the U.S.’ biggest on-line wine retailer, ended the first six months of its fiscal year with a 217 percent sales increase compared to the previous 12 months. Can anyone say pandemic? Even without the increase in on-line retail caused by the coronavirus, sales for the previous 12 months were up 102 percent. One key to the jump: repeat sales from customers who pay $49 a year for free shipping, similar to Amazon Prime’s free shipping. Sales from those customers increased by about one-fifth more than overall sales for the past 12 months, as more of those customers bought more wine on-line. This raises the question again: How, once the retail world returns more or less to normal, will we be able to go back to thinking of on-line wine as something special, and not something we buy every day?
• Not so good news: Tom Wark, writing on the Fermentation blog, asks: “Do we allow a huge swath of restaurants across the country to simply disappear in the wake of COVID and state’s restaurant shutdown orders or do we act to aid these institutions?” This has been the elephant in the room as the pandemic continues, with restaurants — rightly or wrongly — bearing the burst of government restrictions. I don’t know that I agree with all Tom writes, but his piece is well worth reading.
The 2017 is typical of the producer’s style: An earthiness that I like and that is almost Old World; restrained berry fruit, so not quite brambly but not California, either; and refined tannins. The latter are noticeable, but don’t get in the way and are not easy to do with pinot noir. Too many wines, even at this price, either forgo the tannins entirely or boost them so it seems like they sould be in cabernet sauvignon.
Highly recommended, and more than a fair value. This is on its way to being quite complex, and should be even more interesting in a couple of years. Yes, Thanksgiving wine, but a red wine for any occasion that calls for something well-made and a step up.
Don’t feel too thankful this year, what with all the damn terrible things that have happened? The Wine Curmudgeon understands, but wants to remind everyone: At least we’re here to enjoy the holiday. A lot of us are much worse off.
• Louis Jadot Beaujolais 2019 ($12, purchased, 13%): This French red is about as old-fashioned as wine gets, and I can hear the wine geeks snickering in the background. But the 2019 is a little heavier than usual, which makes it more of a food wine and which isn’t a bad thing. Look for berry fruit, a hint of tannins, and even a little pepper, Imported by Kobrand
• Branchini Pignoletto Frizzante 2019 ($12, purchased, 11.5%): Frizzante, in this Italian white, means fizzy. And that means you get a Prosecco-style wine without any of the off-putting qualities of cheap Prosecco. That means it’s not only delightfully fizzy, but minerally, with a hint of pear, maybe, and barely sweet. Highly recommended — much, much more than I thought it could be. A tip of the WC’s fedora to Paul DiCarlo at Jimmy’s in Dallas for telling me about this. Imported by Serendipity Wines
• Calcu Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Especial 2019 ($12, sample, 12.5%): An intriguing and enjoyable white from Chile, with about 60 percent sauvignon blanc and 30 percent semillon. It’s not light like a supermarket New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and it needs food. But it’s quite Chilean in character (soft lemon instead of grapefruit) with a pleasantly long finish. Not for everyone, but a fine value. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers
• Mezzacorona Rose Vigneti delle Dolomiti 2019 ($10, purchased, 12%): An Italian pink that does what it does quite well and for more than a fair price. It’s soft-ish but not sweet — lots of berry fruit, with a hint of acidity and a pleasing, long fruity finish. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports
“Ha! Just try and keep me from writing about cheap wine.”
How did we end up in a Peloton wine universe, when all we want is something to drink with dinner?
How does one keep cheap wine in perspective, given this year of living depressingly – the pandemic, the Trump wine tariff, the presidential election, the sommelier sex scandal? In fact, why even bother? Why not just load up on Winking Owl at Aldi, get hammered, and leave it at that?
And who would blame us if we did? Has cheap wine ever been worse off in the blog’s 13-year history? Yes, I know I seem to write that in each of the blog’s annual Birthday Week essays, and I am writing it again for the blog’s 13th birthday. But that’s because, sadly, it always seems to be true.
We’ve been dumped into some sort of bizarre Peloton wine universe, where everything is sold to us as an expensive, shiny bauble – even when it is neither expensive, shiny, nor a bauble. And, most infuriatingly, even if we don’t need it. I got a $17 sample this fall, and the tasting notes were past snotty (let alone indecipherable): “Polished fore palate with ample fine grain tannins on a generous mid palate.”
We want quality and value, and the wine business gives us $15 supermarket plonk because surveys say that’s the hot price point. The cost of the wine in that $17 sample, allowing for some crude math, was probably less than $4; does that mean the tasting notes cost more than grapes? We aren’t customers anymore, but lines on a spreadsheet, metrics to be parsed, trends to be analyzed, and preferences to be focus grouped.
How did we get to this point?
It starts with the state of the world, and is not exclusive to wine. It’s what one observer has called late-period capitalism, which is based on “taking beloved institutions and destroying everything that made them great so that a few billionaires can get even richer.”
• Cheap wine that tastes cheap — poorly made, stemmy, and bitter, and produced for no other reason than to cost $3 or $4 a bottle.
• $15 wine made for a mass audience — sold in supermarkets and the biggest retailers, slightly sweet and “smooooth,” and where more money may be spent on label copy than on the grapes.
• Expensive wine that exists for no reason other than that it’s expensive, and which commands the fawning supplication of the Winestream Media.
The idea that wine should taste like wine, and that it is something that most of us can afford to drink with dinner – which was the idea of wine for much of the past 200 years – is a quaint, old-fashioned notion. Which only cranks like me still believe – because, of course, late-period capitalism.
So is it time for the Winking Owl?
Hardly. Wine is a pleasure, something to be enjoyed, and something that makes life more enjoyable. A glass of wine after a day of good writing is something to be savored and appreciated, not scored and cataloged and trophy-ized. Why should I let people whose idea of success is as offensive as it is self-defeating spoil it for me?
Yes, cheap wine is in a bad place – we’ve lost much quality cheap wine over the past couple of years thanks to producer and distributor consolidation, and consolidation has wreaked havoc with availability. And it’s not like availability was easy even in the good old days.
But there is still great cheap wine out there, it’s still worth looking for, and I’m going to keep looking for it. Call it the cheap wine version of grace under pressure – if something is worth doing, then we should do it, even when it may not be easy. No, finding great cheap wine won’t solve the world’s problems, but it may help us endure until we can figure out a way to solve them. That’s a fine job in and of itself, and one I am happy to do –because we must solve them.
The French Chateau de Campuget rose is a standout cheap pink wine at a time when we need one
What better way to celebrate the blog’s 13th annual Birthday Week with a wine of the week that symbolizes everything the blog stands for? In other words, the Chateau de Campuget rose.
The Chateau de Campuget Rose 2019 ($10, purchased, 13%) is well-made, it’s consistent from vintage to vintage, and it tastes like pink wine from France’s Rhone. I have tasting notes dating to 2012, with nary a discouraging word. Plus, given how difficult it has been to find quality cheap wine on store shelves this year, it is supposed to be more than widely available.
In fact, this vintage is step up from the usual fine effort – a Hall of Fame candidate, even. It’s still a bit fruity (red berries?), but there is more structure instead of just the fruitiness in the front. It’s blend of syrah and grenache, and the former seems to be keeping the latter in its place. In addition, there is a cleaner, more savory finish.
Highly recommended, and just the wine for Thanksgiving. Or, buy a case, drink it throughout the holidays, and enjoy the simple pleasures of fine $10 wine.
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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 slippers.
Birthday week 2020 wine news: Foreign visitors? What foreign visitors? Plus, Linux surges and Firefox doesn’t
• Not in this country: China, which was the big visitor news last year, wasn’t this year. Chinese blog traffic dropped 83 percent. Beijing, last year’s top city, fell to 16th with an 85 percent decline. Meanwhile, 19 of the top 20 cities were in the U.S., led by New York. And I don’t know that that has ever been the case. But that’s what happens when we throw up trade barriers and bluster at the rest of the world.
• Poor, poor pitiful Firefox: Those of us old enough to remember the second browser war, when Firefox was going to save us from evil Microsoft, will find this hard to believe. Less than six percent of blog visits came via some from of Firefox. Apple’s Safari, thanks to a surge in iPhone visitors, edged out Chrome, 44 to 42 percent.
• Not so pitiful Linux: The pandemic, according to a variety of statistics, was supposed to be giving a boost to my beloved Linux operating system. I didn’t believe the reports, having seen Linux use on the blog stay around one percent — if not lower — over the years. So imagine my surprise when the number turned out to be 2.8 percent this year — four times what it was last year. Having said that, obsolete Windows systems (Windows XP, 8.0/8.1, and Vista) totaled five percent. So I guess the world still isn’t ready for the year of the Linux desktop.