Category:A Featured Post

Winebits 571: Ed Lowe, three-tier foolishness, wine prices

ed loweThis week’s wine news: Ed Lowe, whose Dallas restaurant served Texas wine when hardly anyone knew what it was, has died. Plus, New York state three-tier foolishness and cheaper bulk wine prices

Ed Lowe: How important was Ed Lowe to the U.S. regional wine movement? He served Texas wine for 30 years at his Celebration restaurant in Dallas, and when he started doing that Texas wine was chancy at best. Lowe, 69, died before Thanksgiving during a canoe trip in the state’s Big Bend region. I knew Lowe a little, and we talked several times about local wine, his half-price Thursday night wine promotion, and quality local food. Celebration was farm-to-table long before the term was invented by some East Coast hype guru, and Lowe (who could still be seen busing tables) truly believed in the concept. The world will be a poorer place without him.

Take that, Wegman’s: The East Coast grocery store chain has been fined more than $1 million for illegally managing liquor stores by the New York state booze cops. That’s because grocery stores aren’t allowed to sell alcohol in New York, save in one location. The state liquor authority claimed Wegman’s violated any number of laws and regulations, including “illegally trafficking in wine.” That’s a delightful 21st century crime, yes? The infractions are arcane to anyone who doesn’t follow three-tier, and Wegman’s may actually have violated the law. The larger question, though, is why these laws still exist.

• “Awash with wine:” More bad news for premiumization – wine prices in the bulk market are dropping, “and in some cases, significantly,” reports a British wine trade magazine. The world is flush with wine after bountiful 2018 harvests around the world, and those interviewed in the story say prices could keep falling. Why do bulk prices matter? Because, save for the most expensive wines in the world, bulk prices influence the price of grapes everywhere. Cheaper bulk prices usually mean cheaper grape prices, and that usually means cheaper wine prices.

Illustration courtesy of Tampa Tribune using a Creative Commons license

The cheap wine poll 2018

cheap wine poll 2018Vote in the cheap wine poll 2018.

Welcome to the Wine Curmudgeon’s cheap wine poll 2018, the sixth annual. Voting ends at 5 p.m. central time on Dec. 7. I’ll post the results on Dec. 10. Vote for one brand only, and just one vote per person. Click on the respective buttons next to each entry at the bottom of this post. If you get the blog via RSS or email, click here to vote on the blog.

Share the poll with your friends and fellow cheap wine drinkers by clicking on any of the social media buttons at the end of the post. The first five polls attracted some 18,000 visitors. The winners:

Falesco Vitiano in 2013

Bogle in 2014, 2015, and 2017

McManis in 2016.

There are 8 producers for 2018; I trimmed the list to those that actually get votes. Plus, you’ll be able to add write-ins this year, something many of you have requested.

Holiday cheap wine book extravaganza: Free shipping

cheap wine bookBuy one cheap wine book or 10 – you’ll get free shipping. What better way to shop for your favorite wine drinker?

Click on the link and buy a cheap wine book and get free shipping in time for Christmas. What better way to celebrate the holiday season than to buy three or four books? Demand has been so great that this is the last weekend I’m running the special, so order by midnight on Sunday.

Check out normally, and I’ll credit the free shipping when your order is processed. Also note that we’ve streamlined the WC web shop, making it easier to use. And, as always, I sign every book bought from the WC web shop. Just leave a note when you order the books.

The WC needs your help in choosing the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame

Hall of FameSend me your suggestions for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, so we can show the wine business we want quality cheap wine and not the plonk they want us to drink

The 2019 $10 Hall of Fame will appear in one moth – Jan. 4, 2019. And I truly need your help to find wines worthy of induction this year.

I always ask for – and appreciate – suggestions when I compile the best cheap wines of the previous year. But I’m asking earlier this year because prospects for the 2019 Hall are not good. As I wrote last year, the warning signs for 2019 appeared in 2018, and the situation has deteriorated since.

This was easily the worst year for cheap wine since I started the $10 Hall at the turn of the century for a Dallas magazine. Prices are up, quality is down, and added sugar seems to be everywhere. Too many producers don’t want to sell us wine, but alcoholic fruit juice. Even the Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier blend, once a Hall of Fame staple, has been tarted up with residual sugar.

What makes a $10 Hall of Fame wine?

• Price, of course. The wine should not cost more than $12 or $13; I’ve increased the limit over the past couple of years because of price creep.

• They should be varietally correct and without obvious flaws. In addition, they should be balanced and interesting enough to buy again. In other words, honest wines. I can’t emphasize this enough. Chardonnay should taste like chardonnay, French wine should taste like French wine, and so forth. Otherwise, what’s the point?

• A wine is not worthy of induction because it’s cheap; there’s a difference between quality cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply. We’re seeing entirely too much of the latter these days.

• Availability. No wines sold by just one retailer, like Two-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. My term is generally available – you should be able to buy the wine at a quality retailer in a medium-sized U.S. city.

Leave your suggestion in the comments to this post or . I start working on the Hall during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so keep that in mind if you have wines to recommend. And thanks for your help and continued support – we’ll get through this bad patch and make the wine business understand they can’t continue to foist this plonk on us.

Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?

private label wineAre U.S. retailers ready to sell quality private label wine like their European counterparts?

I tasted two wines just before Thanksgiving that were easily some of the best cheap labels I’ve sampled this year. The catch? They’re only available in Europe – where, of course, they’re wildly popular.

They were grocery store private label wine. One was a €4 (about US$4.55) South African sauvignon blanc called MooiBerg that has sold 750,000 cases at Aldi stores in the Netherlands. The wine so much better made, so much better priced, and so much more enjoyable than the Winking Owl that dominates U.S. Aldi shelves that I was speechless.

The wine’s producer and importer are desperate to get into the U.S. but have had little success. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

That was the bad news. The good news? I tasted the wines at the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association trade show, which dedicated part of this year’s effort to convince U.S. retailers to abandon their traditional overpriced and poorly made private label wines in favor of quality like the Mooiberg. The group is so serious about doing this that it holds an international wine competition for store brand wines.

As part of that effort, I moderated a seminar that explored the differences between private label wine in Europe and the U.S. (Full disclosure: I’m doing some consulting for the trade group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

We were trying to figure out why British consumers get quality €6 Prosecco at Lidl in the United Kingdom and we get crummy $10 domestic sparkling wine at Aldi. In fact, said the panelists, U.S. wine drinkers do want better quality private label wine than they’re getting now.

And this was more than my whining. One of the panelists, Maryrose Rinella, oversees private label wine for the nationwide Albertson’s/Safeway chain. And she told the audience that her company wants to upgrade its private label wine to make more money. Quality private label, she said, is more profitable for the retailer. Talk about a revolutionary concept for the wine business.

So a fine start, but still a long way to go until we get that €4 sauvignon blanc on U.S. shelves. But it will be worth the wait. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

Wine of the week: CVNE Rioja Cune Crianza 2014

cune crianzaCVNE’s Cune Crianza is a red Spanish wine that delivers tremendous value and quality

Spanish wine still offers some of the best value in the world. And, whenever the Wine Curmudgeon despairs about the future of cheap wine, I drink something Spanish like CVNE’s Cune Crianza and feel better.

The Cune Crianza ($13, purchased, 13.5%) is everything an inexpensive Spanish Rioja (a red wine made with tempranillo from the Rioja region in northern Spain) should be. It’s varietally correct, with that faint orange peel aroma, not quite ripe cherry fruit, and a bit of earth and a touch of minerality. The touch of oak offers a little vanilla, but it’s in the background and doesn’t take over the wine. In this, there is a tremendous amount of structure for a crianza – the least expensive class of Rioja, and one that sees little of the oak aging that helps to provide structure.

And yes, it’s worth the extra two or three dollars – especially when you consider the alternative is something likes this.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and the $2019 Cheap Wine of the Year. The past year has not been kind to cheap wine, but the CVNE Cune Crianaza is a reminder about what is possible.

Imported by Europvin

Winebits 570: Box wine, wine drinkers, restaurant trends

box wine

This week’s wine news: Why isn’t box wine more popular? Plus, identifying U.S. wine drinkers and restaurant wine trends for 2019

No boxes, please: Box wine, despite its increasing popularity, remains a minor part of the wine business. It accounts for just four percent of wine sold worldwide by volume; box sales have declined in Australia, one of the few places where it’s popular; and younger wine drinkers prefer bottles to boxes. One expert thinks he knows why: The technology was developed for battery acid, and producers treated the wine they put in boxes much the same way, using it for lower quality products.

Parsing the wine drinker: A study has divided U.S. wine drinkers into six groups in one of those exercises that only marketing types can understand. The study uses terms like social newbies and premium brand suburbans to divide us by age and demographics. As near as I can tell, the idea is that younger wine drinkers are more adventurous and older wine drinkers buy the same brands of chardonnay and white zinfandel over and over. Which, of course, isn’t all that new; perhaps it means something the marketing gurus in the audience?

Restaurant wine trends: Of which there aren’t any in 2019, if this forecast from a restaurant consultancy is accurate. It lists 13 trends for next year, including higher prices, new spins on Asian food, and “motherless meat.” But it doesn’t say one thing about restaurant wine, which makes perfect sense given what we’ve seen of restaurant wine over the past couple of years. So don’t expect the conundrum that is restaurant wine — higher prices, mediocre quality — to be solved anytime soon.