Category:A Featured Post

Paid posts: Welcome to the 21st-century world of wine blogging

paid posts

Who cares if the wine tastes like vanilla cherry cough syrup? We’re being paid to say nice things about it. Stop acting so 20th century.”

Who cares about integrity or honesty or legitimate reviews? I’ll just run paid posts

The following email, asking me to run paid posts for a wine club, shows just how little the wine business cares about the people who buy its products. I’ve changed the name of the wine club (which is reasonably well known) so I don’t get sued; otherwise, it’s verbatim:

Hey Wine Curmudgeon Team,

Big Time Wine Club wants to create some new partnerships with influencers. Our wine club works with acclaimed wineries and vineyards to curate a portfolio of highly rated wines from all over the globe, and then bring those wines to lovers of great wine across the US. You have great blog posts, and I want to find out if we can work with you to create new content around a few of our featured wines. We have some ideas on potential Spring themes, but we are more than happy to talk with you on your ideas for incorporating wine!

We have wine available to send, some paid placement budget, and an affiliate program. I’d love to get your thoughts on the best way for us to work together. Are you available to talk wine this week or next?

The jargon is annoying enough, but what’s worse is asking me to pimp for their products — “create new content around a few of our featured wines.”  The only thing in the email that’s fair to consumers is the affiliate program, in which I’d get a tiny, tiny commission if anyone bought one of the wines I pimped for. The rest is an insult to me and to everything the blog stands for. As well as to you.

But hey, why not? It’s the 21st century. Facebook sells our personal information to dirty trickstersGoogle censors the Internet for the Chinese . The world’s biggest beer company owns a leading beer review site. So why shouldn’t I take the wine club’s money? It’s all about the cash, right? Integrity? Honesty? Principles? That’s just crap for cranky ex-newspaperman, who still think they’re supposed to write for their readers. That’s just so quaint, isn’t it?

Needless to say, I sent a polite email declining their offer. But how many of my colleagues didn’t?

Winecast 34: Dave McIntyre, Washington Post

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post says those of us who care about affordable, quality wine should be worried about the direction of the wine business. But he says we can fight back.

Dave McIntyre, the wine columnist for the Washington Post, has spent the past decade fighting for affordable, quality wine — no scores or winespeak, but intelligence and passion. He’s one of the best wine writers in the country, and I’d say that even if we weren’t friends who suffered through interminable wine trip bus rides and even longer Drink Local Wine conference calls.

Dave and I talked about the challenges of the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century and what those of us who care about quality and value can do to overcome those hurdles. Something is very wrong, Dave says, when the average bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon costs $67. But there is hope, as our experiences with drink local demonstrate. Consumers will buy interesting wines that don’t taste exactly like each other, which is the promise of the regional wine movement.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is almost 20 minutes long and takes up 7.2 megabytes (and that’s Dave’s dog, Ringo, chiming in at the end). The sound quality is very good to excellent; we used Skype’s new recording feature, which works surprisingly well for a Microsoft project.

Wine of the week: Melini Chianti Borghi d’Elsa 2017

melini chiantiThe 2017 vintage of the Melini Chianti is as different as it is unexpected

Something odd is going on the current vintage of the Melini Chianti, an almost always dependable $6 red wine. Either the wine is genuinely softer and fruitier, or someone dumped many bags of sugar into the barrels.

The Wine Curmudgeon prefers to think it’s the former. If there is added sugar in a cheap wine as venerable as the Melini Chianti ($6, purchased, 13%), then it’s time to go back to sports writing. And who wants to do that?

Because this Italian red, made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany, is much rounder and less sour than it has been for years, with a sort of sweet cherry fruit and a kind of forest floor finish where it didn’t have much of a finish at all before. It’s about as far from the simple, tight-cornered, and tart cherry Melini as possible.

It still mostly tastes like Chianti, but more of a New World version. Again, I don’t know that this is a bad thing as much as it is unexpected. And the Melini still pairs with the usual sorts of red sauces, takeout pizza, and the like.

So chalk the change up to a vintage difference, and hope for the best next time.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons

Winebits 579: Super Bowl, robot bartender, liquor museum

super bowlThis week’s wine news: The WC’s readers didn’t desert the blog during the Super Bowl, plus a grocery chain installs a robot bartender and a New York City booze museum

Thank you, readers: This year’s Super Bowl must have been as lackluster as the score indicated, since the blog didn’t suffer its usual 30 percent drop in traffic. In fact, visitors increased 21 percent over a typical Sunday, the second year in a row for better than average numbers during the game. I’m not sure why – maybe it was everyone avoiding the third successive Yellow Tail commercial. “It tastes like happy” was dumb, but it was still a marked improvement over two years of the Roo.

Do you tip it? Gelson’s Narkets, an upscale grocer in southern California, has added the Somabar robot bartender to a couple of its in-store wine bars. The machine – which loads containers of booze and mixes the cocktail in 10 seconds, uses lower-proof spirits to mirror almost two dozen drinks, including margaritas and cosmopolitans. This allows wine bars to skirt licensing issues that prevent them from serving drinks with full strength spirits.

Thousands of items: A house on Staten Island is home to the Booze History Museum, with more than 1,000 artifacts in two rooms – a jumble of signs and statuettes, hundreds of different Russian liquor labels, and 10 glass cases of booze-related bric-a-brac. Says its founder: ““When you’re talking about alcohol, it’s always just drunken driving or breaking up families. Nobody talks about how many people are getting relaxation, how many people are getting enjoyment from drinking alcohol, how many people are getting together because of alcohol.”

Big Wine 2019

Big Wine 2019Big Wine 2019: It still has a stranglehold on what we drink, but the biggest companies aren’t quite as big

A funny thing happened to Big Wine 2019: The three biggest companies didn’t dominate the market in 2018 the way they did in 2017. Neither did the top 10. But the top 50 still sell 90 percent of the wine made in the U.S., according to the 15th annual Wine Business News magazine survey,

In other words, it’s business as usual for Big Wine. They’ve just rearranged the profits.

Still, before you get too depressed, know that the magazine study acknowledged that the wine business is in trouble, citing the usual reasons – aging Baby Boomers, competition from craft beer and spirits, and the neo-Prohibitionists. Or, as the woman who runs the company that makes the ubiquitous Kendall Jackson chardonnay told the magazine: “It seems tougher this year and it probably will be tougher next year. It doesn’t seem like it’s as easy as it was.”

Which, hopefully, is good news for those of us who are tired of higher prices, declining quality, and more plonk on the shelves. If Big Wine sees the problem, maybe they’ll do something to fix it besides putting sugar in dry red wine.

Among the highlights

• Sales by volume were almost flat, from 403 million cases in 2017 to 408 million in 2018. That’s a 1.2 percent increase, far less than the growth in the legal drinking age population. Which means younger drinkers are drinking something else or aren’t drinking at all.

• The average price of a bottle of wine sold in 2018 was $14, which includes restaurant sales. Hence, the number is higher than the average usually cited for retail sales, $9 or $10 a bottle.

• Imports, as a share of U.S. wine sales, were only 23 percent. That’s also much lower than the numbers usually cited, which range from one-third to 40 percent of all the wine sold in the U.S.

• E&J Gallo controls 17 percent of U.S. sales, and its Barefoot brand accounts for almost 5 percent of all the wine sold in this country. Which succinctly describes the power of Big Wine.

• The share of the three biggest producers – Gallo, The Wine Group, and Constellation Brands – fell to 55 percent in 2018 from 60 percent in 2017. The share of the top 10 companies declined for the third year in a row, from 84 percent in 2016 to 81 percent in 2017 to 78 percent in 2018. Was this decline caused by premiumization, since these producers tend to have the least expensive wines? Or was the cause something more ominous, related to the decline in wine’s popularity?

• The magazine said there are 10,047 wineries in the U.S. Take out the top 50, and the other 9,997 sold 31.5 million cases in 2018, or about 3,150 cases each. The average Big Wine company sold almost 6 million cases – making it almost 2,000 times bigger. Which, regardless of any changes in the market share among the 50 producers, shows just how top heavy the U.S. wine business is.

More about Big Wine:
• Big Wine 2018
• Big Wine 2017
• Big Wine 2016

Michigan wine 2019

michigan wine 2019Michigan wine 2019: Another regional wine state that offers quality – and even value

One of Drink Local Wine’s great regrets was that we were never able to do Michigan wine. The state had some of the best regional wine in the country, and its efforts have only improved since then.

I know this because I was lucky enough to get Michigan wine samples last fall, and the quality was consistent and impressive. Wine is made throughout the state, but the best known region is along the northwestern Lake Michigan shore, centered around Traverse City. That means weather is a challenge every year, and cold, snow, and ice have wreaked havoc with any number of vintages. Riesling is its trademark grape, but some cold climate reds are also outstanding.

The following wines were the best I tasted – all were samples. Availability may be limited in other parts of the country.

Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Resling 2017 ($14, 12%): One of regional wine’s biggest challenges is producing affordable products, but this long-time Michigan producer has done just that. It’s a little tight, but reflects Michigan’s style and terror — almost stone fruit instead of citrus; a crisp, steely finish; and an appealing and pleasing riesling softness. Highly recommended.

Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir 2017 ($26, 13%): This red is a trifle pricey, but impeccably made and just as delicious. Again, a terroir-driven wine that is less fruity (tart cherry, perhaps?) and more noticeably spicy than a Beaujolais from France, which is also made with gamay. This vintage is sold out, but if the 2018 is anything close to the 2017, it’s a must buy.

2 Lads Cabernet Franc 2016 ($35, 13.5%): This is an intriguing approach to cabernet franc, a red grape that does well in many regional states and is best known as the red from the Loire in France. It doesn’t have the pencil lead that marks some Loire wines, and it’s not as fruity as a west coast label. Instead, it features blackberry fruit and baking spice, plus an almost zesty mouth feel. It’s well made and top quality, but the price is a problem.

Chateau Chantal Proprietor’s Reserve Trio 2016 ($27, 13.5%): Excellent example of what Michigan can do with a red blend. It’s brisk and spicy with well-developed berry fruit. There’s an appealingly lean structure, save for a bit of ashy heaviness on the back and a touch too much oak.

Hawthorne Vineyards Rose 2016 ($12, 13.2%): A dry pink wine that is heavier than I prefer, but still well made and rose-like — dark raspberry and strawberry fruit. And, again, an affordable price.

Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling 2016 ($19, 8.5%): This white dessert wine is just so close to being the kind that wins double gold medals and best in shows. It’s sweet – think honey and ripe peaches – balanced by an almost fresh orange juice acidity. That’s where it falls just a smidge short, since a little more acidity would balance the sweetness. But it’s still a delicious wine and well worth the price.

Wine Folly’s Madeline Puckette: The three-tier system is rigged

Madeline Puckette

Madeline Puckette: The three-tier system gouges consumers

Says Puckette: The system gouges consumers with crappy wine and too high prices

Wine Retail Rant (Why Grocery Store Wines Are Rigged),” written by Wine Folly impresario Madeline Puckette is just the sort of thing that people who are more or less members of the wine establishment don’t write. It’s the sort of thing that I write, and we know what the Winestream Media and the wine establishment think of me.

Nevertheless, there it was, in all its incendiary glory. Wrote Puckette – who has initials after her name: The grocery store wine business is “a rigged market. … runs on Prohibition-Era policies that ultimately gouge the wine consumer, hurt independent wineries, and even hurt small retailers.”

Damn. Someone who isn’t a friend of mine actually agrees with me

The story is remarkable, and not just because of who wrote it. First, the Winestream Media doesn’t acknowledge wine is sold in grocery stores. Second, even if it did, it wouldn’t drink it. Third, it doesn’t acknowledge wine pricing, let alone complain that something isn’t a value. And to use the word “gouge”? Be still my beating heart.

Fourth, and most importantly, it almost never criticizes the Big Wine and three-tier system, and Big Wine makes almost all of the wine we buy in grocery stores. The wine establishment and the big producers and distributors that dominate three-tier are like the bird that eats the insects off grazing animals; each makes the other’s life easier, and both benefit. That they benefit at the expense of those of us who want quality wine at a fair price — and that is easy to buy — is not a consideration.

Yet Puckette is saying exactly that: “So basically, each transaction along the Three Tiers has a tax and a mark-up. The end result is that consumers pay $22 for a wine that the winery sold for $7. … Now, imagine that grocery store wine for $11.99? It was probably really crappy.”

Hmmmm. Where have we read this before?

I’m not as sanguine as Puckette is about some of the solutions she offers, which includes direct sales (though she does say nice things about private label wine). We need to tear three-tier down, not find a way around it. Still, Puckette’s rant is a fine start – in this effort, we need all the help we can get.