Category:A Featured Post

Wine of the week: Sunshine Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2018

sunshine Bay Sauvignon BlancThe Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc may be a one-note wine, but it’s well made and a value at $7

The 2017 vintage of this wine was one more Aldi private label disappointment. But one of the many wonderful things about wine — like baseball — is that there is always the next vintage. And the 2018 Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc is everything the other one wasn’t.

Don’t expect this New Zealand white to mimic a stunning Sancerre or the craftsmanship and terroir of New Zealand’s Spy Valley. Rather, the Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc ($7, purchased, 13%) is a one-note New Zealand sauvignon blanc. But it’s a very well done New Zealand sauvignon blanc — grapefruit, but not too nuch; a hint of minerality on the black, and clean and crisp throughout. It’s not insipid, it’s not stupid, and it doesn’t have a trace of residual sugar, the way too many California sauvignon blancs are selling themselves these days.

In this, it’s one more reason to taste the wine before you judge it. And, as opposed to the 2017, it’s a big step up from most other $7 supermarket Kiwi sauvignon blancs.

Imported by GK Skaggs

Winebits 614: Alcohol consumption, “bargain” Bordeaux, overpriced beer

alcohol consumptionThis week’s wine news: The Russians cut alcohol consumption by 40 percent, while we find that affordable red Bordeaux costs $20 and a stadium beer vendor got caught overcharging even more than restaurants do

Impressive decline: The neo-Prohibitionists must be rejoicing at the news: “Russian alcohol consumption decreased by 43 percent from 2003 to 2016, a World Health Organization report says.” The BBC report says the decline is credited to advertising restrictions, increased taxes on alcohol, and a ban on alcohol sales between certain hours – all of which have been proposed in one form or another by groups like the Centers for Disease Control to cut U.S. wine, beer, and spirits consumption. The catch? Russia has traditionally been one of the heaviest drinking countries in the world, and the drop in consumption more or less caught Russia up to the rest of the world. For example, the average life expectancy for Russian men rose to all-time high at 68. But it’s 70 for men in the U.S, despite a recent decline, and 79 for men in western Europe, where drinking is common.

Such a deal: Charles Passy, writing in Market Watch, says we can still find affordable red Bordeaux, and he defines affordable as almost $20 a bottle. This is where the Wine Curmudgeon reminds the Winestream Media that $20 a bottle is more than twice the average price of wine sold in the U.S. and that most of us will never spend $20 for a bottle of wine. Or that much French wine that isn’t rose has been overpriced for years. But, given the current climate, if I do that, I’ll probably be criticized as a so-called consumer wine champion full of faux outrage.

Expensive beer: Overpriced booze is nothing new on the blog, as the last item attests. But a Miami beer vendor did us one better. Says the New York Post: “A beer vendor … was arrested after charging a fan $724 for two beers on a personal credit card reader.” How did the vendor get caught? The fan’s credit card company alerted him to the attempted theft on his phone – saved by the same technology that made the overcharge possible. And no, the Wine Curmudgeon won’t make a joke about the winless Dolphins.

Expensive wine 125: Two Bruno Paillard Champagnes

bruno paillard champagneYes, they cost a lot of money. But these two Bruno Paillard Champagnes show that not all expensive wine is overpriced

Champagne long ago stopped being priced reasonably, its cost hostage to the Champagne business’ hubris and demand from Asia. Even a very ordinary bottle, barely worth drinking, can cost $40. So when I tasted two Bruno Paillard Champagnes last week, offering finesse and elegance at a fair price, it was time to write a blog post

The Extra Brut Premiere Cuvee NV ($50, sample, 12%) and the Extra Brut Premiere Cuvee Rose NV ($60, sample, 12%) are reminders that expensive wine does not have to be overpriced. (Quick note: Only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne. See the blog’s Champagne and sparkling wine primer.)

Neither is cheap, but both offer quality comparable to more costlier bottles – and, frankly, they’re much more interesting. One reason? Paillard blends old wine saved for the purpose into the current wine, giving them an almost honeycomb character. Plus, this is a family business that does things its way.

The Premiere Cuvee is not quite grower Champagne, but it’s not the same $45 bottle sitting on liquor store shelves, either. Look for a light, fresh approach to the wine, minus the yeasty character so many other wines strive for. There is crisp apple and even some lemon fruit, courtesy of the chardonnay in the blend (even though the wine is about 45 percent pinot noir).

The rose is even more appealing (which, given the price, should tell you how much I enjoyed it). Again, even though there is probably more pinot noir in the blend, there is enough chardonnay to make it much fresher than you think it whould be. The cherry fruit is complex – something deeper and more subtle than the usual produce department cherry flavor. Highly recommended.

Imported by Serendipity Wine Imports

Do new U.S. wine tariffs mean the end of most $10 European wine?

wine tariff

The European Union gave plane manufacturer Airbus illegal subsidies, so we may not be able to buy $10 French or Spanish wine.

It’s a question no one can answer yet, but some retailers and importers think the wine tariff will do just that

The U.S. slapped a 25 percent tariff on wine from four European countries this week, and some fear it may be well be the end of most $10 European wine in the U.S.

That’s the impression I got after spending yesterday on the phone, talking to retailers and importers in the wake of the U.S. announcement that it would tax wine imported from France, Germany, Spain, and Great Britain an additional one-quarter of its value. It’s part of a laundry list of goods and services, including olive oil and airplane parts, that are being taxed in retaliation for illegal European aid to the Airbus plane manufacturer.

That means every bottle of wine from those four countries, save sparkling and those with more than 14 percent alcohol, will cost at least 25 percent more. And France and Spain account for about one-quarter of U.S. imports.

I asked James Galtieri, whose Seaview Imports brings in 85,000 cases a year, 40 percent from France and Spain, if we’ll see any $10 French or Spanish wine left in the U.S. if the tariff takes effect. “Probably not,” he said. A Dallas-area retailer told me the same thing: “There’s no way anyone can afford to sell those wines for $10 if they cost 25 percent more because of the tariff.”

In fact, Galtieri said the tariff could even take down $15 to $18 wine. “Those are the kinds that could fall out of bed completely. Yes, a $1 or $2 prince increase on a $15 wine doesn’t sound like much. But $15 is the sweet spot, and people don’t want to pay more than that. So they’ll likely buy something else, and those wines will disappear from the shelf.”

A Spanish importer, one of the best in the world, was even more blunt. “I might as well close my doors,” he said.

One bright spot?

Italian wine avoided the new tariff. But Italian producers could take advantage of the situation to raise prices and still remain competitive. Will that happen?

“It’s going to be the consumer who decides about price increases, not the Italian producers,” says Giulio Galli, an Italian wine importer in San Antonio. “If you look at something like $8.99 pinot grigio, the consumer is just not going to pay $15 for it.”

The other bright spot? There’s still some confusion about how the tariffs will be applied. A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative, which announced the new duties, said: “For questions on how the increased tariff rate is applied to specific products, we recommend contacting U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which will be implementing the tariffs.”

And a spokeswoman for a custom broker in Houston, which guides companies through the import maze, said Thursday that it had not been officially notified of the tariffs, including how they would be calculated. So there is a chance, however slim, that 25 percent may not mean 25 percent.

Finally, several people told me there is a chance, also however slim, that the U.S. and the EU could negotiate a settlement to the Airbus dispute that doesn’t include the wine tariffs. That may be our best bet to save $10 European wine.

TV wine ads: John Gielgud makes a quick buck plugging Paul Masson

This early 1980s John Gielgud Paul Masson TV commercial is no “Arthur”

Did John Gielgud see a chance to play off his Oscar-winning role in “Arthur” and make a ton of money for very little work? Because, otherwise, there’s very little that makes sense in this early 1980s commercial for Paul Masson.

It’s not especially funny — ridiculing modern art was tired and old even then. And, as wine marketing guru Paul Tinknell has discussed on the blog, it makes the same mistake most TV wine ads do: It doesn’t focus on those of us who actually drink wine, but tries to make wine something that it isn’t. Most of us drink wine with dinner. Most of us don’t drink wine at art openings; in fact, most of us don’t even go to art openings.

The other oddity here? The wine business’ use of noted Shakespearean actors like Gielgud and James Mason for TV commercials through the mid-1980s. It’s probably an attempt — a very weak attempt — to make ordinary wine seem more high end. All it does, of course, iPauls make it look silly.

Video courtesy of Sean Mc via YouTube

More about TV wine ads:
TV wine ads: Drink Black Tower, invade a foreign country?
Wine business: Watch this beer spot to see how TV wine ads should be done
What was James Mason doing making a Thunderbird TV commercial?

Wine of the week: Our Daily Red 2018

Our Daily RedThe 2018 Our Daily Red is a step up from the last vintage – less rustic and a touch fruitier

Dear Wine Business:

I know it sounds like I do a lot of carping, but I truly do have your best interests at heart. Don’t we both want people to enjoy wine?

Which brings us to an odd red blend from California called Our Daily Red ($9, purchased, 12.5%). It’s a pleasant everyday wine, and one I have enjoyed before. In fact, this vintage is less tart and has a little more dark, almost cherry, fruit than the 2017 did, making it less rustic and more modern. In this, it’s a Friday night wine when you’re ordering takeout pizza and binging Netflix.

So what’s the catch? It’s the back label, which insists the wine is something that it isn’t: “fruit forward and loaded with black fruit.” A Lodi zinfandel is fruit forward and loaded with black fruit, not Our Daily Red.

This sort of untruth through advertising is quite common on wine back labels, which try to convince people to buy the wine based on what the wine business thinks consumers want instead of what’s in the bottle. Some big producers, I’m told, even have marketing companies write the copy.

So what happens when someone opens Our Daily Red expecting it to taste like a post-modern California merlot tarted up with residual sugar? They go, “Ooo, gross,” spit the wine out, and never let wine touch their lips again.

And spitting out is hardly what we want, is it?

So let’s take it easy on the back label hyperbole. All a back label really needs is a simple fruit comparison and maybe a pairing. Shouldn’t it be enough to trust your customer to enjoy a well-made wine?

Your pal,
The Wine Curmudgeon

Winebits 613: Hangovers, Italian wine fraud, wine wildlife

hangoversThis week’s wine news: Are hangovers an illness? Plus, Italian police sting wine scammers and bears like their wine grapes

No, it’s not your fault: A German court has ruled that hangovers aren’t a function of stupidity, but an actual illness. The ruling came in a lawsuit against a hangover remedy company. The court said the firm couldn’t claim that its products cured a hangover because food products, including drinks, can’t be marketed as such under German law. This ruling probably won’t mean much elsewhere in the world, given it’s a German court ruling on a German issue. So no sense using it to call in sick after a weekend with too much alcohol and not enough common sense. Still, if I sold one of the myriad of new-breed “hangover cures,” I would pay attention.

Where are Redford and Newman? Italian police dressed as waiters arrested a would-be con artist who was apparently half of a team that had been scamming restaurants – selling the owners €15 worth of supermarket wine for more than €400. The story isn’t breaking news; the arrest happened in the spring. But I thought it was worth mentioning, given all we’ve written on the blog over the past couple of years about restaurant wine prices.

Where was Ranger Smith? Vinepair reports that a bear was recently caught on camera stealing pinot noir grapes from a vineyard in California’s Anderson Valley, one of the top pinot regions in the world. Closed circuit cameras at Navarro Vineyards & Winery in Mendocino County taped the bear, who may also have taken grapes earlier this year. It’s not unusual for wild animals to eat wine grapes, especially from more rural vineyards. No word, though, on how many points the bear gave the grapes, or if he preferred a riper, more California style as opposed to the traditional Burgundian approach.

Wine Curmudgeon mea culpa: There are two Baby Boomer pop culture references in this post that younger people may not get; I couldn’t help myself.