Category:A Featured Post

Could the Internet screw up direct shipping?

direct shippingThe perfect world of direct shipping — where we can buy any wine we want from any retailer we want, just like we buy computers or tennis shoes — will likely never happen, given the three-tier system and its death grip on the wine business. But, assuming we could make three-tier vanish, would direct shipping actually be that perfect?

Maybe. And then again, maybe not, says Steve Tadelis, Ph.D, an economist and Internet search expert at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Tadelis’ research, summarized quite nicely in this article from The Economist, has found that consumers don’t necessarily use the Internet the way we think they should. His work, based on search patterns on eBay from people shopping for classical music, found that price or the music itself didn’t necessarily matter. Sometimes, they were searching just to search.

“They were looking for music not so much to buy music as to learn about music,” he says. “And when they bought something, it wasn’t always for the lowest price. And I can see that applying to wine, where buying isn’t as important as learning about wine.”

In other words, we may not care that direct shipping will make possible the ultimate wine retail experience. We may still buy wine the same we always have, or do it in some way no one has figured out yet. Tadelis says this is because we know little about how consumers use the Internet; after all, the idea of Internet shopping is still very new in comparison to the centuries of traditional retail. We assume, because it seems logical, that consumers will shop online the same way they shop in a store. But that’s not necessarily true.

“In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised by our results, but I was,” he says. “But that’s because I based my assumption on my behavior, which is searching for the best deal on items that I know I want, and because traditional economic theory says search is a friction, and that shoppers try to avoid friction. But searching on the Internet isn’t the same kind of friction as driving from store to store.”

Further complicating the issue: Shipping costs, which don’t figure into music purchases, and the idea that wine is experential, which means we tend to buy something we’ve had before, based on our experience with it. With music, it’s not only easier to experiment with something new, but Mozart is Mozart, regardless of who is performing it.

Finally, the idea that direct shipping will lower prices, since it will increase competition and make it easier to find the same wine for less, may not be entirely true. In some cases, it could increase demand, which would raise prices as part of something economists call the long tail. If I make a rare wine without an apparent audience, and I can only sell it from my winery, demand is limited to the people who visit my winery. But if I sell it over the Internet, millions of people could learn about it, and I will be able to sell the wine more easily and at a higher price. This could lead, says Tadelis, to more experimentation and more unique and intriguing wines.

Wine of the week: PradoRey Rueda 2013

pradorey ruedaThere are a variety of reasons why Spanish wine isn’t more popular in the United States, but to put it most simply: The wines are made with grapes that most of us have never heard of and come from regions that are even more obscure.

Case in point is the PradoRey Rueda ($11, sample, 12.5%), a white wine that comes from the Rueda region just northwest of Madrid and is made with the verdejo grape. In this, it does not seem like the kind of wine that would scream at shoppers from a grocery store shelf filled with chardonnay (hence the 84 it got from one user on CellarTracker, the blog’s unofficial wine app).

But it does stand out, offering the exceptional quality and value that Spain delivers these days. Look for clean, sour lemon fruit, but this is also a wine that is softer and richer than similar white wines at this price, with a hint of something tropical that balances the lemon. It’s a much more complex wine that it should be, and I was surprised at how I kept tasting it even after I had swallowed the wine.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame if I can find it for $10 in the Dallas area. Chill this and drink it on its own, or with anything that is traditional white wine food. And it would work wonders with grilled seafood or something like arroz con pollo.

Winebits 370: Wine writing ethics, Big Wine, beer sales

wine writing ethics ? Full disclosure: The Wine Curmudgeon stopped writing about wine writing a couple of years ago; it boosted the blog’s numbers, but didn’t advance the causes that the blog believes in, like wine education. But this item, from Australian wine writer Max Allen, does matter for anyone who wants to be able to trust what they read: “When a wine writer threatens to sue another wine writer for telling the truth, you know things are getting serious. … Advertorial is masquerading as editorial. And our readers — the people we ?re meant to be writing for — are in the dark about it all.” This is something that has been bothering me for several years, and I touched on it in last fall’s birthday week essay. So Allen’s post is worth writing about, given its honest discussion about what’s going wrong — writers taking money from wineries; conflicts of interest that no one talks about because they’d have to stop doing them; and how content has changed in the digital age from something independently written to something written so it will sell something paid. Any wine drinker who cares about getting an honest assessment for wine they’re paying for should read it.

? Fewer mergers? One of my wine trends for 2015 was the continuation of something that started at least a decade ago — Big Wine getting bigger, buying up smaller companies. Turns out I may have been wrong, and not just about this year. A study at FoodBev.com reports that wine acquisitions worldwide were down by a quarter worldwide in 2014. Still, before the mea culpas, it’s worth noting that wine tied for sixth on the list of food and drinks deals in 2014, an impressive showing given its smaller size relative to the rest of the food and drinks business, like packaging, soft drinks, and dairy.

? No end to the slide: The beer business continues to slowly erode, which I cover on the blog because it ties into American drinking habits. SABMiller, one of the two companies that controls most of the world’s beer production, saw its North American sales decline two percent in the nine months ending in December. Which means the holiday season didn’t rescue the company. This is part of a long-term tend that has seen beer sales slowly decline since the beginning of the recession, as Americans shift away from beer, which has dominated alcohol sales in the U.S. for decades. So we shouldn’t be surprised by the growth in wine sales.

Ernie Banks, 1931-2015

ernie banksNot that long ago, I was talking to a baseball fan who didn’t understand why New York Yankees fans were so cranky. “Their best player can make an error in the first inning, and they’ll start booing and won’t let up,” he said. “They take all of the fun out of the game.”

“That’s because Yankees fans are used to players like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter,” I told him. “When you’ve watched them, it’s hard to give anyone else the benefit of the doubt.”

I mention this on the death of perhaps the greatest Chicago Cubs player ever, Ernie Banks. The Cubs, for most of my lifetime, have not had players like Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Jeter. They have had Joe Wallis and Carmen Fanzone and Dick Nen. But as long as the Cubs had Ernie, that always seemed to be enough.

Banks’ death is about more than baseball and being a Cubs’ fan, and it’s about more than the part he played for those of us who came of age with the Cubs in the 1960s. It’s about what baseball says about our lives; as George Carlin wrote: “Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.”

Banks was a Hall of Fame ballplayer, one of the greatest shortstops in the history of the game. But what he will be remembered for, and what his New York Times obituary did not fail to mention, was the record he holds for most games played without ever making the playoffs, 2,528. It’s a most Cubs-like record, befitting the franchise’s reputation for futility.

But it reminds us that life is not about winning. We can’t all be the Yankees. Life is about getting up every morning and doing the best you can, because otherwise, what’s the point? It’s about understanding that you’re lucky enough to do something that you love, and that doing anything other than the best you can would be wrong. You can’t hit a home run every day, but you can try. And that’s enough.

Todd Hollandsworth, who played a couple of seasons for the Cubs at the beginning of the last decade (and yet another of those players who weren’t Babe Ruth) told the Chicago Sun-Times that Banks “taught me to let the game go and start over the next day. Each day was unto itself. `You can ?t change yesterday, ? he told me. I don ?t think I could fully understand what he was teaching me at the time. Still haven ?t.”

There is no better epitaph than that.

Mini-reviews 68: French wine edition

French wine reviewsReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. For January, four French wines:

? Macon-Villages Les Tuiles 2013 ($10, purchased,13%): This chardonnay from the Macon region of Burgundy is another winner from Cave de Lugny, which specializes in quality cheap wine from that part of France. This is a richer, less crisp style, but still with green apple, and even though the wine doesn’t have any oak.

? Ch teau Jacquet Blanc 2013 ($11, purchased,12%): Nothing special about this white Bordeaux, made of sauvignon blanc and semillon. It’s sort of jumbled together, without enough minerality and some sort of citrus and honey combination.

? Ch teau Rauzan Despagne Reserve 2013: ($13, purchased,12%): Overpriced white being sold in Dallas as a private label that doesn’t especially taste white Bordeaux, with too much citrus and sweet fruit. Very disappointing.

? Hugel Riesling 2012: ($20, sample,12%): This Alsatian white comes from one of the region’s finest producers, and it’s impeccable — some oiliness, pear fruit, and minerality, as well as bone dry. But for all of its quality, it doesn’t come close to delivering value for $20. This is the problem the French wine business faces that few people want to admit.

Private label wine: The future of the wine business?

private label winePrivate label wine, always a small but important part of the wine business, is going to get much, much bigger. In this, wine drinkers will see more wines on store shelves they’ve never heard of and can only buy in one store — all of which is good for retailers, but not necessarily good for us.

More, after the jump: Continue reading