The wine business in 2014 won’t be so much about varietal or sweet, though both will matter. Rather, wine trends in 2014 will be about the continuing transformation of wine into a truly global business, focusing on:
? Increased retail availability — more wines in more and different kinds of stores, and especially grocery stores. This means attempts to change state laws where that’s illegal
? More consolidation among producers — not just the biggest getting bigger, the trend over the past decade, but consolidation among mid-sized wineries, which will be folded into companies specificially formed for that purpose.
? The growing importance of the consumer, who is beginning to drink what he or she wants and forcing the wine business to adjust, rather than the other way around.
Mixed in with this will be renewed attempts by the neo-Probhibitionists in goverment and medicine to reduce wine consumption. More, after the jump:
The Wine Curmudgeon does not like red sparkling wine. This dates to an unpleasant experience with sparkling shiraz at a trendy Fort Worth restaurant and a waiter who knew a lot less about wine than he thought. The less said about it, the better.
Still, the only rule of wine is to drink as many kinds as possible, whether one likes it or not. So when the Italian Wine Guy said the Cleto Chiarli ($14, sample, 11%), a red bubbly from Italy, was one of his favorites, who was I to argue? And which demonstrates that you should always listen to people who know more than you do.
Because I enjoyed it, as quirky as it was. Quirky because it had very dark fruit, very dry, and even slightly tannic, hardly what Americans expect from the sweet and soft fruit Lambruscos that most of us know. It’s not for all tastes, and especially for someone expecting a sweet wine or a more conventional sparkler.
But if you want to try it, you’ll find a very well made wine with better quality bubbles than I expected and that is unlike almost anything else you’ve ever had. Serving it chilled wouldn’t hurt, and the tannins make it a better food wine than expected. And you might even like it, which is the best part.
One caveat: The bottle has an old-fashioned wire closure — the best comparison is a piece of clothes hanger holding the cork down — and not a sparkling wine cage. I used a screwdriver to pry it off, though I doubt that’s the traditional method.
Let’s get the review of the Downton Abbey claret ($17, purchased, 13%) out of the way first: I liked it. It’s a Bordeaux blend with some blueberry fruit and a rough, gritty style that’s typical of cheap French red wine, the sort of thing I’ve been drinking most of my life. In other words, plonk.
The catch, of course, is that it isn’t cheap, costing about twice as much as it’s worth. But that’s the point, isn’t it? That $17 pays for more than the wine. It pays for the experience, and that’s what Carnival Film & Television Ltd., the show’s producers, are counting on. That, and that wine drinkers are as stupid as we’re supposed to be.
This is not a rant about TV and movie tie-ins; I own a Captain Kirk action figure and two Star Trek coffee mugs, and I’m proud of it. Rather, it’s about the wine business and the way it insults the intelligence of its customers, something that we see all too often. Call it celebrity wine or cult wine or whatever, it’s based on the assumption that wine drinkers don’t know anything about quality. Flash a shiny object in front of us, and we’ll reach for the debit card every time. Which, as regular visitors here know, is an attitude that makes me crazy.
And I got crazier reading the claret’s back label and promotional material. To paraphrase Dashiell Hammett, “I was trying to count how many lies could be found in them, and had reached four, with promise of more. ?”:
? This “is an elegant, dry wine. … ” “… with a silky finish.” Dry yes, but about as elegant as a summer day in Dallas and as silky as late-night diner coffee.
? The wine is made with “grapes from the renowned Entre-Deux-Mers (‘between two seas’) region of Bordeaux, France.” Yes, Entre-Deux-Mers is in Bordeaux, but it’s hardly renowned for claret, or even red wine. It’s a bulk wine region with some decent, cheap whites, more or less the French equivalent of California’s Central Valley.
? The wine was put together by a negociant, Grands Chais de France, founded in 1979, hardly “one of France’s great Chateaux.”
? Perhaps the worst: that the claret is age-worthy. It will age about as well as any other $8 wine, which means not at all. Legitimate claret, writes British wine critic Tom Cannavan, “can be the epitome of fine wine. The best wines exhibit a wonderful complexity of aromas and flavours, great elegance and refinement and an ability to age gracefully — some for a hundred years.” This ain’t that.
All of this is about words and terms that most consumers expect from wine in the vague way we do, but know very little about (because, of course, the wine business doesn’t care about wine education). Great wine is supposed to age, but most of us have never had an aged wine and don’t know why it makes a difference. Great wine is supposed to be elegant, but how many of us could describe what an elegant wine tastes like? And to expect most of us to know Entre-Deux-Mers is cynical even for a TV tie-in. No doubt the marketing types figured it was French, and that would be enough for the stupid Americans.
If Carson served this wine at a Downton Abbey dinner, he’d get a proper talking to; Hudson never would have let it in the house. If you want quality claret-stye wine for about $17 while watching the fourth season, try Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret or Hess’ Treo Winemaker’s Blend. Or, if you want to spend $8 or $10, there’s Little James’ Basket Press Red, the kind of wine that entitles you to giggle at others who spend more for lesser quality because someone flashed a shiny object in front of them.
The Pigmentum ($10, purchased, 13%) is made with malbec, which gives it a style somewhere between a fruity, strawberry-ish New World rose and and the more traditional and tart French style. But it’s still balanced and food friendly, and well worth drinking again. In fact, in most years, it would have made the hall of fame. This year, though, given all the tremendous candidates, it had to wait. This, apparently, is not an uncommon problem with halls of fame.
The Pigmentum is made by a French wine company, Atrium Vigouroux, which specializes in cheap wine. The rose is for sale in Europe through their site (ah, the joys of unrestricted direct shipping) for ?5 a bottle, and the company’s white blend (which I also like) is only ?4.90. Both work out to less than $8 a bottle. Is it any wonder that those of us who pay attention to these things still see the French wine model as worthy of admiration?
? More influential than ever: That would be those of us who write about cheap wine, according to a study last month. The Vine Pair Wine Web Power Index ranked 33 wine-related websites, and two of them dealt mostly with cheap wine. The Wine Curmudgeon was one of them, of course, but even more highly ranked was Jon Thorsen’s Reverse Wine Snob, who has been fighting the good fight for some three years (though Jon includes wine that costs as much $20). Interestingly, The Reverse Wine Snob was judged more influential than many of the usual Winestream Media sites and blogs that are usually mentioned as the most important places on the Internet.
? Bring on the dollar store wine: Dollar stores, including Dollar General and 99 Only, see a future in wine, reports Time magazine. “Adding beer and wine to our stores allows us to offer our customers a place where they can truly shop us first for everything, ? said a 99 Only spokesman. Wine pricing starts at $2.99 a bottle, which puts the retailers in competition with Walmart and Aldi, the discount grocer, as well as Trader Joe’s and its Two-buck Chuck. That dollar stores, whose primary demographic is more rural and less affluent than the typical wine drinker, see wine as important speaks to how wine has changed in the U.S. over the past decade or so. And which may help explain how Thorsen and I ended up on an influential wine Internet list.
? Not so great cheap wine tips: From Consumer Reports, no less, whose dedication to value wine has been noted here before. The catch, though, is that most of the suggestions aren’t of much use. Yes, Costco has quality cheap wine, but telling people to buy wine at Costco doesn’t do anything for those of use who don’t have a Costco nearby. Also, one of the suggestions depends on scores, which seems to be at odds with the methodology used in the blog post linked to in the first sentence. Finally, the magazine suggests buying wine on-line, which doesn’t take into account shipping costs and state shipping restrictions.
Not all was wonderful — the Cusumano Nevo d’Avola didn’t make it, which was a damned shame considering it had been one of my favorite cheap reds. I don’t have much hope for the other Cusumano wines for next year, either.
But that was about the only disappointment, given how much great cheap wine I tasted in 2013. Some 100 wines were considered, easily the most ever, and those that made it into the Hall included the $5 Spanish Vina Decana, which I have bought shamelessly since tasting it in October; more Gascon, cava, Sicilian, and rose, perhaps the best values in the world; and four California wines — believe it or not.
I wrote this last year, and it’s even more true in 2014: “We’re living in the Golden Age of cheap wine, and I hope everyone who reads this understands how lucky we are to be here. It’s as if Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, the Ramones, and the Beatles were all on the same bill, all in their prime, tickets were free, and we never had to go home.”
Rudy K. is Rudy Kurniawan, the con man convicted last month for bilking wine collectors out of millions of dollars by passing off cheap wine as rare bottles worth thousands. The story, not surprisingly, was huge among the wine writing fraternity, both traditional and on-line, and a Google search yesterday turned up 1.8 million references to it.
On the other hand, a story that could affect every wine drinker — and not just those who can drop a couple of grand for a French first-growth that may or may not be real — was mostly ignored last year. That was the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposal to cut the legal drinking limit, which would be two glasses of wine for most women and three for men. Yesterday, there were just 37,000 Google references to the plan.