Category:A Featured Post

One billion bottles of Yellow Tail

yt.jpegOr more than 10 billion glasses, if you’d prefer.

Despite everything — the jeers from critics, the blame for sinking the Australian wine industry, its role as one of the first livestock wines — Yellow Tail has thrived. How about these numbers?

The company, despite its struggles with the pricey Aussie dollar, recorded its best year ever in fiscal 2013, with sales by quantity increasing 8 per cent. Meanwhile, some 11 1/2 million cases a year are sold in the U.S., making it the most popular foreign wine in the country. That’s impressive to begin with, and even more so for a brand that didn’t exist before the beginning of the 21st century.

In all of this, Yellow Tail helped change the way Americans drink wine, as important as Two-buck Chuck and the arrival of the multi-national wine companies. If nothing else, it was one of the first of the international style wines, fruity and easy to drink, and it was cheap.

Yellow Tail boss John Casella makes no apologies for this. I’ve met him twice, and each time I was part of a group made up of wine types much more highfalutin‘ than the Wine Curmudgeon. Casella just stared them down, politely, and his refrain was the same: “If consumers want a simple, fruity wine at a fair price, what’s wrong with giving it to them?”

Nothing, of course, which is why his company has produced 1 billion bottles. I’m not a Yellow Tail fan, and only one of the wines has been reviewed here in almost eight years. They are too fruity and too simple; I prefer wines that are more interesting, and there are many at the same price.

But lots of people don’t like those wines, or can’t find them, or even know they exist. And this has helped Casella build what may be the most successful wine company in Australia. That’s the thing to keep in mind when you read the other pieces about Yellow Tail’s milestone, articles that will almost certainly focus on the stuff in the second paragraph of this one. Yellow Tail’s success makes the company so easy to dislike that too many of us lose sight of why it is successful — and what that means for wine.

Wine of the week: Maculan Pino & Toi 2012

pino_toiCue moody music.

The phone rang. The voice on the other end was sharp, abrupt. “You da Curmudgeon? I gots some cheap wines for ya. Go ta dis place” — and he mentioned a retailer in Dallas that specializes in Italian wine — “and tell ’em Ace sent ya.” And then he hung up.

Shift scene to a neighborhood that has seen better days. I adjusted the brim on my fedora, pushed open the door. I got an up and down from the guy behind the counter. “Ace sent me,” I said. He pointed to the back of the store.

Which is where I found the Maculan ($8, purchased, 12.5%), a white blend from the Veneto region in Italy’s northeast. It’s made with two lesser known grapes, pinot blanc and toi, the latter of which is actually friulano but is called toi in that part of Italy. The result is an amazing wine — refreshing and clean, with green apple fruit, and even some kind of a finish. The pinot blanc adds a floral aroma, whilte the toil contributes that uniquely Italian white wine character that can best be described as bracing.’This is an amazing value for $8, the kind of wine that makes me wonder how I missed it in my decade-plus pursuit of cheap wine. But I’m certainly glad I was tipped to it now; highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2014 $10 Hall of Fame.

 

Winebits 303: Cupcake, dollar stores, Whole Foods

? Winemaker leaves Cupcake? Adam Richardson, the winemaker who helped Cupcake go from a startup to one of the most successful wine brands in the United States, has reportedly been hired by embattled Treasury Wine Estates. Shanken News Daily reported last week that Richardson will oversee winemaking for Treasury ?s U.S. labels, which include Beringer, Stags ? Leap Winery, Souverain, and Meridian. If true, this means Australian-based Treasury will likely keep its U.S. labels, which are rumored to be for sale, and will step up its turnaround plans for the U.S. brands. That I ?m writing this using business reporter jargon speaks to the changes in the U.S. wine industry over the past decade, with multi-nationals treating wine the same way they treat other consumer goods. It ?s just one more example how wine is becoming a commodity like detergent or running shoes, and how the business is becoming marketing- and price-driven in a way it never has before.

? More retailers want to sell wine: We ?ve covered this on the blog before, but this story from the Arizona Republic newspaper (behind a limited pay wall) offers insights in why dollar stores want to sell wine. ?We want to be a convenient store, ? said Manuel Becerra, district manager for 99 Cents Only. ?You come to the store and you find everything you need. ? Who would have thought that included wine? The other important thing to note is that these stores, since they specialize in less expensive merchandise, are selling cheap wine, usually not more than $3 or $4 ? yet another example of how the wine world is changing.

? Whole Foods and wine: How does the country ?s biggest natural foods grocer decide what wines to buy? ?I’m looking for wines that are unique, that deliver value and have a sense of place — to me that’s one of the most important things about a wine — but at the same time will sell in all of our stores. If I try something I like and I think customers will like it, I’ll buy the entire production. ? That ?s the word from Doug Bell, the retailer ?s global wine and beer buyer. Think about that ? if he thinks the chain can sell a wine, he ?ll buy the entire production. To paraphrase that well-known philosopher, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, the wine business ain ?t in Kansas anymore.

At long last, The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine

The book is officially for sale in paperback and ebook editions from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Even the Apple version for iPad, iTunes, iPhone, and iPod exists. One request: Buy the paperback from the website, because I get the full price. If you buy it from an Internet retailer, I get $3.

Want to meet me? Then check out the 2013 Cheap Wine book tour, which begins Oct. 21.

Why should you buy the book? Or more than one copy? Because this may be the only wine book ever written that doesn’t have any pictures of grapes, vineyards, or romantic hilltop wineries, or lists of wine recommendations that are outdated even before the book is released.

Instead, it offers wisdom, pointers, and advice about how the wine business works and how you can use that knowledge to buy wine that you like without help from scores, the Winestream Media, or snotty wine drinkers:

? The difference between wine that’s cheap and wine that is made cheaply, and how that translates into value — something that is regularly overlooked in our score-driven world.

? The three questions to answer when you taste a wine: Did you like it? Why did you like it? And did you get your money’s worth? Answer those over a long enough period of time, and you’ll never need anyone else’s advice again.

? How to find a good retailer — one who is interested in helping you understand wine and to find what you like, as opposed to one who wants to sell you wine and could care less about the other.

And there is more than just the book. This cartoon (that’s the picture at the top of the blog that rotates) describes how the Winestream Media — facing the greatest threat to its existence — plots the “Wine Curmudgeon Conspiracy.” Also, this podcast, where noted academic and Missouri wine fan Rick Rockwell interviews me about the book. And this interview Lynn Krielow Chamberlain at iWineradio, where we talk about the book. And you can stream my visit with Tim McNally on his WGSO New Orleans radio show.

 

 

A college enology class gets its fill of the Wine Curmudgeon

The video in this post was part of my appearance on Oct. 3 at a viticulture and enology class at Dallas’ El Centro College, which has one of the best culinary programs in the southwest. I offer wisdom on how to learn about wine, the idea behind cheap wine, and the joy of regional wine — all in less than eight minutes. I also managed to plug The Cheap Wine Book.

The class took 90 minutes, and at the end we tasted six Texas wines. The students were mostly pleased with what they tasted, though there was the usual disagreement that occurs at these sorts of events. One group would like a wine because it was fruity, while another wouldn’t like the same wine because it was fruity. This, as I always point out, is just one reason why wine is so much fun. One can argue and drink wine while arguing.

One other point worth noting: The students were fascinated by the idea of $3 wine, and we spent a fair amount of time discussing whether they were worth drinking. Many of them, as it turned out, were big fans of Aldi’s $3 wines.

El Centro College’s Alex Curran shot and edited the piece, and did a terrific job working with a very awkward Wine Curmudgeon. And did I really say I was one of the leading wine writers in the U.S.? Unfortunately, given when we did the video, he had to use the old website in the montages.

And why don’t I have a hat on? It was raining the day we shot the video, so I didn’t wear one. The legendary Gus Katsigris, who teaches the class and helped start the El Centro culinary program, was very disappointed with me. Gus served Texas wine at his Dallas restaurant in the late 1970s and is one of the true standup guys in the food business, so I should have worn a hat. What are a few water stains among friends?

Julia Child and wine, both local and cheap

Julia ChildJulia Child is rightfully credited with making American cooking more than steak, baked potatoes, and a dinner salad of iceberg lettuce, rubber tomatoes, and bottled French salad dressing. What’s often overlooked is her role in helping us figure out this wine thing, and especially her advocacy for American wine, which was pretty much unknown 50 years ago.

Child was passionate about wine, and it’s worth watching the grainy black and white episodes of the original “French Chef” public television show to see just how passionate. In the second episode, aired in 1963, she prepares her classic Boeuf Bourguignon, and it includes a very intelligent discussion about wine to serve with the stew. You can see it at 25:58 of the linked item; she recommends mountain red, a California jug wine made with zinfandel, and explains why it’s not necessary to buy an expensive bottle of red Burgundy. No wonder, as Jacques Pepin once told me, “what you saw with Julia was what you got.”

Child did a wine and cheese episode in 1970, and the array of bottles — six French wines with their American counterparts — must have been as confusing as molecular biology to most of her audience. That’s because dessert wines were the best-selling wine in the U.S. until 1967 (part of the discussion in Chapter II of the Cheap Wine book), and the first U.S. wine boom was still five years off.

Some of the best wine advice ever written is in “The French Chef Cookbook,” published in 1968. Rose goes with anything, says Child, and she does not have kind words for retailers who offer less than helpful advice. There are also wine and food pairing suggestions, still relevant today, and she explains why there’s nothing wrong with cheap wine for everyday meals. My favorite part, though, is this: “The simplest way to start in on this pleasant hobby is to buy wines, start sampling, discussing, keeping notes, reading about wines, thinking about them, and enjoying them.”

Sounds like a great plan, no?

Wine of the week: La Quercia Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2011

Wine of the week: La Quercia Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2011One of the Wine Curmudgeon ?s great finds this year has been wine from the Abruzzi region of Italy, made with the montepulciano grape. I don ?t know that they have been quite up to the quality of their Sicilian brethren, but the Velennosi was a wine of the week and the La Fattoria is a fixture in the $10 Hall of Fame.

The La Quercia ($12, sample, 13%) continues the trend. It ?s a red wine that ?s simple and cheap, but this is not damning with faint praise. Yes, it won’t win any big-time awards, and I don’t know that I would give it more than a high bronze in a wine competition. But not every wine needs to be flashy. Sometimes, as I learned this summer during the $3 wine tasteoff, that ?s exactly what you don ?t need.

This is an intense wine, without much fruit and very Italian in style, earthy and savory. And anyone who likes California grocery store merlot will probably wonder why I ?m so enthusiastic about it. But on a Friday night, after a long week, drinking it with home-made pizza with sausage and mushrooms, it was just what I needed. What more can a wine offer?