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Winebits 330: Cheap wine, more cheap wine, and corrupt wine writers

Winebits 330: Cheap wine, more cheap wine, and corrupt wine writersBet you never thought you’d see cheap wine in a headline with corrupt wine writers:

? Nothing more than $10: That’s the verdict of the British wine drinking public, where 80 percent of the wine sold costs 6 (about US$10) or less a bottle. And less than seven per cent are willing to pay more than 10 (about US$17) for a bottle.This doesn’t surprise the Wine Curmudgeon, of course, who has long been an Anglophile, complete with Tom Baker Dr. Who videos, a Winston Churchill poster, and a London Underground coffee mug. And it shouldn’t surprise any intelligent U.S, wine drinker, who has followed the blog or seen the most recent Wine Market Council study (which found that even the richest wine drinkers buy cheap wine). But you know the wine business — someone, somewhere will claim it’s all a lie, and we’re actually drinking $25 wine that gets a 93. Nuts to them. I want some of the 4 Adli rose in the article in the first link.

? Even the experts love cheap wine: A tip of the WC’s fedora to visitor Julia B., who sent this to me: Some of the hippest winemakers in the business drink wine that shows up on the blog. Like the Little James Basket Press red and whites. Like the Muga rose (recommended by a guy who used to make a $20 rose). This demonstrates two things: That people, when paying their own money, are fussier about what they buy, and that the quality of cheap wine — as preached here so many times most of you are probably sick of it — has improved dramatically.

? The Chicago way? Last week’s post about wine as bribes turned this up: That a French author claims her country’s wine critics are regularly bribed and that winery ratings are influenced by “surreal criteria,” such as parking spaces. And you think we had disagreements over scores in the U.S. Isabelle Saporta writes in “VinoBusiness (Albion Michel, $23.75)” that the French wine business is a “cruel, medieval micro-society” where powerful chateau owners care more about profit than wine and that French critics write favorable reviews in return for cash. One, says Saporta, allegedly demands US$7,000 for writing nice things about a producer’s wine — something I do for free. It’s hell to have ethics, no? Think of all the white Burgundy I could buy with a glowing review of crappy cheap wine.

Expensive wine 61: Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2011

Expensive wine 61: Adelsheim Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir 2011The Wine Curmudgeon has long lamented the state of pinot noir, in which much of the expensive stuff doesn’t taste like pinot any more. And that the expensive stuff is way past expensive, priced so that only tech moguls and Chinese generals can afford it. And that many winemakers get annoyed when someone asks them about this, as if we’re questioning their ability.

Fortunately, there are still producers who can remind us of pinot’s greatness, and Oregon’s Adelsheim Vineyard is one of them. The Elizabeth’s Reserve ($55, sample, 13%) is beautiful and classic Oregon pinot noir. Look for elegant red fruit, a subtle but full middle that is almost coy, and tannins the way they should be in pinot noir — a hint and not a kick in the teeth. The oak shows through more than I would like, but that’s probably a function of youth. The wine is still a little young, and could use another year or two in bottle.

This is not necessarily a food wine, but would be even better with it, including and especially the classic pinot pairing of roast lamb. Highly recommended; in fact, I found another bottle after I drank this one. Don’t know where it came from, but I’m glad it did. I’m going to let the second bottle age and save it for a special occasion.

Cash makes a much better bribe than wine

Cash makes a much better bribe than wineThe Wine Curmudgeon, who spent part of his newspaper career writing politics and grew up in Chicago, thought he knew a few things about corruption. How could anyone not learn from Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell, who died and left $800,000 in cash stuffed in shoe boxes? Or the Mirage Tavern, a sting set up by the Chicago Sun-Times to find out if Chicago’s code inspectors were as crooked as everyone thought? Which, not surprisingly, they were. Or that four of the state’s past seven governors have done time?

As newspaper columnist Mike Royko wrote: “This town was built by great men who demanded that drunkards and harlots be arrested, while charging them rent until the cops came.”

But none of this prepared me for news that politicians and related lifeforms have been caught taking wine in exchange for influence and favors. For one thing, this violates the cardinal rule of bribe taking — don’t leave a paper trail. Cash in an envelope, please, and not wine bottles that can be found by some eager young media type digging through the garbage or a fed poring over a stack of distributor invoices. For another, those Chicago politicians didn’t know wine from water polo. They were shot and beer guys, and it was the real estate developers who gave them the envelopes who drank the wine. And we know about real estate developers.

Nevertheless, an Australian state premier (similar to a governor) was forced to resign after accepting a bottle of Grange, the country’s best wine, worth US$2,800 — after sending the fixer who gave him the bottle a hand-written thank you note. You think Powell ever said thank you, let alone sent a note? Of course not. He just found another shoe box.

A Chinese general, meanwhile, was caught with what the news reports called crates of his country’s Moutai wine (which is closer to a spirit, actually, made with sorghum and not grapes). Given that aged Moutai can go for thousands of dollars a case, the general was no piker, and had also amassed an illicit fortune in real estate. But that didn’t make him Chicago smart — what would the cops think he was doing with all that booze? Shoe boxes, general, shoe boxes. What cop is going to look inside a shoe box?

The lesson here? If you want to bribe someone, use cash. Wine is economically and politically inefficient. How can you be sure someone who takes a payoff in wine is going to stay bought, and not demand a bottle with a higher score? Which is just the kind of thing a politician who wants to be bribed with wine would do.

A tip o’ the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to the late Louie Canelakes, a fellow Chicagoan, who was the inspiration for this post.

Second Cheapest Wine

Second Cheapest WineThe Wine Curmudgeon has often lamented the quality of wine humor, but here is something that’s not only funny, but entirely too accurate. Consider just these two lines from a fake commercial for a product called Second Cheapest Wine: “You don’t know much about wine, but you do know that you shouldn’t get the cheapest. That’s why we make it easy for you to get the Second Cheapest.”

The bit takes on restaurants, wine snobs, wine education, and wine stores — and all in only 1:19. And with impressive production values. This is so good, in fact, that I should send the authors a copy of the cheap wine book.

So enjoy — Second Cheapest Wine, from CollegeHumor.com, via YouTube:

Wine of the week: Anne Amie Cuv e A Muller-Thurgau 2012

Wine of the week: Anne Amie Cuv e A Muller-Thurgau 2012One of the most nefarious developments in the wine business is the $15 wine that is only worth about $10. You’ll see this a lot at grocery stores, but it shows up elsewhere as well. The point of these wines is to add value not through what’s in the bottle, but what’s on the bottle — a clever name, a funny label, or paragraphs of winespeak.

That these wines trick consumers into paying more than they should is bad enough, but they also sour the market for $15 wines that are worth that much money, like the Anne Amie. How is a wine drinker, faced with the grocery store wall of wine, going to know that the Anne Amie is an honest wine that delivers value and not something made to fool them?

That’s why I’m here. Anne Amie in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is one of my favorite U.S. producers, making smart, value-driven wines with grapes that aren’t for the faint hearted. The Amrita, for example, is a blend of 10 grapes, including chardonnay and riesling, a combination designed to warm even the most curmudgeonly heart. The Cuv e A ($15, purchased, 12.6%) does the Amrita one better.

Muller-Thurgau is a white German grape not much planted anywhere anymore, even in Germany. It’s sort of like riesling and gewurtztraminer, but with its own characteristics. That means it’s crisp, but not necessarily fruity. The 2012 Cuv e A is softer than previous vintages, almost off-dry — which isn’t a bad thing. Look for white pepper and spiciness, with honey and apricot flavors. Exceptionally well done, and the kind of wine that’s perfect as spring arrives.

Winebits 329: Legal affairs edition

Winebits 329: Legal affairs editionBecause the Wine Curmudgeon is always amused by the legal side of the wine business:

? Blame it on Utah: The Wine Curmudgeon has first-hand experience with Utah’s liquor laws, thanks to a story I wrote about the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But not even I was ready for this excellent piece of reporting by Nancy Lofholm in The Denver Post. How about eight different liquor licenses? Or that some establishments have to have a barrier between customers and the bartender, and that others don’t — even if they have the same license? But don’t worry too much. Says one Utah tourism official: “We are not the only state with peculiar liquor laws.”

? Scores don’t matter: Or, did a New York judge tell a wine drinker that a high score can’t be the basis for suing about wine quality? There are many ways to interpret the decision, in which a Manhattan judge dismissed a lawsuit (requires free registration) in which a consumer wanted a refund from a wine store because he didn’t like the six bottles of 91-point wine he bought. The judge wrote that wine taste is subjective, and so can’t be the basis for a lawsuit. I know the wine in question, a decent enough bottle of Rioja, but one that’s probably not worth the $12.99 the consumer paid. Damn those scores anyway.

? Questioning three-tier? Or so says this post from the Libation Law blog, analyzing a New Jersey court decision that said “New Jersey’s liquor control laws and regulations must be administered in the light of changing conditions.” Which, of course, is what those of us who want to reform the three-tier system have been saying for years: That a system put in place at the end of Prohibition to keep the mob out of liquor has outlived its reason for being. The decision, which dealt with distributors and how they paid commission, is esoteric, but Ashley Brandt at Libation is optimistic that it “strengthens the argument that a vigilant regulatory system can uncover and prohibit the practices that people claim the three-tiered system was meant to forestall.” The Wine Curmudgeon, with his vast legal experience (a semester of First Amendment law in college) isn’t quite so sure, but who am I to ruin a good mood?

New features for the blog?

New features for the blog?

Always trying to find the right mix for readers.

Update: Thanks for all the emails — some very good advice and comments about what we’re doing here and how we do it. I was quite flattered to have so many people tell me they didn’t want anyone else to write for the blog.

Still working on the transition from the old platform to the new, and especially with updating the broken links — and we’re only in the seventh month after the switch. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and Google’s search algorithms are even more special.

Having said that, it’s time to continue the blog’s progress into the 21st century, and that means I need your thoughts about the following. If you like the ideas — or don’t like them — leave a comment at the end of this post or .

? A regular (monthly? every six weeks?) live chat about cheap wine, the wine business, and so forth, where you can come to the blog and ask me questions in real time. You type them in, and I answer. I’ve done this elsewhere, and it’s usually a lot of fun. The catch? What happens if you hold a chat and no one is there to chat?

? Someone besides me writing blog posts. I’m thinking about this not so much because I’m tired of writing the posts but because I’m wondering if another voice — though still focused on what we do here, still objective about wine, and still a quality writer — would add something to the blog. Also, if you’d like to so some writing for the blog, .

? Wine Curmudgeon TV. I’ve toyed with this before, but the logistics have always been daunting. They aren’t quite as daunting these days, so the question is: Is it worthwhile to do a shortish, 10-minute chat with a guest or guests about wine? And what kind of guests? Because winemaker interviews and features haven’t been all that popular here.