Talk about a hanging chad. Bogle won the 2014 cheap wine poll by a margin so thin that the outcome was in doubt until the voting ended on Tuesday night. It recorded just four more thumbs up votes than runner-up Barefoot; the latter’s thumbs down votes were more harmful, with three times as many as Bogle.
This is shocking, given that Barefoot finished sixth last year after spending most of the poll in ninth place. Plus, it’s not like I’ve been enthusiastic about Barefoot over the years, and the brands that it beat are some of the best cheap wines in the world. Barefoot second ahead of last year’s winner, Falesco Vitiano, which dropped to seventh? Unbelievable.
The explanation? Availability, I think. The top three wines, which included McManis at No. 3, are sold in grocery stores and are easier to find than most of the rest. You can only vote on what you’ve tasted, and a lot of people have tasted Barefoot. On the other hand, Two-buck Chuck was a badly beaten 10th for the second year in a row, and a lot of people have tasted it.
Other surprises? Chateau Bonnet, which is one of the last cheap French wines that tastes French and not like it was made by a committee obsessed with the so-called American palate, was ninth, with more negative votes than positive after finishing fifth in 2013. I can’t think of a reason for this, unless the voters don’t like French wines that taste French or are still hung up on freedom fries. On the other hand, Domain du Tariquet finished fourth, and that’s also a French wine that remains completely French.
Many of us who were liberal arts students in the 1970s spent a lot of time with European history, and one of the things we learned is that national borders were flexible. Unlike the U.S., where we believe in mostly straight lines that are always the same, European borders have changed frequently over the past 500 years. A war, a new ruler, or a dynastic marriage, and part of one country would become part of another without any trouble at all.
Alois Lageder does it, and so does the Tiefenbrunner family, as the pinot bianco ($15, purchased, 13%) demonstrates. Hence a label that says both pinot bianco and weissburgunder, the grape’s German name (which is pinot blanc in French) on it. Pinot bianco is softer and more floral than pinot grigio, and is much more enjoyable at the lower prices I write about.
This wine is an excellent example of pinot bianco. Look for green apple fruit with an undercurrent of something almost tropical, lots of white flower aromas, and a minerality and acidity that don’t overwhelm the wine the way they can in pinot grigio. That I bought a previous vintage, and paid more than I usually do, attests to the Tiefenbrunner quality. Highly recommended, even at $15.
Damn, is that wine class with the guy with the hat next? Can’t we stay in this baking class?
What’s the best way to reach consumers and undermine all the foolishness that the wine business and its allies in the Winestream Media foist off on them? Get ’em while they’re young.
Which is what I’ll be doing in January, when I teach Viticulture and Enology at El Centro College (RSTO 1319, for those keeping score), part of the Dallas County Community College system. El Centro’s Food and Hospitality program is one of the best two-year degrees in the country, and I’m flattered that I was asked to teach.
So expect an occasional post about the classes and how well the students take to what I’m telling them. If I have half as much fun — and success — as the last time I taught, at Dallas’ Cordon Bleu, then it will be well worth it. I’m also told the class may be available for non-credit and adult education students; check it out if you’re in the Dallas area.
? When will they learn? The cork business, as has been noted previously, doesn’t understand wine in the 21st century. And their problems with quality control haven’t helped, either. Hence yet another new cork campaign, as related by the Los Angeles Times. to reassure the world that their product is still relevant. Which makes all the same mistakes. The biggest? That the cork people continue to insist that only crappy wine is closed with a screwcap: “Any wine worth its grapes deserves natural cork.” Which hasn’t been true for decades, and is no more true today. This is a very well-done piece of reporting by the Times’ David Pierson, and includes the best numbers I’ve seen on cork’s share of the wine market: Down from 95 percent to 70 percent over the past decade, with screwcaps at 20 percent and plastic cork around 10 percent.
? Bring on the liquor chains: Want more competition for your wine dollar? Then you’ll be glad to hear that a Canadian retailer called Liquor Stores N.A. wants to add to stores and states to the 36 locations it has in Kentucky and Alaska. Shanken News Daily reports that the company has identified possible sites for expansion, and has hired executives away from Walmart and Total Wine and More to oversee the process. The chain expects to carry as many as 8,000 wines in its new stores. If Dallas is any indication, another national retailer with deep pockets will help keep wine prices low.
? Where’s the wine list? The Chicagoist website looks at restaurant wine lists, why they’re rarely mentioned in reviews, and the idea of restaurant wine in general, and includes this: “Let’s face it, there are a few too many wine professionals out there who come across as being pompous and arrogant (if not full of shit).” And this: “This is why we need intelligent wine writers to help guide us and give us some tips. And most importantly, we need writers to remind us to forget trying to know everything but, rather, to have an open mind and experiment and enjoy. Which are just two of the highlights in the interview the site’s John Lenart does with Chicago restaurateur Tom MacDonald. It is honest, accurate, and speaks to the problems wine has in restaurants. Would that people in the wine and restaurant business paid attention to it.
What do you think? Should I send the winners this trophy?
Welcome to the 2014 Curmudgies, the third annual, presented to the people and institutions that did their best over the previous 12 months to make sure that wine remained confusing, difficult to understand, and reserved for only the haughtiest among us. This was, unfortunately, a particularly fruitful year for Curmudgie nominees, and I could have turned this into a week-long Curmudgie fest. But why subject you to more than one day of this foolishness?
This year’s winners:
? Worst news release: I’ve been reading press releases since the days of carbon paper and typewriters, and I’ve never seen as many bad releases as this year. How about the one that made fun of wine writers for making fun of bad press releases? Or the one that touted “artisan chicken fingers”? But the winner, for ineptitude above and beyond, comes from AGA-VIE Tequilla & Cognac, “the world’s first and only spirit created from a distillation of Weber Blue Agave (Tequila) and Cognac.” It commits all of the usual post-modern PR sins — the typos, exclamation points, and hackneyed writing (“To bottle is beautiful and the taste even more so!”). But what it sets it apart is the email subject line: “Must Have Spirt for the Holidays – AGAVIE Tequilla & Cognac.” Yes, the word spirit is misspelled, and this comes from an agency that claims it is composed of “seasoned communication professionals with a variety of agency experience and contacts that blanket the media spectrum.” I wonder: What kind of seasoning? Barbecue?
? The regional wine award, or the more things change, the more they stay the same: To Virginia state Senator Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (R-22), who was tired of the Virginia-only selections at Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s cocktail parties and wanted to drink wine and spirits from elsewhere, like Kentucky, California, and France. Talk about jonesing for a Bourbon and Coke. I wonder: Would Senator Garrett object if he was attending a state supplier event where the suppliers had enough money to contribute to his re-election campaign? Or if he was being served one of Virginia’s world-famous hams? “This is junk. Where’s some of that Italian stuff?”
? The three-tier system is our friend award: To the Texas Package Stores Association, the state’s retailer trade group, which is suing the Total Wine chain because its owners are not state residents — even though the law that requires the Total owners to be Texas residents was overturned by a federal court in 1994. You can read the entire story at the link, though I would recommend it only if you want to make your head hurt. Dec. 19, 2014 update: A federal court judge, noting that the suit was kind of silly, dismissed the trade group’s lawsuit: “…having to compete in a free and fair marketplace is not an injury.”
? The Wine Spectator will always be the Wine Spectator: For Matt Kramer’s July 15 article discussing the not always friendly battle between what he calls the “Mainstream Mob” and the “Natural Posse” over winemaking philosophy. It’s ponderous as only the Spectator can be, and in the end it doesn’t say anything other than both sides have a point but that they should play nicely. No wonder I’m not a scion of the Winestream Media.
? Would someone please listen to this person? The positive Curmudgie, given to someone who advances the cause of wine sensibility despite all of the obstacles in their way. The winner this year is British wine writer Tom Stevenson, author of “Buy the Right Wine Every Time.” Writes Stevenson: “Inevitably the most widely available wines include many of the cheapest brands, an area of wine habitually avoided by critics. As such wines are almost exclusively purchased by most wine drinkers, those critics (myself included) have effectively disenfranchised most wine consumers. That is something I want to correct.” That says it all, doesn’t it?
Welcome to the Wine Curmudgeon’s second annual cheap wine poll, which runs today through Dec. 16. I’ll post the results on Dec. 18.
You can vote for the brand you like the most or against a label that you don’t like — just click on the respective buttons next to each entry at the bottom of this post. You can vote here or on the Ranker site, where the poll is hosted (and thanks again to Ranker, the blog’s unofficial polling widget). If you get the blog via RSS or email, click here to vote on the blog or here to vote at Ranker.
Share the poll with your friends and fellow cheap wine drinkers by clicking on any of the social media buttons at the bottom of the poll or at end of the post. I want to beat last year’s 700 participants.
I’ve included 10 producers, including a new one from last year, based on several criteria: The wines cost around $10, they’re generally available (which means you can find them in a retailer in a decent-sized city), and they’re popular enough so that people have heard of them. Falesco Vitiano won last year and Two-buck Chuck finished last.
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