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Winebits 327: Pennsylvania, wine prices, women winemakers

Winebits 327: Pennsylvania, wine prices, women winemakersThe wine notes that usually appear on Tuesday are posting today because tomorrow is April 1 — and that’s time for the blog’s annual April Fools’ Day post.

? More screwed up than ever: Pennsylvania has been trying to reform its horribly messed up state store system — where the state owns the liquor stores — since as long as I have been writing the blog. Nothing has been done, despite widespread political and consumer support, and the latest proposal shows just how corrupt the system is. Supermarkets would be able to sell wine under the proposed law, but only four bottles per customer per visit. Nevertheless, a spirits trade group immediately denounced the plan, claiming that those four bottles would give the wine business an unfair advantage, since spirit sales would still be limited to state stores. It’s almost impossible to understand what’s going on here, other than to note that this is just another example of the many failings of the three-tier system.

? Britain’s wine pricing: Jamie Goode at the Wine Anorak has an excellent account of the wine pricing controversy in Britain, where most retailers substantially discount wine. And then don’t. And then discount it again. This must seem odd to those of us in the U.S., where discounting is accepted as a normal part of doing business, and where savvy consumers are eager to buy wine when it’s on sale. But British consumer advocates see this as nefarious — “[T]hese fake promotions are bad for wine, and a bad deal for customers, and I won ?t stop talking about them until supermarkets do the right thing and stop them,” writes Goode — and have spent the past couple of years fighting the biggest retailers over the practice.

? You’ve come a long way, baby: Jordan Salcito at The Daily Beast has discovered that women have broken through the glass ceiling and are now important winemakers. I’ll try not to be too cranky about this, but Salcito is about a decade late with this revelation. I wrote the same story for the American Airlines in-flight magazine in 2006, quoting many of the same women she quotes in her story. She also focuses on celebrity women winemakers, and misses the more important change, that Big Wine did most of the glass ceiling work, hiring women where they had never been hired before. Barefoot’s Jennifer Wall is responsible for 13 million cases of wine a year, which may make her the most important woman winemaker in the business. And her boss is Gina Gallo, whose company makes 80 million cases a year. Also, if Salcito doesn’t mind some writing advice, never, ever use a phrase like “pushing the envelope.” I expect more from the Beast.

Mini-reviews 59: Hearty Burgundy, white Burgundy, Aldi, Gascogne

Mini-reviews 59: Hearty Burgundy, whReviews 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. This month, mini-reviews of four wines I really wanted to like, but didn’t:

? Gallo Family Vineyards Hearty Burgundy NV ($9/1.5 liters, sample, 12%): The wine your parents and grandparents drank in college (in a 50th anniversary edition) is more modern in style these days, with more ripe black fruit. But it still tastes pretty much like it did then, which is surprising, and, for better or worse, epitomizes the concept of jug wine.

? Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc Les S tilles 2011 ($25, purchased, 12.5%): Disappointing white Burgundy from one of my favorite producers — more like what California chardonnay tastes like when winemakers say they’ve made “French-style” wine. Oak isn’t integrated at all, though apple and pear fruit is evident.

? Sunshine Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013: ($7, purchased, 13%): Aldi store brand is one-note, citrus-aggressive New Zealand white that’s a step up from something like Monkey Bay but, oddly, not all that enjoyable when the bottle is empty.

? Globerati C tes de Gascogne ($6, purchased, 12%): Easily the worst made Gascon wine I’ve ever had — thin, lacking fruit, almost no terroir, and none of the white grapiness that makes Gascon wine so much fun. What was Globerati thinking?

Wine of the week: Argento Malbec Reserva 2011

Wine of the week: Argento Malbec Reserva 2011Juicy black cherry fruit
But not cloying or too sweet
Surprising malbec

Because haiku seems just as effective in a wine review as most of the gobbledygook in tasting notes (though it will no doubt crash Google’s search algorithms).

One caveat: Don’t confuse the reserve ($13, sample, 13.9%) with Argento’s regular malbec, which is two or three dollars cheaper, very ordinary, and probably not worth the effort.

Winebits 326: Why I’ve always wanted to be a consultant edition

Winebits 326: Why I've always wanted to be a consultant editionBecause getting paid for writing some of the things that consultants write sounds like a posh gig:

? Do this, or the opposite: Which is the advice the Rabobank Group has for the Spanish wine industry. To be successful, Spain has two choices: Make more wine with “international” varietals like cabernet sauvingon and chardonnay, which have established export markets, or work to establish export markets for wine made with its traditional grapes, like tempranillo and garnacha. Nothing like covering all possibilities, is there? I love this sentence, too, for wonderfully stating the obvious and doing it in consultant-speak: ?Improving the ability of suppliers in Spain ?s main production region of Castilla-La Mancha to develop strong brands with demand beyond the EU markets will have an important positive impact on the wine industry in Spain, but also in the rest of the EU. ?

? We can’t call it cheap, can we? Impact Databank is part of the company that owns the Wine Spectator, and it releases an annual Hot Brands wine list, identifying wines that record sizable sale increases over the past year. Most of these brands cost $10 or less, and the bosses at Impact apparently felt uncomfortable calling the wines cheap. This isn’t unusual (you should see winemakers and PR types cringe when I use the word cheap), but this solution is one of the “best” I’ve ever seen — calling the wines “accessibly priced.” Maybe I should start using the term, too. How does “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Accessibly Priced Wine” sound? Or “the accessibly priced wine expert”?

? Why didn’t anyone else think of this? Did you know that the increasing popularity of wine has led to the increasing popularity of wine bars? Hard to believe, I know, but that’s the conclusion in this report from the IBISWorld consultancy, “where knowledge is power.” And, something to know in case you want to open a wine bar: “Changes in household preferences, disposable incomes and consumer spending also influence demand. …” Wow. Who knew?

The Aldi wine experience

Aldi wineThe biggest surprise when the Aldi grocery store chain came to Dallas was that it sold wine, which seemed odd for a discount supermarket whose customers aren’t wine drinkers the way most experts think of wine drinkers. Even more surprising: The wine is cheap, even by Wine Curmudgeon standards, and some of it, like the Vina Decana tempranillo, is much better than it should be.

In this, the Aldi wine experience speaks to the change in the way we buy wine in the U.S., and how smart retailers are using that to their advantage. How Aldi does this, after the jump:

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Wine review: Rene Barbier Mediterranean White NV

Wine review: rene barbier Mediterranean white NVThe Wine Curmudgeon’s enthusiasm for cava, the sparkling wine from Spain, is well known. It’s cheap and well made — no doubt much of the wine world shakes its head and sighs every time I recite its wonders. But how can I help myself? It’s $10. And it tastes like this. And this. And this.

So what does this have to do with the Barbier ($5, purchased, 11.5%), a white blend from Spain? It’s made with the same grapes that cava is made from, and tastes mostly like cava without the bubbles — some lemon with a bit of tartness (like a lemon square minus the sugar?). It’s not as well done as most cavas and it won’t win any awards, and when I tell people how much I like it, they shake their head and sigh yet again. But it’s clean and refreshing and it doesn’t have any flaws, and it only costs $5. How many other wines at that price can you say that about?

Serve this well chilled (an ice cube never hurts it), and drink it with almost anything that isn’t red meat. And, if and when winter ever ends, this is the kind of wine that makes porch sipping such a pleasure.

Finally, a sad note: Rene Barbier also makes an excellent $5 rose, and I just tasted it again — fruitier than other Spanish roses, but well-made and a step up from the white. So, of course, because the wine business works this way, the rose is being phased out. No more will be made after this year. Which means that if you see it in a store, buy a case, because you won’t be able to buy it again.

The $300 Coravin question

The $300 Coravin question

Even after the Coravin, sealed like new.

Coravin is the new, hip, and incredibly well-reviewed corkscrew that lets you open a bottle of wine without taking out the cork. As such, it is as revolutionary as the company says. But it’s the $300 Coravin question that remains unanswered: Is it necessary to spend that much money on a wine gadget?

Make no mistake: the Coravin does what it says it does. Shasha Dotras (that’s her in the photo) impressed almost everyone who saw her demonstrate the opener recently at Pogo’s in Dallas. The hollow needle, which has a hole in the sharp end, pushes through the cork, argon gas is fed into the wine, the wine flows through the needle, and the opener’s handle works like a spigot. Pull the needle out, the argon gas fills the empty space, and the cork expands to fill the hole left by the needle. The wine remains mostly as fresh as before the Coravin.

But is that it works enough? If it costs $300, then it had better be worth $300 worth of wine, be they 30 bottles of $10 wine or three bottles of $100 wine (and that doesn’t include $11 each for the argon capsules). And that’s a difficult standard for any gadget to meet.

Further complicating the price/value discussion is that most of us don’t need the Coravin. There are four glasses in a bottle of wine. I open a bottle at dinner, and I have two glasses and the person with me has two glasses. When are we going to use the Coravin? And most people who don’t finish a bottle are more than happy to replace the cork or screwcap, put the bottle in the fridge, and drink the rest later. The idea that oxidation exists and could spoil their wine is something only wine snobs worry about.

So who would benefit from the Coravin? Professionals who taste a lot of pricey wine one glass at a time, but that can hardly be a market big enough to make a difference. Maybe there’s demand for a restaurant version, though given the level of training at most restaurants, breakage would probably make the Coravin prohibitively expensive.

This leaves everyone who has a cellar stuffed full of expensive wine, has lots of money to spend on gadgets, and sees wine as something to collect and not necessarily drink — probably less than five percent of the U.S. wine drinking population. In other words, the Winestream Media’s typical wine drinker. Which no doubt explains this. And this.

In this, the Coravin may well be to wine what the granite counter top is to home renovation — it sells well and is really nice to have, but isn’t going to make dinner any easier cook or taste any better. Which answers the $300 Coravin question for me.