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Winebits 304: Celebrity wine, wine critics, 7-Eleven

? Does celebrity wine sell? It all depends, says a study from a group of Canadian researchers. The Wine Curmudgeon mentions this because he banned celebrity wine news from the blog for just this reason, that the idea of celebrity wine is about the celebrity and not the wine, and that’s more or less what the study says. The Brock University report found that “a more prestigious sport like golf received a higher ‘fit’ level than a sport such as wrestling, which is not commonly associated with the product category of wine.” Also, celebrity endorsement meant less to more knowledgeable wine drinkers than to the less well versed. In other words, celebrity endorsement in wine works about the same way it does in most consumer goods.

? Cranky old men: Kyle Schlachter at Colorado Wine Press has written one of the best put-downs ever of wine writing, wine critics, and the Winestream Media. It’s satire taken to the next level, and though it gets a little insider-ish, it’s still pretty damned funny: “This generation, your generation, that reads these blogs and whatnot, really needs to figure out how to learn about wine. If you don’t listen to experts, how will you ever learn what good wine tastes like?” Sadly, I know people exactly like that, and who still don’t understand that wine is about finding what you like, not what others tell you to like.

? Making it more convenient: 7-Eleven made news a couple of years ago with its version of Two-buck Chuck, Yosemite Road, citing the growing demand for wine from its customers. The company took that one step further last week, announcing that it would sell expensive wines in its stores, including $50 bottles from Napa’s Stag’s Leap. This news is not as shocking as it sounds, given the role of the biggest wine companies in the business today. Stag’s Leap is owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, a one-half billion dollar company, and 7-Eleven will also sell wines from the $3.2 billion Constellation Brands and the $3.4 billion E&J Gallo. An independent producer, worried that its wine in a convenience store would destroy its reputation, wouldn’t sell it there. But the multi-nationals, given a chance to sell lots of wine to a mammoth retailer, have fewer qualms. They just want to move product, and 7-Eleven, if Ste. Michelle wanted it to, could probably sell all of the 130,000 cases Stag’s Leap makes annually.

Expensive wine 55: Clos Beauregard 2011

10287066t.jpg.pagespeed.ce_.mJCh4SDNle.jpgThe email asked if I wanted to taste some affordable red Bordeaux, the cabernet sauvignon and merlot blends that are the wines that remain the standard by which the rest of the world’s red wines are judged.

And, because affordable in Bordeaux means something completely different than it does to the Wine Curmudgeon, I got this.

Which is not to say that the Clos Beauregard ($36, sample, 13%) was not a terrific wine, because it was, and I had a wonderful time drinking it with the Big Guy. And, tasting this, it reminded me why red Bordeaux is still held in such high esteem, especially since Beauregard is regarded as a middling producer, good but not great.

The wine is mostly merlot with bits of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon to round it out, enough black fruit to be noticeable, and with a heft and body that New World merlots aren’t interested in. It’s a typical example of the kind of wine made in Pomerol, an area located on what’s called Bordeaux’s right bank.

A couple of high-end reviews of this wine described it as lush, which points to the difference in style between Old World and New World wines. Lush, in France, means the wine isn’t earthy in the way so many French wines, even the most expensive, still are. In California, lush means the fruitiness starts before the bottle is opened and ends a day or so after the bottle is empty. It’s a difference that is to be valued, regardless of which style you prefer.

 

Sex sells — even for wine in the 1970s

The goofy thing about this 1979 TV commercial for Lancers Rose is not the clothes they’re wearing or the woman’s hair (kids, ask your parents and grandparents about those) or even that it’s for Lancers. The wine, still available but not nearly as well known, was a million-case seller in the years before the U.S. wine boom in the 1980s.

What’s most interesting is that the woman needs a bottle of wine to serve the rock star; the inference is that any woman in the target demographic who has a bottle of Lancers in the fridge will end up entertaining a hot guy. Update the clothing and hair, change the musical style, make it a little more risque, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar ad for a current brand. Yellow Tail, perhaps? Or Little Black Dress?

I’ll leave any judgements about what that says about the wine and advertising businesses to you (and a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to robatsea2009 at YouTube for the video).

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.