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Winebits 583: Wine lawsuit, wine snobs, customer service

wine lawsuitsThis week’s wine news: A wine lawsuit involving a teeter-totter, plus a wine marketer says the industry is its own worst enemy and declining retail customer service

Another lawsuit: Regular visitors here know how much the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys wine-related lawsuits (and has even been, slightly, part of one). So it is with a fair amount of glee that I report this suit, via Wine Industry Insight – a small Napa Valley winery suing a large importer over a label where an elephant is on a teeter-totter. Yes, I know this is serious business for the parties involved, and trade dress and intellectual property are important legal concepts. But still, an elephant on a teeter-totter?

It’s not the Millennials? Someone in the wine business actually agrees with the Wine Curmudgeon about wine being its own worst enemy. Leandro Cabrini, the founder and CEO of Wild Yeast Media, writes: “We are killing [the wine business] with our snobbery and a refusal to listen and see what’s going on around us. We refuse to adapt, maintaining that everything is (and should be) the way it was 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago. Do you know what happens when we don’t adapt? We die. We don’t care about our consumers. … “ Wow. Hard to believe, but maybe someone will actually listen to Cabrini.

Speaking of which: Customer satisfaction with supermarkets dipped over the past year amid an overall decline in all retail, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index annual report. Why does this matter to wine drinkers? Because grocery stores probably account for more than half of the wine sold in the U.S., and as much as 75 percent in some states. Reported the study: “Service personnel are less helpful and courteous in person and over the phone. The checkout process is slower and rates lowest.” Is it any wonder I always recommend a quality independent retailer for wine shopping?

Beard award semifinalists: One more victory for regional wine

local wineFour of the seven wineries on the 2019 Beard award semifinalist list are part of drink local

Four of the seven wineries that are semifinalists for this year’s James Beard Awards for best wine, beer, or spirits producer are regional. What does that say about how far we’ve come with drink local?

The four wineries are among the 20 semifinalists for the top booze honor in this year’s food and wine version of the Academy Awards. The regional honorees are McPherson Cellars in Texas, RdV in Virginia, Red Tail Ridge in N.Y., and La Garagista in Vermont. All four are terrific wineries that do credit not just to regional wine, but to winemaking in the U.S.

It’s also worth noting that the two California wineries among the semifinalists are Winestream Media favorites – the self-named wineries from Cathy Corison and Steve Matthiasson in the Napa Valley. That wineries from Lubbock, Texas, and Bethel, Vt., are on the same list with Corison and Matthiasson would have been unheard of 10 years ago.

Best yet, they don’t make the same kinds of wines that the two Napa wineries make, or the other honoree, Red Willow in Washington state. Their wines speak to the terroir of each producer – something else that makes regional wine so exciting. Just as Italian wine shouldn’t taste like French wine, U.S. regional wine shouldn’t taste like it comes from California.

It’s safe to recommend almost any wine from these four, with the caveat that availability will be spotty if you don’t live in that state.

Consider these wines:

The McPherson Tre Colore (about $10) is a red blend using the Rhone varietals Texas has figured out. Yes, the rose is terrific, as is the rousanne, but the Tre Colore is the ultimate weeknight wine – well-made, a tremendous value, and just fruity enough (dark berries) without being annoying. I’ve known Kim McPherson a long time, and it’s a pleasure to write this post about the winery.

The RdV Rendezvous (about $85) is a Bordeaux red blend that shows the great progress Virginia has made over the past 20 years. It’s complex, dark (black fruit), interesting, and layered. If a regional wine is worth as much as a great wine from France, Italy, or California, it might be the Rendezvous.

• New York state is best known for its rieslings, but the Red Tail Ridge blaufrankisch (about $26) makes a case for red wine. Blaufrankisch is an Austrian grape, so it can handle the unpredictable Finger Lakes winters. I drank this wine, earthy and herbal, with my Drink Local co-founder Dave McIntyre; the restaurant’s wine list was infinitely more interesting than the food.

Winemaker Deirdre Heekin at La Garagista uses hybrid grapes, and that alone would have kept her off this list for most of the past 75 years. That means grapes like la crescent and brianna, bred to withstand a Vermont winter and very difficult to make quality wine with.

Finally, congratulations to Jennifer Uygur, who owns Lucia in Dallas with chef-husband David. David is a Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest. Even if he doesn’t win, they will have the satisfaction of knowing Lucia is one of the best restaurants in the country.

Distracted boyfriend meme meets the wine business

The distracted boyfriend meme pretty much sums up the last five years or so on the blog, doesn’t it? Who knew the Wine Curmudgeon could get so young people — or be as hip as Dolly Parton?

Because, as a friend of mine put it the other day — and he is one of most optimistic wine people I know — it looks like the Golden Age of wine that we enjoyed for the past 20 years may well be over.

“It used to be that winemakers valued terroir, now it’s all about moving merchandise off of shelves,” he wrote me in an email during a discussion about yet another travesty of winemaking. “That is not a groundbreaking revelation. But that goal, sales at any cost, is now the driving force of the industry. It was our naive belief that with the rise of Big Wine many labels were brought into the mix so that many different palates could be satiated. Which is the opposite of what happened, and it has turned into a nightmare for anyone who cares about wine.”

Hence, it makes perfect sense that the 21st century wine business has turned into a 21st century meme.

Yes, cheap wine can still be interesting

cheap winePremiumization has sucker punched cheap wine quality, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to spend $10 a bottle and get distinctive wine

Can cheap wine still be interesting? This matters more than ever, as producers continue to dumb down wine that costs less than $15 in their effort to produce something whose reason for being is to be smooth and inoffensive.

In addition, the perception that all cheap wine is swill and not worth drinking seems to be growing as premiumization takes hold and consumers buy into the mantra that “If it doesn’t cost $25, don’t buy it.” And who can argue with that when even a producer like Bogle, which once cared about quality, sweetens its sauvignon blanc?

But know four things before we dismiss cheap wine as a waste of time:

• Expensive wine can be smooth and inoffensive, too, without a lick of interest and just as annoying as something that costs $6. I’m not the only one who feels this way, either. The days are long gone when high price guaranteed a wine worth drinking, as opposed to a wine worth bragging about on Instagram.

• Who can afford to drink $25 wine every night? The median household income in the U.S. is about $62,000. Drink a $25 wine every night, and you’re spending 14.5 percent of that median on wine. Cut it to 10 times a month, and you’re still spending 5 percent on wine. That, by the way is  six times the average U.S, household expenditure on alcohol — less than $500 a year.

• I drink wine most nights with dinner. These days, samples probably account for about one-third of what I drink, so that means I pay for 20 bottles of wine. That works out to $200 to $250 a month, at $8 to $15 a bottle. It’s not the average of $500 a year, but I drink quality wine, get twice as much, and spend about the same as the 10-bottle, $25 buyer. And how is possible I write about wine, but spend less of my income on it than someone who drinks wine as a hobby?

• There is quality cheap wine. Yes, it’s more difficult to find and it may cost $12 to $15 instead of $8 to 10, but it’s out there. The biggest problem for wine drinkers is that they’re terrified to drink something out of their comfort zone, be it varietal or region. And it doesn’t matter how much they spend. So chardonnay drinkers won’t try a $12 French viognier because it’s not chardonnay, and the Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon drinker won’t try a $13 Rioja because it’s not from Napa. In those situations, writing off cheaper wine because it’s different solves the problem of actually tasting it.

More about cheap wine quality:
Can grocery store private label wine wine save cheap wine from itself?
Is the $14 Yalumba viognier the new best cheap wine in the world?
Is $15 wine the new $8 wine?

 

Wine of the week: Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017

Le Coeur de la ReineThe La Coeur de la Reine is French red wine made for those of us who want something affordable, fresh and interesting

Last week, as part of some Skype tastings I’m doing for the American Wine Society, someone asked me why I would drink cheap wine, since it isn’t “distinctive.” My answer was two-fold: First, what’s the point of drinking $50 white Burgundy or $75 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon with a Tuesday takeout dinner? Second, I’d argue the point that all cheap wine is bland and boring, using the La Coeur de la Reine as an example.

The La Coeur de la Reine ($10, purchased, 13%) is a French red made with a less common grape from a less common region – gamay from the Loire. If gamay is known at all, it’s for Beaujolais, and it’s not the usual red grape from the Loire. That’s cabernet franc, which is hardly well known itself. Nevertheless, this wine does everything a $10 wine is supposed to do – and then some.

Know that it is about as different as $15 Beaujolais as possible, without any of the annoying banana smoothie flavor that shows up all too often these days. Instead, there is lots of tart berry fruit, a suggestion of baking spice, and an amazing freshness that most wines made with gamay don’t bother with. And it is a food wine in the most wonderful bistro sense, in that it will go with almost anything you have for dinner that isn’t in a cream sauce.

Highly recommended, and almost certain to be included in the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Valkyrie Selections

 

Winebits 582: Wine scores, corkage, nutrition labels

wine scoresThis week’s wine news: A Swiss study finds wine scores continue to be unreliable, plus an Aussie restaurant jacks up the corkage fee and a consumer group consortium asks for nutrition labels

Not really: David Morrison, analyzing wine scores from two top U.S. critics, does not mince words: “I have rarely seen scores differ by this much — 13 points is a lot of quality-score difference. It is pertinent, I think, to ask whether these two people were actually tasting the same wines!” In other words, his math confirms what those of us who don’t use scores have said for years. Scores, at best, are an overview. At worst, they’re damaging to the wine business, confusing consumers and putting people off wine they might otherwise like.

Yikes: A Swiss wine merchant claims an Australian restaurant charged him A$8,000 (about US$5,700) to bring eight of his own bottles to dinner. The story, from London’s Daily Mail newspaper, doesn’t have quite as many facts as I would like, but seems to be legitimate. This practice is called corkage – when one brings their own wine, the restaurant charges a corkage fee. It ranges from $10 to $30 a bottle; this way, the restaurant can make up for the lost sale but not gouge the guest. In this case, though, the Swiss claims he was charged $725 a bottle, about five times the value of the wine. It’s good to see Australian wine service can be as shabby as service in this country.

Yes, labels: So much for the Wine Curmudgeon’s good intentions. I promised that last week’s post would be the final effort on the blog  about ingredient and nutrition labels, but then this happened: The Center for Science in the Public Interest and 67 other groups have asked the federal government to require labels “covering alcohol content by percentage and amount, serving size, calories, ingredients, allergen information, and other information relevant to consumers.” Which, of course, is what I have been begging the wine business to do for years.

Winecast 35: Dave Falchek, American Wine Society

dave falchekDave Falchek, the executive director of the American Wine Society, is more optimistic about wine’s future, and especially with younger consumers

Dave Falchek, the executive director of the American Wine Society, gets a different perspective on the future of the wine business, what with being around wine drinkers more often than most. As such, he is more optimistic about wine’s future, and especially with younger consumers.

Dave’s point: There are millions of Americans turning 21, the legal drinking age, and there is no reason to assume they won’t be interested in wine just because the rest of us are so cranky about the subject. Younger consumers are more open to new ideas, so why not wine, he asks? Just don’t assume it’s going to be the same thing their parents and grandparents drink.

In this, Dave knows of what he speaks: The AWS is the largest and oldest organization of wine drinkers in the United States.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 11 1/2 minutes long and takes up 4.2 megabytes. The sound quality is very good; Skype’s new recording feature is still a Microsoft project with all that means.