Category:Wine Curmudgeon

Six days without wine

winespeakHow does a wine writer get by if he goes six days without wine?

How is this for irony? A day or so after last week’s wine blogging and coronavirus post, I got sick, and that meant no wine for six days.

The illness was nothing serious, just a variation on a theme that I’ve been enduring since grade school. It’s not really strep throat and it’s not exactly the flu; more of a cold and sore throat that last a week to 10 days and where the only thing one can do is wait it out.

So, of course, that meant no wine for the worst six days, which is hardly ideal for someone who makes their living drinking wine. Still, given how crappy I felt, I didn’t notice the absence. That’s more or less what happens every time I get this. In fact, one of the ways I know I feel better is that I want a glass of wine instead of the salt water I have been gargling every two hours.

My illness-induced abstinence made me ponder (though, to be honest, I didn’t do much pondering at the time given how crappy I felt):

• I didn’t want wine because I was sick. So how does that work during Dry January? I understand the motivation for people who are alcoholics, but if you’re not an addict, where does the impetus come from? The link above describes it as “reassessing your relationship with alcohol.” That phrase raises a variety of psychological and metaphysical questions that rarely come up when Dry January is discussed, as well as the U.S.’ seemingly ever-lasting temperance legacy.

• The only good thing about being too sick to drink wine is that one doesn’t have to worry about which wine to drink with dinner. When your meals are turkey vegetable soup for four days in a row, pairing doesn’t matter much.

• Second irony? The last glass of wine I had before I got sick was an oxidized, not-very-Beaujolais-like Beaujolais at one of Dallas’ more trendy French-style bistros. Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

Finally, I felt too crappy to care enough to to look at the blog numbers. Which is just as well, since they no longer resemble one of the best read wine blogs in the cyber-ether, but sit about where they were a decade ago. The drop in visitors I noted in the coronavirus post has accelerated, and if I was the kind of person who worried about metrics, I would be worrying.

Follow-up: The fifth $3 wine challenge

$3 wine

Consumers have gone through a lot — and I mean a lot — of empty $3 wine bottles since Two-buck Chuck debuted 18 years ago.

Does the continuing popularity of $3 wine, which isn’t all that tasty, tell us more about the wine business than the wine business wants to know?

Five times I’ve tasted $3 wine to see if wine drinkers can survive on ultra-cheap wine. Five times, the answer has been no – and the wines have tasted worse each time I have done it. So why do these wines still exist?

Welcome to the deep, dark dirty secret of the wine business — and which is rearing its ugly head this year: We buy wine on price, and if the price is low enough, nothing else much matters. Despite all of the hoopla about premiumization and trading up, $3 wine exists because people buy it. And we buy lots and lots of it.

Trader Joe’s has sold more than 83 million cases of Two-buck Chuck since the wine debuted in 2002, about 4.6 million cases a year. That would make the Charles Shaw brand the 10th biggest winery in the country by volume in 2020 if it actually existed. And, surprisingly, that total is closer to No. 9 Jackson Family and its ubiquitous Kendall Jackson chardonnay, than almost anyone could imagine.

It’s also worth noting the success of E&J Gallo’s $7 Barefoot, which is estimated to sell $1 billion worth of wine this year, about 18 million cases, That would make it the fifth biggest brand in the country if Gallo didn’t own it. And, when we parse the data, isn’t the popularity of White Claw and the rest of the hard seltzers about price? Why would someone buy flavored spritzy water with a bit of booze if it wasn’t cheap? Like Two-buck Chuck, they’re certainly not buying it for the sensual experience.

The other thing that fascinates me about $3 wine? That its adherents take it as a personal affront when I criticize it. How can you be such a snob? they ask (and not always that politely). We’ll ignore for a moment that I may be the least snobbish person in the wine business. What matters is that they need affirmation that buying on price is OK, because that’s the exact opposite of the way the wine business works.

And in this, they miss the point of my criticism. The first rule – and really the only rule – for wine is to drink what you want, but be willing to try different things. They can drink as much crappy, thin, and watery wine as they want. What does it matter what I think, as long as they enjoy it? So should the question they ask not be what I think, but if they really enjoy it?

The fifth, almost annual, $3 wine challenge

$3 wine challenge

Who knows? Maybe one of these $3 wines will be a best buy.

The almost annual $3 wine challenge: The Wine Curmudgeon will drink $3 chardonnay with dinner every night this week, because that’s what Google says the Internet wants

The Wine Curmudgeon hates writing this post, but not because the wine is usually so terrible. It’s because, no matter how terrible the wine is, people still buy it and “enjoy” it because it costs $3. How many times do I have to write that cheap wine isn’t good just because it’s cheap?

Nevertheless, since this remains one of the most popular features on the blog and I regularly get emails asking me to do it again, here we go for the fifth time: Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? Or are the ultra-cheap wines just cheap, without any other reason for being? The details about the first four $3 challenges are here, here, here, and here.

This year, I will taste five chardonnays (all purchased in Dallas). In addition, the results will run in the weekly Dallas Observer; food editor Taylor Adams asked me to write a fun and creative wine story. I’ll post the link to that story here on March 6,  and include the highlights from the tastings. So, once more unto the breach, dear friends:

Two-buck Chuck chardonnay ($2.99, 12.5%). The Trader Joe’s private label was the first — and remains — the most famous of the very cheap wines. It’s a California appellation from the 2019 vintage, and made for Trader Joe’s by Bronco Wine.

Three Wishes chardonnay ($2.99, 12.5%), the Whole Foods private label. It carries an American appellation, which means it’s non-vintage and at least three-quarters of the grapes used to make it were grown anywhere in the U.S. (though most probably came from the Central Valley in California). It’s made by multi-national The Wine Group, which is best known for Cupcake and the big Franzia boxes.

Winking Owl chardonnay ($2.95, 12%) from Aldi (but may be available elsewhere). It’s a California appellation but non-vintage, so 75 percent of the grapes came from California but from different harvests. It’s made by E&J Gallo, the largest wine producer in the world. The price is price is seven more than the last time I did this.

Oak Leaf chardonnay ($2.50, 12.5%), the Walmart private label. Also made by The Wine Group, American, and non-vintage. The price almost 50 cents less than the last time I did this.

Bay Bridge chardonnay ($2.99, 12.5%), the Kroger private label; sold at Kroger, Fred Meyer, and Kroger-owned banners. It’s American and non-vintage, and the third of these wines made by The Wine Group.

Photo: “$2.99” by *lapin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

A blog holiday update, plus the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame schedule

The Christmas and New Year’s wine of the weeks will post on the Monday before the holiday

• The Christmas and New Year’s wines of the week will post on the Monday before each holiday, since the blog will be off on both Wednesdays. Plus, our New Year’s wine suggestions will appear on Dec. 26.

• The always popular Do it Yourself wine resolutions is set for Jan. 2.

• The 2020 $10 Hall of Fame will make its 13th appearance on Jan. 10, with the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year on Jan. 9. You can check out eligibility rules here; remember, no private label wine or wine only available at one retailer. As always, you can email me with suggestions.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite posts of 2019

favorite posts of 2019

Don’t work so hard. No one is reading these posts, anyway.

These six posts weren’t necessarily the best read, but they were among my favorite posts of 2019

Welcome to the Wine Curmudgeon’s fifth annual year-end top 10 list — not the most-read posts on the blog, which anyone can do. These are among the best posts I wrote in 2019 and that didn’t get enough attention the first time around.

Again, these aren’t the best-read posts; Google takes care of that. Barefoot wine, anyone? These are the posts that I enjoyed writing, thought were important to write, or both.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite posts of 2018:

• I wrote two wine video parodies this year, and neither did as well as they should have. I know why: Wine is not supposed to be funny; it’s supposed to be $40 worth of serious. Besides, how is Google going to send someone to a post about Bogey, Casablanca, and saving cheap wine? But how can anyone pass up the “Shaft” parody?

• The WC gets all hip and with it, writing a distracted boyfriend meme post. Who else can combine Gen X and Millennial humor with a wine rant?

Premiumization, overpriced wine, and consolidation are nothing new for wine. In 1947, one wine critic lamented the lack of quality cheap wine; another wrote in the early 1970s that California was focused too much on expensive wine and not enough on wine people could afford to drink.

Sweet Chianti, anyone? Because smooth. Because soft. And because women don’t want to drink dry red wine. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

• A study revealed that most wine producers may care more about status and image than quality. Maybe this news was so obvious in the second decade of the 21st century that no one needed to read about that kind of study.

More on the WC’s favorite posts:
Favorite posts of 2018
Favorite posts of 2017
Favorite posts of 2016

Jim Caudill: 1950-2019

jim caudill

Jim Caudill

Jim Caudill was a consummate professional, as well as a hell of a nice guy. How do you say goodbye to someone like that?

Jim Caudill was a professional, and I can’t think of higher praise for someone who does what we do. And I can’t believe I’m never going to talk to him again.

But Jim died over the weekend, and so I won’t.

I’ve known Jim since I wrote about wine for a Fort Worth newspaper. He did marketing at Hess, Brown-Forman, and most recently at Treasury Wine Estates. At each, he always returned phone calls and emails, always gave an honest answer to a question, and never once complained if I wrote a review that didn’t fit the company line. Jim would just send me another sample. How is someone like that going to be replaced?

Three things – among very many – stand out:

• Jim knew the ins and outs of how Big Wine worked, whether it was the complexities of pricing or how to sell lots of wine in supermarkets. And he was happy to share his knowledge with me. I have an email, and I’m looking at it now, that he sent for a story I’m trying to get a handle on. I took many PhD seminars the wine business from Jim, and just because I was curious.

• When Treasury released its 19 Crimes virtual reality wine labels, Jim emailed me. This is a great story, he wrote. We’re doing something that no one else is doing. Jim, I wrote back, I don’t like the wine, and I don’t think wine should be sold because of the label. Yes, he emailed me in return. But I figured you would have a more open mind about something as intriguing as this. And he was correct – I should have had a more open mind and not dismissed the labels because I was feeling cranky.

• Jim was in Dallas to attend a major wine event when he worked for Hess, sponsored by one of the big wine magazines. We met for a glass of wine beforehand, and he asked if I was going to the tasting. He could even get me in. “Jim,” I said, “the tasting will be full of over-priced, snooty wine and over-priced and snooty people. Why would I want to go?” Later, I asked Jim how the event went. He laughed. “Remember what you told me?” And then described a woman who came to the Hess table, saw it wasn’t expensive enough, and walked off.

In all of this, Jim Caudill was a nice guy, and we don’t have nearly enough of those in the wine business. So long, my friend.

There’s a Go Fund Me page in honor of .Jim and his Sonoma County property, Windborne Farm

A Wine Curmudgeon Christmas Carol

“More Mega Purple. … more. … and even more!”

Scrooge’s post-modern wine Christmas Carol leaves a very bad taste in his mouth

Marley was dead. And good riddance, thought Scrooge. Marley had actually suggested making wine people could afford to drink, and marketing it to consumers who weren’t aging Baby Boomers. Who needs that? sneered Scrooge.

Not him. He was No. 9 on The Most Important and Smartest Wine Geniuses List compiled by one of the wine magazines.

Now, if he could only get rid of that damned Cratchit, his winemaker. She kept insisting on using only pinot noir in the pinot noir and cutting back on the Mega Purple. And she had even been talking using ingredient labels for the wine. Obviously, Scrooge thought, she wasn’t a team player.

Scrooge’s iPhone 11 beeped. The face of a woman appeared with the text. Spam, thought Scrooge, and he deleted it. But the face popped up again.

“Do you recognize me?” asked the face.

Scrooge deleted the text again, but the face was still there. He looked at it, and he remembered his early days at the winery. Man, they had made some great wine then, like those $8.99 California field blends. But what was the point? The wine hadn’t been smooth, so no focus group would have approved.

Scrooge put the phone down, picked up the remote, turned on his 65-inch smart TV. Another face appeared, this time a man with a red beard. “Do you recognize me?” he asked.

Scrooge changed the channel, but the face was still there. Then it faded, and Scrooge saw Cratchit in the winery. She was blending grapes, and Scrooge recognized those damned Rhone varietals she kept trying to sneak in. I told her to dump that stuff, he thought. She knows she is supposed to make merlot, and she also knows it had better be more than a little sweet. Because women don’t like dry red wine.

I guess she didn’t believe me when I told her we only wanted team players, thought Scrooge. And if you’re not a team player, you can look for a job elsewhere – even if it is Christmas and even if you need the health insurance because your son Tim is sick.

Scrooge walked into the kitchen, past the Viking Tuscany range and opened the SubZero Pro refrigerator. He wanted a glass of that fake oak, 15 percent chardonnay that his marketing director said would sell like crazy.

A third face appeared, with glasses, a hat, and a scruffy beard. “I know you recognize me,” said the face.

Scrooge blinked, and then he seemed to be in some sort of home, surrounded by several other ancient winery executives. They were telling stories about the old days, when ordinary people drank wine, and they laughed and smiled and almost cried in their happiness.

Then he was back in his kitchen, in front of the SubZero, and the bearded face was still there: “Well?” it asked.

“I’m just one man,” Scrooge said. “We have to start somewhere,” said the face. And Scrooge nodded in agreement. Maybe those Rhone varietals were a good idea after all.

A tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Charles Dickens, who will hopefully forgive me for taking such wine-themed liberties with his story.