Category:Wine news

Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?

private label wineAre U.S. retailers ready to sell quality private label wine like their European counterparts?

I tasted two wines just before Thanksgiving that were easily some of the best cheap labels I’ve sampled this year. The catch? They’re only available in Europe – where, of course, they’re wildly popular.

They were grocery store private label wine. One was a €4 (about US$4.55) South African sauvignon blanc called MooiBerg that has sold 750,000 cases at Aldi stores in the Netherlands. The wine so much better made, so much better priced, and so much more enjoyable than the Winking Owl that dominates U.S. Aldi shelves that I was speechless.

The wine’s producer and importer are desperate to get into the U.S. but have had little success. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

That was the bad news. The good news? I tasted the wines at the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association trade show, which dedicated part of this year’s effort to convince U.S. retailers to abandon their traditional overpriced and poorly made private label wines in favor of quality like the Mooiberg. The group is so serious about doing this that it holds an international wine competition for store brand wines.

As part of that effort, I moderated a seminar that explored the differences between private label wine in Europe and the U.S. (Full disclosure: I’m doing some consulting for the trade group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

We were trying to figure out why British consumers get quality €6 Prosecco at Lidl in the United Kingdom and we get crummy $10 domestic sparkling wine at Aldi. In fact, said the panelists, U.S. wine drinkers do want better quality private label wine than they’re getting now.

And this was more than my whining. One of the panelists, Maryrose Rinella, oversees private label wine for the nationwide Albertson’s/Safeway chain. And she told the audience that her company wants to upgrade its private label wine to make more money. Quality private label, she said, is more profitable for the retailer. Talk about a revolutionary concept for the wine business.

So a fine start, but still a long way to go until we get that €4 sauvignon blanc on U.S. shelves. But it will be worth the wait. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

Winebits 570: Box wine, wine drinkers, restaurant trends

box wine

This week’s wine news: Why isn’t box wine more popular? Plus, identifying U.S. wine drinkers and restaurant wine trends for 2019

No boxes, please: Box wine, despite its increasing popularity, remains a minor part of the wine business. It accounts for just four percent of wine sold worldwide by volume; box sales have declined in Australia, one of the few places where it’s popular; and younger wine drinkers prefer bottles to boxes. One expert thinks he knows why: The technology was developed for battery acid, and producers treated the wine they put in boxes much the same way, using it for lower quality products.

Parsing the wine drinker: A study has divided U.S. wine drinkers into six groups in one of those exercises that only marketing types can understand. The study uses terms like social newbies and premium brand suburbans to divide us by age and demographics. As near as I can tell, the idea is that younger wine drinkers are more adventurous and older wine drinkers buy the same brands of chardonnay and white zinfandel over and over. Which, of course, isn’t all that new; perhaps it means something the marketing gurus in the audience?

Restaurant wine trends: Of which there aren’t any in 2019, if this forecast from a restaurant consultancy is accurate. It lists 13 trends for next year, including higher prices, new spins on Asian food, and “motherless meat.” But it doesn’t say one thing about restaurant wine, which makes perfect sense given what we’ve seen of restaurant wine over the past couple of years. So don’t expect the conundrum that is restaurant wine — higher prices, mediocre quality — to be solved anytime soon.

Winebits 569: Organic wine, three-tier lawsuits, New York wine

organic wineThis week’s wine news: California betting on organic wine, plus three-tier lawsuits and an English critic signs off on New York wine

Make it organic: Organic wine has never been especially popular in the U.S., with a market share in the low single digits. But several producers see its growth as part of premiumization, as consumers pay more for better quality wine. “I think it’s going in the right direction. It’s just not happening as quickly as we like,” says one winemaker. “I think it’s inevitable.” Perhaps. But until consumers see a difference between organic wine and conventional wine – the way they do with tomatoes – inevitable doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Join the lawsuits: Want to participate in the upcoming Tennessee three-tier case that will be heard by the Supreme Court? Then you can contribute to a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for an amicus brief asking the court to overturn the Tennessee law. The campaign, sponsored by a retailer trade group and WineFreedom.org, which works for three-tier reform, was near its $25,000 goal at the beginning of the week. Meanwhile, the trade group for the country’s distributors and wholesalers filed an amicus brief asking the court to uphold the law because three-tier is vital to the safety of the republic.

Drink Local: Andrew Jefford, writing in Decanter, has been to New York’s Finger Lakes and found it worth drinking: “We are as far from Red Cat” as possible, referring to the legendary cheap, sweet white wine that fueled New York’s wine business for decades. That Jefford, one of Britain’s leading wine writers, likes what he found in the Fingers Lakes speaks volumes about how far Drink Local has come.

Winebits 568: Sommelier scandal, Yellow Tail ad, porn

sommelier scandalThis week’s wine news: A conspiracy theory takes shape around the sommelier scandal, plus we’re stuck with another Yellow Tail Super Bowl ad and I’ve been offered a chance to run adult content on the blog

Conspiracy theory? Liza Zimmerman, writing for Forbes, quotes one observer as wondering if a distributor conspiracy was behind last month’s sommelier cheating scandal. He doubted if “this was really the first time such a thing has occurred during the exam. He shared his suspicions that the wholesale tier’s influence on the Court is growing and noted that wholesalers who mentor favorite sommeliers think that they may be able to curry favor with them later on.” That’s an interesting theory, that sommeliers who work for distributors were helping candidates cheat so the cheaters would be beholden to distributors. But even those of us who think distributors are much of what’s wrong with the business aren’t sure that they’re quite that bad.

Oh, the horror: Yellow Tail, not content with its sad and much disliked Super Bowl TV ad, is going to do it again in 2019. The Australian wine company, reports Shanken News Daily, has issued a call for wine drinkers to send their Yellow Tail videos to the company to be used in the 2019 ad. I shudder at the possibilities, though the one good thing is that we probably won’t have to suffer through the Roo again.

Adult content: A marketing company in Gibraltar wants to “to buy a guest post on your website for our adult website guide. Rest assured, we can use both explicit and non-explicit keywords, which ever you prefer.” I won’t link to the company, whose clients include a company called YouPorn as well as Sony Music and Netflix. Obviously, I told them no, but I’ve been wondering ever since what they saw in my metrics to make the offer. What’s the relationship between wine drinkers and porn?

Winebits 567: Birthday week 2018 — Welcome, Chinese wine drinkers

What do I write for Chinese blog visitors?

Birthday week 2018 wine news: Welcome Chinese wine drinkers, as the blog truly becomes international

Chinese visitors: Wine drinkers from the United States. have always been the most common on  the blog, and that was true again between November 2017 and November 2018. About 85 percent of you came from the U.S. But China moved up to fourth with almost 2 percent, ahead of Australia and France. Plus, Beijing was third among cities after Chicago and New York. As mentioned yesterday, this number is skewed because two-thirds of you don’t come to the site anymore, but read the blog through RSS or email. Even so, that that many Chinese are reading an English-language blog about cheap wine has to mean something. And I don’t think the wine business likes what it means.

 Getting more mobile all the time: Another massive change: Almost 53 percent of visitors read the blog on their phone, and two-thirds of those use an iPhone. When I started in November 2007, mobile probably wasn’t 15 percent Fortunately, the first newspaper I worked for was a tabloid, so I learned how to write short a long time ago. Hence, writing a review or rant that fits on a phone screen isn’t that much of problem.

Poor, poor pitiful Firefox: Google owns the browser world, and it’s no different here with 45 percent of visitors. Firefox, which was once a terrific product but long ago lost its way, accounted for just 8 percent. That barely beat Microsoft’s various browsers. If that’s the best you can do, then it’s time to do something else.

Wine Curmudgeon most popular posts 2018

most popular posts 2018The Wine Curmudgeon’s most popular posts 2018

The blog enjoyed the best year in its 11-year history between November 2017 and November 2018, with some 600,000 visitors in one form or another. You can be impressed; that I did that with my nickel and dime operation speaks to how desperate wine drinkers are for intelligent, well-written, and unbiased information in the post-modern wine world. Of which you can read more on Thursday in my annual state of the wine industry rant and essay.

The key here is “in one form or another.” Some two-thirds of blog readers never visit the blog anymore, but access it through the daily email or an RSS feed. This is a tremendous change. As recently as a couple of years ago, those figures were reversed. This skewed some of the top post numbers in 2018, since people who don’t come to the blog aren’t counted in the same way as people who do. Internet analytics are even murkier than the three-tier system.

Nevertheless, if the way people use the Internet changes, the blog will change with them.

What else happened between 2017 and 2018?

• Blog readers continue to get younger (maybe half younger than 40) and the number of women continues to increase (perhaps as many as 2 1/2 out of five). Again, murky counting.

• The Barefoot wine value post, written in 2009, was No. 1 for the fourth consecutive year. And it wasn’t even close, with almost one-third more hits than the No. 2 post. I have accepted this as the blog’s fate, and will just update the top of  the post with links to more current Barefoot reviews.

• More than three-quarters of the blog’s actual visitors arrived via searching, the highest ever. The most common search term? Barefoot wine, of course.

The most popular posts from 2018 — as well as a couple of other highlights — are after the jump: Continue reading

New Orleans International Wine Awards 2018

New Orleans International Wine AwardsThe first New Orleans International Wine Awards featured quality red Rhone-style blends and some top chardonnays, plus serious gumbo discussion

Most wine competition judging doesn’t start with a reception at a 200-year-old French Quarter home with a Warhol and a George Rodrigue hanging on the wall. And none that I know of include dinner at one the world’s legendary restaurants (yes, I wore a tie). But the first New Orleans International Wine Awards weren’t quite like any other wine judging.

The four judging panels tasted some 500 wines over two days, and quality was mostly good – that’s not always true for a first-time competition. There were several highlights (I’ll link to the results when they’re available):

• I not only survived the 44 chardonnays we tasted almost first thing on Wednesday morning, but even enjoyed some of them. My panel gave a handful of gold medals, and most of the wines that weren’t golds were well made. That’s not often the case when judging chardonnay, which can easily be the worst part of any wine competition.

• The highlight was easily the red Rhone-style bends, where we gave a double gold and several golds among the 19 wines we tasted. These were not one-note, lumpy, fruit-driven wines, as can often happen, but showed the terroir of a variety of regions. It was one of the best categories I’ve judged in years.

• We did 36 malbecs, merlots, and cabernet francs (an interesting grouping). Again, given how syrupy and over-ripe these varietals can be, quality was surprisingly consistent, and we gave more golds than I expected.

• Two of the three best of competition wines were regional — a rose from the Finger Lakes in New York and a gewurztraminer from the even less well know Lake Erie appellation that straddles Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

• One of the bonuses of judging here? Discussing the proper way to make gumbo with several members of the back room staff (the people who bring the wines out for the judges to taste). Regular visitors here know how particular I am about gumbo (no tomatoes!), and it was a pleasure to share techniques with people see see gumbo as the culinary treasure that it is.

• Thanks to Jill Ditmire and Ken Landis, who judged with me. They patiently endured my war stories about working in Houma, La., 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, when I was a young newspaperman, and even more politely listened to my ranting during a particularly tiring stretch of sweet, dull, and lifeless cabernet sauvignons.