This is the first of a two-part look at what's new with wine packaging. On Monday, I'll look in more detail about what might replace glass bottles.
Be prepared for some big changes in the way wine is packaged, and that doesn't mean more screwtops.
Yes, most wine is still sold in a traditional glass bottle with a traditional cork. But more wines are going to be packaged in more ways, odd though they may seem, over next couple or years ? single-serve bottles, juice boxes, and even plastic and aluminum bottles.
? No champagne for Switzerland: Or, rather, a village in Switzerland can’t call its wine champagne, even though that’s the name of the village — and has been so 885. The prohibition is part of a European Union trade agreement which restricts others from using product names for well-known items like Champagne, Parma ham, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Products can only use those names if they’re made in that region. “In this village we no longer have the right to use our own name,” said a spokesman for the Swiss town.
? Wine sales in the U.S. increase again: They were up 3.9 percent in 2007, according to figures from the Wine Institute trade group. This is consistent with the last three increases. Interestingly, the dollar volume of sales (which includes all wine sold in the sold, including imports) increased 7.9 percent, as consumers traded up to more expensive wine and the weak U.S. dollar raised import prices.
? Robert Parker movie in the works: And Javier Bardem, he of the haircut in No Country for Old Men, is rumored to be interested in playing the most important man in the world of wine. Hey, I don’t make the news up. I just report it. Though this tidbit from Decanter is a bit hard to believe: “Casting is underway with Sideways star Paul Giamatti as Michel Rolland, British star Dame Helen Mirren as Jancis Robinson, and Hugh Grant taking the role of Leoville Barton proprietor Anthony Barton.” That’s an A-list cast for a movie that not a lot of people are going to care a whole lot about.
Quite a bit, actually, if a book called The Wine Trials is to be believed. Robin Goldstein, a very personable fellow, put together tasting panels last spring in several cities, including Austin. At the various panels, 500 volunteers tasted 540 wines blind, ranging from $1.50 to $150.
Blind means they didn’t know what they were tasting. This, says Goldstein, explains why a $10 Washington state sparkling wine outscored a $150 Dom Perignon.This is what happens when you “get past the jargon and pomposity of wine writing,” says Goldstein. “People shouldn’t have to apologize for serving cheap wine.”
? Pour another glass of red wine: One of the most common questions that the Wine Curmudgeon gets is about wine and heart disease. Yes, apparently, there is some evidence red wine makes a difference. And now comes news that it also may help fight cancer, according to researchers at the University of Rochester. A natural antioxidant found in grape skins has destroyed some pancreatic cancer cells. The other key to the study? Drink wine in moderation, said the lead researcher.
? Burgundy prices skyrocket: By as much as 20 percent — and it’s not like Burgundy was inexpensive to begin with. The weak dollar, as usual, is to blame (as I wrote here, if I may be allowed to note my prescience). “But we have now arrived at a situation where we cannot take it any longer and from now on we will feel the full brunt of any further dollar weakness,” said the president of the Burgundy wine association.
Doug Nalle makes some of the best zinfandel in California. There ?s just one catch. It ?s difficult to buy outside of California, what with his limited production of just 1,500 cases a year, and the restrictions of the three-tier distribution system.
So what ?s a wine buyer to do?
The answer is to order directly from the winery, an option that is gaining in popularity not only in Texas (where the Wine Curmudgeon lives), but across the country. A 2005 Supreme Court decision struck down many state laws that prohibited interstate shipment, while Texas liberalized its direct shipping laws ? for both intra- and inter-state orders ? several years ago. Texas wineries, for example, can ship to dry parts of the state.
This makes it much easier to get cult wines from California, limited-release and small winery wines from places like New York or Missouri, and even mainstream winery club offerings without leaving the house, something that was legally impossible earlier this decade.
In addition, many state laws, including Texas ?, restrict direct shipping from out-of-state and on-line retailers. Which means that anyone who orders the Nalle zinfandel from a California liquor store could be committing a crime.
Which also means, that as much of a boon as direct shipping has been to the wine industry and to consumers, there remain some caveats:
? Can the winery ship to or within your state? Does it want to? In Texas, for example, out-of-state wineries need shipping and sales tax permits to ship to consumers here (though in-state wineries don ?t). Not every small winery will go through that process just to sell a couple of cases of wine a year. Most wineries list the states they ?ll ship to on their web site or if you call. Again, if an out-of-state winery ships to you and hasn’t satisfied all of your state’s requirements, you ?re technically breaking the law.
? Understand the costs and restrictions. Shipping is expensive, and can add 40 percent to the cost of a bottle. Nalle charges $14-$18 for a three-bottle minimum, while Texas ? Haak Vineyards & Winery charges about $6 a bottle for one to three bottles. These charges are usually discounted if you buy more a case or two, but the days of free shipping are almost all gone. Also, many state laws limit the amount of wine you can receive, such as about one case every 30 days.
? Make sure someone can sign for it. This is not just about satisfying the legal requirement that someone older than 21 receives the wine; it also takes into account the weather. Shippers like UPS and FedEx aren ?t supposed to leave wine without an adult signature, which means your $200 bottle of Harlan Estate cabernet blend could be riding around in the back of a truck for a couple of days, being baked beyond recognition. If there ?s no one home during the day, consider an alternative delivery site, like the office.
? Rose sales increase: Which is good news for those of us who enjoy pink wine. Sales increased about 50 percent in 2007, according to a Nielsen study. Why did this happen? A couple of reasons, I think. Consumers are beginning to understand that rose is not the same as white zinfandel, and offers value for money — especially in the $10 range. Also, producers are making better wine, particularly in California.
? Wine sales in a recession? Tom Wark at the Fermentation wine blog may have found a relationship between wine sales and economic downturns. This is something wine people talk about a lot: How much of a luxury product is wine, and will consumers give it up when times get tough? Wark tracked wine club sales, and there seem to be a cancellations that are following the on-coming recession. “I have no doubt that were it being done for the past 15 years we’d see that at this moment that Index will be in a severe downward trend,” he says.
? Blog awards: And while you’re at Fermentation, take a moment to vote for Alfonso Cevola, whose On the Wine Trail in Italy has been nominated for two American Wine Blog awards. Alfonso not only knows more about Italian wine that almost anyone I know, but he is always incredibly kind and generous with his time. Especially when he is dealing with the Wine Curmudgeon, and we know how difficult that can be.