Category:Wine news

Winebits 111: Cheap wine edition

A roundup of cheap wine news, in honor of the 2010 $10 Hall of Fame:

? Bubbly prices lose fizz: If you're in France, that is. Champagne prices were discounted dramatically for the New Year's holiday by producers desperate to move product. Grocery store chains like Carrefour and Auchan were selling real Champagne — the stuff made in the Champagne region, and not elsewhere in France — for less than euro10 (US$14) a bottle. That's almost unheard of, but the Champagne business is in serious trouble. Exports in the first half of the year plunged 45 percent. (And I'm sorry about the bold-faced lead-in for this item — I couldn't help myself.)

? Value wines from The Web site run by the Beverage Testing Institute released its 2009 best buys, and the results were encouraging for those of us who like cheap wine. "Fortunately for those on a budget, the under $20 categories are ripe with good tasting wines. And for the first time since we started this competition earlier this decade, some of the highest scoring wines were not just under $20 and $15, but under $10." The site rated wines in 16 categories, including top 10 red and white wines for $8 and less.

? Kevin Zraly on cheap wine: The author of the Windows on the World wine book, which is probably the best introductory book on wine, offers his take on the best wines in the world for $15 or less.

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Winebits 110: Peter Mondavi, Sonoma labeling, wine vintages

? The other Mondavi turns 95: Peter Mondavi, Robert's less famous brother, has celebrated his 95th birthday — and 80 years in the wine business. Peter's business is Charles Krug Winery, which makes some well-priced and well-turned out wines. And what does Peter think of the way the wine business is run today? "A $1,500 bottle of wine?" he says, shaking his head and laughing. Speaks volumes, doesn't it?

? Sonoma wineries want to change labels: Sonoma County's wineries want a state law requiring wines from its sub-appellations like Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill to also print ?Sonoma County ? on their wine labels to better promote the winemaking region. Their thinking is that a similar law in Napa helped that region grow in popularity, so why not Sonoma? Federal labeling regulations currently don't require a producer of Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley or Knights Valley wines to mention anything about Sonoma County on the labels. Most do not. I'm curious: If business was good, would the wineries bother with this, given that it will confuse most of us even more than we're confused about appellation?

? Common sense about vintages: From the great Bill Daley at the Chicago Tribune: "Given the American propensity to drink wine as soon as it's bought, age should not be an issue." This is a very nice piece, looking at an issue that almost always confuses most wine drinkers. Generally, as Bill notes, if you're buying inexpensive wine, the vintage is irrelevant. Most wine that we buy is not made to age; it's made to drink right away.

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Winebits 109: Wine person of the decade, duty free shops, global warming

? Most influential wine type: The blog Dr. Vino wants to know who the most influential wine person of this decade is, and you can vote here. Among the choices are Robert Parker, John Casella, the founder of Yellow Tail, and Eric LeVine, the man behind the Cellar Tracker Web site wine tracking system. Not sure how relevant most of those names are, since the biggest development in wine this decade has been the continuing consolidation of producers and distributors. But the results will be interesting, nonetheless, given Dr. Vino’s role in the Winestream Media.

? No duty-free wine sales? The World Health Organization wants to phase out tax-exempt liquor sales in an attempt to reduce drinking and the social ills associated with it. If the policy is approved next month, and it is expected to be, member governments would not be required to eliminate wine from duty-free shops, but many are expected to do so. Still, would it make that much difference? I haven’t noticed wine prices in duty-free stores being that less expensive.

? Global warming will hit wine in U.S.: Or so says a report from Stanford University researchers. Global warming could reduce the current U.S. wine grape region by 81 percent by the end of the century — primarily because of a projected sharp increase in the frequency of extremely hot days. The other key finding? Warmer weather and earlier springs mean more crop pests, since there won’t be enough cold weather to kill them.

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Cheap wine and the “inventory-induced recession”

The surveys and studies are in, and the results are official: The recession is lowering wine prices.

Not big news to regular visitors here? It is to the Winestream media: “For the next two to three years, the consumer can expect deals on higher-priced wines. … [T]hose wines usually start at about $15 a bottle.”

The cause of all this is what the Wine Curmudgeon has noted before: Consumers have all but stopped buying high-end wine (most wine, in fact) in restaurants and they’re buying less expensive wine at retailers. So everyone is cutting back on wine inventory, and we have what has been termed the “inventory reduced-recession.”

To be fair, this story by Elizabeth Strott at MSN Money is one of the best explanations that I’ve seen abut what’s going on. The crisis in the wine business is not about over-supply, which would be easy to fix — make less wine. It’s about demand, and it’s specifically about demand for wines that cost more than $15. There isn’t any, and this comes after several years when the industry was focusing on wines that cost $15 and more, making more $15 and up wine than the world needed.

In the short term, this means wineries will go out of business and jobs will be lost. Over the long term, it means — hopefully — a more rational approach to winemaking, in which expensive wine is made not just because it’s expensive, but because it offers value.


Winebits 107: Top 100 wines

The Wine Curmudgeon does not do year-end lists, but many others do. Here’s a peek:

? The wine retailing Web site is almost apologetic, given the recession: “Surprisingly, the average selling price of this year’s Top 100 was $23.50 per bottle, an increase of 15% over last year. …” No surprises here. Given shipping costs, who is going to buy $10 wine through the Internet? The site’s best seller was Cambria’s Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, which is pleasant enough if you like the modern style of California wine.

? San Francisco Chronicle: Less expensive wines, more rose, and better blends — including one of my all-time favorites, the Pine Ridge chenin blanc-viognier. The McManis viognier, a nifty $11 bottle, also made the list. No wines, however, that aren’t from California, Washington, and Oregon.

? Wine Spectator: I love this part: “Since 2009 was a year of economic retrenchment, we focused even more on value as we made our choices; the average price per bottle is $40, down from the past two years.” One has to admire the Spectator’s consistency — price is all when it comes to wine.

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Winebits 106: Wine prices, wine auction, counterfeit wines

$100 era ending? Decanter, which is easily the best of the Wine Magazines, is noting that “The era of the $100-plus bottle may be over. …” Its conclusion is based on a report from a key U.S. wine analyst, Silicon Valley Bank. This is a fascinating report, and I’m going to write more about it later. It’s enough for now to know that the report says there have been fundamental changes in the U.S. wine market, and that most Winestream Media articles about the report looked for the good news and buried the bad.

Pricey French wine: Need to pick up some holiday gifts? A wine auction in London this week has a six-bottle case of the 1989 vintage of Bordeaux cult favorite Petrus for about $17,000. Obviously, it’s not a vintage of the century. Or how about a red Burgundy, the 1947 La Tache, for about $5,000?

Counterfeit wines: If you can do it for handbags, why not wine? Counterfeiters use methods such as photocopied labels or an authentic bottle with fake wine inside. Some of these wines have even turned up in fine wine auctions and restaurant wine lists.

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Winebits 105: Thanksgiving wine suggestions

Thanksgiving wine wisdom from around the cyber-ether:

Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post: “Open one of everything.” Is it any wonder that Dave is the Wine Curmudgeon’s kind of guy?

Eric Asimov in the New York Times: “As always, please don ?t contort yourself trying to find only the specific bottles we recommend. These bottles are simply examples of the types of wines that ought to work well at Thanksgiving.” This, actually, may be the best advice any important wine writer has ever given. And he even recommends a New York wine.

Stephen Meuse in the Boston Globe: The only time I’ve ever seen the word apothegm used in a wine review (or anywhere else, for that matter). But his advice is sound, and he recommends Massachusetts wine. What’s with these big deal wine writers suddenly hopping on the bandwagon?