Category:Wine news

Update: Costco’s 90-point wines

I exchanged emails with Annette Alvarez-Peters, Costco ?s assistant general merchandise manager for wine, spirits and beer for the U.S. about my post last week — the one that said that several vendors had told me that the only new wines Costco was buying had to retail for less than $15 and score 90 points or better.

Alvarez-Peters was unequivocal. (And, for the record, she only does interviews via email). Alvarez-Peters wrote, ?Costco does not have a policy to only purchase 90 point wines.  As mentioned previously, there are times we ?promote ? 90 point wines as a feature endcap or quad (4 pallet positions) to create excitement for the department. ?

On the other hand, four people ?- none of whom work for the same company ?- all told me the same story, practically word for word, that Costco won ?t consider new brands that don ?t score 90 points and cost $15 or less. One represents a variety of major national brands, the second handles well-known national and imported wines, a third represents mostly imported wine, and the fourth does smaller domestic and imported brands. And, since the original post ran, a fifth person, who is reasonably important at a major distributor, told me the same thing.

I also want to make an important distinction between wines Costco currently carries and new wine brands that it may purchase. This is something, from comments I ?ve seen about my original post, that not everyone understands. The 90-point policy, if it exists, doesn ?t mean Costco is pulling out wines that didn ?t score 90 points. It means that it isn ?t going to add new wine brands that don ?t score 90 points or that retail for more than $15.

After the jump, the emails that made up our interview:

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Winebits 80: Costco and scores, no wine for Amazon, millennials and wine

? Costco loves those 90-point wines: Costco, which may be the country ?s biggest wine retailer, has a new policy for wines it carries in its store. Two people who deal with Costco ?s wine buyers have told me that the chain, with 407stores in the U.S., has told its vendors that it will only buy wines that will retail for $15 or less and have scored at least 90 points. I ?m also told that ?s currently the policy at Walmart ?s Sam ?s Club. This is not only silly, but bad business. Using these guidelines, neither could be able to carry Avalon ?s Napa cabernet, a $12-$15 wine which scores in the high 80s, and Cristalino, the world ?s best cheap sparkling wine, also high 80s. How much more must we do to demonstrate how silly scores are?

? Is Amazon wine deal dead? Wine & Spirits Daily is reporting that Amazon.com ?s plan to sell wine, along with its books and MP3s, is almost certainly finished after the company that was going to handle wine shipping for Amazon closed last week. Writes editor Megan Haverkorn: ?As a result, it ?s looking less likely that Amazon will enter the wine business at all, particularly not anytime soon. ?

? Millennials and wine: All of the people in the wine business who are much smarter than I am (and there are so many) tell me that millennials ? those born between 1982 and 2003 ? are going to reshape wine in the U.S. They won ?t care about scores, they will drink regional wine, and they want value. I love them already. The Bacchus Babes, two Ohio bloggers, put it this way: ?[W]e mean common sense. Stuff you can actually use. ? And the fine wine and food writer Gretchen Roberts has taken it one step further, with a blog called vinobite.com, aimed at millennials. Now, if I can only get Gretchen to write about Tennessee wine.

International Eastern Wine competition results

Paul Geisz II, Peter Bell, the Wine Curmudgeon, and Phil Ward. Do we look professional or what? The Wine Curmudgeon can ?t decide if the highlight of the the 34th annual competition was the quality of the regional wine we tasted, how many cheap wines won gold medals, or the picture of me in a lab coat.

Probably the first two.

I don ?t think there is any doubt that New York wine, and especially the rieslings, can hold its own with wine from any other region in the world. Yes, some of it is still ?regional ? ? inconsistent and too tasting room in style. But there is a solid tier of affordable, well-made wine that ?s worth writing about. I hope that the wine media in New York is paying attention, and doesn ?t automatically opt for California wine when there is New York wine available.

And the cheap wine? Oh my. One of the finalists for the competition ?s best red wine was a $10 merlot from a Central Coast winery, Five Rivers. It didn ?t win, but I liked it more than the wine that did win.

After the jump, some highlights from the competition.

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Billington Imports closes

Alfredo Bartholomaus And so ends an era in the wine business.

Don Alfredo, as Billington founder Alfredo Bartholomaus is fondly known, is one of the best people I have met in my time writing about wine. (Though his penchant for the pisco sour, a Chilean cocktail, always baffled me.) Bartholomaus was among the first importers to bring cheap, well-made South American wine to the U.S., and every time you enjoy a bottle of Argentine malbec or Chilean sauvignon blanc, you have Don Alfredo to thank.

My pal Dave McIntyre has the sad details about Billington ?s end on his blog and in the Washington Post. It ?s the recession, of course ? the recession that all the wine wise guys said wasn ?t going to hurt the wine business. Well, when it claims someone like Don Alfredo, it hurts the wine business.

I met Bartholomaus several years ago when I took the famous Billington trip to Chile. He was a joy ? understood how wine writing worked, never asked for a favor, and understood that those of us on the trip would write about the wines we tasted because they were good, and not because he was paying the bills.

One of the best parts of the trip, which was a tradition, came on the last night, when Don Alfredo recited Pablo Neruda ?s love poetry after dinner. How do you replace a tradition like that in today ?s multi-national, label-driven,celebrity winemaker culture? You can ?t, and the wine business will be the worse for it.

Fred Franzia: Love him or hate him?

Or, actually, ignore him, which the wine industry seems incapable of doing. Franzia, the man behind Two Buck Chuck, Crane Lake, Forest Glen and a bunch of other cheap wines in the guise of the Bronco Wine Co. loves to throw his success in the faces of the people wine writer David Falchek calls the vinerrati. And they can ?t help themselves ? foaming at the mouth, spewing venom, and the like whenever Franzia does it.

The latest turmoil (and the cyber either is full of it, from the New York Times to Cincinnati to California) centers around a profile of Franzia that ran in the New Yorker. Two things struck me. First, that an old media property could cause such a stink among so many New Media types, and second, that what Franzia said wasn ?t any different from what he has been saying for years and years. And years. He thinks wine is overpriced and that most wine people are phony snobs.

Which is hard to disagree with, given the foolishness that the Wine Curmudgeon sees in the wine business every day. Though, to be fair, The Times ? Eric Asimov notes that Franzia ?s motives are far from pure: ?He ?s not a man of the people making high-quality bottles available for less. He ?s a businessman masquerading as a populist for his own benefit, which is fine but his defenders ought to be honest about Mr. Franzia ?s motivations. ?

Which doesn ?t change his message and why the vineratti dislike it so. And nothing will change until all $100 wine is 10 times better than all $10 wine. Until then, Franzia will continue to drive them crazy.

Winebits 79: Recession update, Dan Berger wisdom, Eric Asimov on cheap wine

? Cheap wine is good wine: Ah, validation.Joseph Gallo, (yes, that Gallo), speaking at a conference for states that sell liquor (or control states), on the effect of the recession: ?People realize that wine they'd never consider before is actually good.  It has started a trend that you don't have to pay a lot for wine to taste good…the market is showing that. ? Note to Mr. Gallo and other industry types: The Wine Curmudgeon has many thoughts on this subject. Give me a call. I ?m actually a lot less expensive than most of the consultants you pay.

? Add an ice cube: The next time some wine drinker is being particularly snotty, show them this, from the great Dan Berger. Berger, who knows more about wine than most of the rest of us combined, focused a recent column on the theme of ?Hey, if you like it, go for it. It ?s your dinner table and your wine. Do what you like. ? Among his suggestions? Yes, adding an ice cube if the wine is too warm or too alcoholic.

? ?I have nothing against people who choose to drink boring wines:" Eric Asimov, the wine columnist for the New York Times, has an intriguing look at cheap wine. He makes a distinction that I would argue with, since it assumes that most cheap wine is boring wine. This, of course, is far from the case. He also recommends several cheap American-made wines (though his definition of cheap includes wines that cost $20). He laments that there aren ?t more, which surprised me. I ?d suggest he try the Bogle petite sirah and the Avalon Napa cabernet, as well as Peirano's The Other Red and White.

Tuesday winebits 78: South African wine aroma, wine score silliness, Cornish wine

? That burnt rubber smell: South African red wine, and especially pinotage, has a distinctive aroma, similar to burning rubber or road blacktop. This has been the subject of many jokes in the wine world, but it ?s actually a serious problem for the South Africans. Who wants to buy wine that smells like burnt rubber? What ?s worse, they aren ?t sure why that happens, reports Decanter.

? Wine scores don ?t work, one more time: This, from very important French wine critic Michel Bettane, when asked to score a a couple of South African sauvignon blancs at a wine competition (and as reported by Neil Pendock, who was on the panel): ?Michel, what do you score the first ?60 and 80 ? (points of out of 100). ?How does that work ?80 if you like this grassy style of sauvignon, 60 if you do not. ? Too bad the Wine Magazines don ?t try this approach.

? Cornish wine: As in Cornwall in southwestern England, because this is even a bit much for a regional wine devotee like the Wine Curmudgeon. A white wine from Camel Valley in Cornwall, where it seems to be always cold and rainy, won a gold medal at the very prestigious International Challenge in London. The wine is made with the bacchus grape, a hybird that makes riesling-style wines.