Category:Wine news

Tuesday winebits 69: Fat Bastard, Sting’s wine, Euros ban labels

? Fat Bastard is sold: French producer Boisset bought the company that makes Fat Bastard, one of the first clever label brands. Boisset is best known in the U.S. for owning Deloach and inexpensive imports from the south of France like French Rabbit and Lulu B. This is another in what looks to be continuing consolidation at that end of the market, which has included Gallo ?s purchase of Spanish producer Las Rocas.

? Sting launches wine label: The front man for the Police will sell about 2,500 cases of red wine made on his country estate in Tuscany. It is supposed to be available in the U.S. later this year. The wine will be a Super Tuscan, though it doesn ?t have a name yet (and no, it probably won ?t be called Roxanne.) And, yes, one of the headlines for this story in the cyber-ether was ?Message in a bottle. ? Ouch. The Wine Curmudgeon is going to have to teach these people how to write headlines.

? European label ban: The European Commission, in what looks to be a reversal of policy, apparently will not allow U.S. wineries that use the word chateau, clos, or even vintage on their labels to be sold in the European Union, reports Wines & Vines. This seems to be part of the long-standing trade dispute between the EU and the U.S. that everyone thought had been settled in 2006. But the Europeans have re-opened the discussion, which they were allowed to do. One of the biggest losers? Napa ?s Clos du Val, run by French winemaker Bernard Portet, which had to stop selling its wine in Europe — where it enjoys a fine reputation. I know Portet a little, and he will not be happy.

Tuesday wine bits 68: Wine labels, Amy Culbertson, cutting supply

? Wine label web site: The people behind have come up with a web site to help those of us who can ?t remember the name of a wine, but do remember the label. It ?s called, and features labels from around the world. It works by using an image keyword search, which helps wine drinkers find the actual label, which is displayed on the site. You can also browse the site by country.

? A fond farewell: The woman who gave the Wine Curmudgeon his name is retiring from the newspaper business. Amy Culbertson, the food editor at the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth, didn ?t have to think very hard to come up with it when we were brainstorming ideas for the wine column I write for the paper. It was, she said, a natural. And she was right, of course. Amy was a pro, one of the finest people I have worked with. The newspaper business, which is having troubles enough, will be hard-pressed to replace Amy (and the thousands like her) who are leaving in the wake of the industry ?s financial problems.

? When it doubt, make less: Knob Creek, a high-end bourbon, has what appears to be an interesting solution to the recession. It ?s making less bourbon. I got a news release from the company, warning me that it will be more difficult to find the whiskey in stores this year. The release, written in PR-speak, is a little fuzzy. But what I think it means is that the company had two choices ? cut costs by making a less premium spirit, or make less. It opted for the latter. It ?s an approach with much to recommend it, since the market is about to be flooded with high-end wines that have been marked down significantly in order to sell them.

Feds join pinot noir investigation

The  Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the federal agency that oversees the wine industry, has dispatched investigators to U.S. wineries that may have sold wine labeled as pinot noir that isn ?t.

Spokesman Art Resnick said yesterday that the bureau is working with French investigators to learn who in this country may have have used the fake pinot noir in their wine. One of the U.S. wineries, as I reported two weeks ago, is apparently E&J Gallo, whose Red Bicyclette pinot noir is made with grapes supplied by the French company Sieur d'Arques. Sieur d ?Arques, a wine company in the Languedoc region, has been identified by French authorities as being involved, perhaps inadvertently, in the fraud.

Reuters reported Tuesday that Sieur d ?Arques and another French company linked to the investigation, the Ducasse negociant firm, which sold grapes to Sieur d ?Arques, declined comment. A Gallo spokesman told me this week that his company is still waiting on word from the French.

Continue reading

Tuesday wine bits 67: Pinot noir scandal, blog awards, Aussie grape crop

? Pinot noir fraud update: French authorities are apparently still looking into allegations that millions of gallons of wine from southern France were fraudulently sold as pinot noir and exported to the U.S. over the last four years. I did some more reporting on this end, and a Gallo spokesman said his company is still waiting to hear whether its Red Bicyclette pinot noir is involved. Sieur d’Arques, a leading French wine company that may be part of the scandal, works with Gallo on the wine. L ?Orval, another inexpensive Languedoc pinot brand, is not part of the scandale, said a spokesman for its U.S. broker.

? American Wine Bog Awards finalists: The list is here. And, in big news, the OpenWine Consortium is going to run the awards next year. Or, if you ?d like something a little sillier in terms of awards, go here. Our old pal W.R. Tish ? who promises a big April Fool ?s treat this year ? won Best Non-Blogging Wine Blogger.

? Australia harvest down by 20 percent: Looks like Mother Nature is lending a hand with the oversupply problems facing the wine business Down Under. A searing heat wave across South Australia and Victoria devastated crops, while the Victorian bushfires destroyed vines in the Yarra Valley wine-growing region.

Tuesday wine bits 66: James Tidwell, liquor taxes, Nazi wine

? Master sommelier: James Tidwell, the sommelier at the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas, has become a master sommelier ? one of just 96 in North America and 167 worldwide. The honor is probably the highest that a wine person can achieve, and is incredibly difficult to do. James is not only one of the nicest guys in the wine business, but has also been gracious and generous with helping the Wine Curmudgeon navigate so much about wine that he doesn ?t know.

? States look for recession funding: And what better way than to raise taxes on wine, beer and spirits? reports that Kentucky approved a 6 percent tax on retail beer, wine and spirits sales, while Oregon may increase its surcharge on beer to $49.61 from $2.60 a barrel. Arizona is considering a "Liquor Luxury Tax ? of $3.50 a gallon, which is significantly higher than the current 16 cents a gallon. At least 18 other states are considering proposals to raise taxes.

? Hidden wine set for auction: A British auction house is selling a cache of wines from the 1920s that had been hidden from the Nazis in a bricked up cellar during World War II. The wines, which were on the German-occupied English Channel island of Guernsey, include Chateau Latour 1926, Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1928, and Chateau Ausone 1928.

Tuesday wine bits 65: Open that bottle night, box wine sales, screw tops

? Wall Street Journal wine tradition: That ?s Feb. 28, the ninth annual Open That Bottle Night, devised by Journal wine writers John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter. Their goal is to get wine drinkers to open a bottle they ?ve been saving for a special occasion, and otherwise would have forgotten about. The Wine Curmudgeon, of course, does not have this problem. My Solaz is always handy. And is that really my pals Bruce and Birgit Anderson of Texas ? Sunset Winery featured in this year ?s article? Nice to see Brecher and Gaiter recognize regional wine.

? Box wine sales up: And by a lot — 32 percent last year, according to Nielsen, compared to 4.4 percent for wine overall. Granted, that increase is from a small base (only about 1 percent of all wine sales in the U.S.), but it does show that consumers are looking for value. A typical 3-liter box contains is the equivalent of four bottles, and is usually heavily discounted compared to the price of a bottle of similar quality.

? Screw tops carry the day: A California tasting, featuring a bevy of wine experts, identified a screw top as the most effective closure in a test with a Washington state sauvignon blanc. The same wine was closed with a cork, two plastic corks, and screw top. The latter ?s wine was ?fresh and the most aromatic ? and the favorite of the tasters.

French pinot noir scandal

image Or, what happens when the wine you ?re drinking isn ?t made from the grapes that are listed on the label.

French authorities say that millions of gallons of wine from southern France were fraudulently sold as pinot noir and exported to the U.S. over the last four years. This comes from Decanter, the British wine magazine, which reports that the non-pinot pinot was sold by winemakers and cooperatives in the Languedoc region to the Ducasse negociant firm, which in turn sold the wine to distributor Sieur d'Arques for sale in the U.S. The authorities aren ?t sure where in that chain the fraud occurred, and they aren ?t sure which wines in the U.S., if any, contain the fake pinot.

Why does this matter? Because inexpensive pinot noir from the south of France has become quite popular in the U.S. this decade, with labels like Red Bicyclette, Lulu B., Fat Bastard, and French Maid producing pinot for $10 or $12 a bottle. Again, there is no indication at this time that any of these wines have the fake pinot.

That price is one-half to one-third the price of most of the least expensive pinots made in Burgundy and California. In fact, a southern French pinot style has emerged in the last seven or eight years, distinctly different from those in Burgundy and California ? it ?s juicier, fruiter and less sophisticated.

After the jump, comment from some of those producers and details about how the fraud could have happened:

Continue reading