A few observations based on a weekend visit to the Hill Country. I ?ll be in west Texas in a month or so, and should have a solid overview of what ?s going on with the 2008 harvest.
? The next big wine movie? Bottle Shock, the cinematic adaptation of the Judgement of Paris, in which California ?s best wines beat France ?s best wines in a blind tasting in 1976, debuted over the weekend. The esteemed Paul Franson of Wine Business News seemed less than impressed. The talk at the premier, he reported, was whether Bottle Shock would give the wine business as big a boost as Sideways did. The movie opens in the rest of the country on Aug. 6.
? Do you want to be a winemaker? The Wine Curmudgeon hopes not, but if so, PBS will give you a chance. It ?s looking for potential winemakers for the second season of its reality show, The Wine Makers. The series will hold a casting call Sept. 7-12 at locations around the country. The first season of the series will air at the beginning of next year. And am I the only who figures the end is near when PBS does reality series?
? Beer vs. wine: We ?ve heard a lot of PR hoo-haw the past couple of years about wine ?s emergence as the alcoholic beverage of choice among Americans. Yes, wine ?s popularity has increased, but nowhere near the level that a selective reading of the numbers has given us in breathless press releases. This has been reinforced by a Gallup Poll that says more Americans aged 30-49 prefer beer to wine, and the gap has increased the past couple of years. Those of us 50 and older prefer wine to beer, but that gap has narrowed as well. The survey doesn ?t note any reasons, but I ?d guess it has to do with the economic slowdown. And could there also be a backlash against the increasing amount of wine snobbiness we ?ve seen over the past couple of years?
? Cheap wine stumps the pros: Sometimes, all the Wine Curmudgeon can do is smile. The San Francisco Chronicle runs an annual feature in which three sommeliers have to buy seven bottles of wine for $70 ? and suffer in the attempt. ?”This is harder than I thought,” said one. Of course it is. As the Wine Curmudgeon always says, ?Anyone can buy a bottle of expensive wine. What ?s tougher ? and more fun ? is to buy a good bottle of cheap wine. ? Among the choices was our long-time favorite, Toad’ Hollow ?s pinot noir rose.
? Aussie exports decrease: The weak dollar has done its job on Australian wine exports, which are down 12 percent his year ? the first decline in 14 years. Shipments to the U.S. fell 18 percent. The value of the Australian dollar has increased almost 25 percent since September.
? Sunday blue laws: It may be the 21st century, but 15 states still have laws restricting the sale of wine on Sunday. Why do these laws still exist? No one is quite sure, say several people quoted in the article. But it does reveal one intriguing piece of information: A recent paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that in states where blue laws have been repealed, there has been a 15 percent decline in attendance among weekly churchgoers, along with a nearly 25 percent drop in donations.
? So you want to own a winery? Then be prepared to pony up piles and piles of cash. Forbes takes a look what it takes to go into the wine business, and the verdict is millions of dollars. Land prices, legal and business red tape, and the vagaries of farming call come into play. Says one successful executive turned wine entrepreneur: ?Before I knew it, I was into it for $15 million, It was like the blink of an eye. I didn’t see it coming at all."
? French court says no to St. Emilion classification: The court said that the wine classification system in the region on Bordeaux ?s right bank was flawed, and that it couldn ?t be used to rate wine by quality. The irony here is that the St. Emilion system is infinitely more sensible than the more famous system used on the left bank in the Medoc. In St. Emilion, the ratings are reviewed every 10 years. In the Medoc, they ?ve changed just once since 1855. But, as I used to tell my Cordon Bleu students, that ?s the way they do it in France.
? Southwest wine winners: Colorado ?s Guy Drew Vineyards won a gold and the best red designation for its 2004, while New Mexico Wineries won a gold and the best white accolade for its 2007 San Felipe Moscato. They topped the winners at the Southwest Wine Competition, part of the Toast of Taos. I was impressed with a sherry-like wine from Oklahoma ?s Deer Creek called Trois Elise, which won a silver.
? What wine will we be drinking in 2058? This forecast comes courtesy of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which has been selling wine for 310 years. How does wine from China sound? ?Cabernets and chardonnays of real promise will be made. With the right soil, low labour costs and soaring domestic demand, China is set to take the world of wine by storm. ? And you know all those expensive wines you can ?t afford to buy today? You won ?t be able to afford to buy them in 2058, either ? they ?ll be the province of the super-rich, says the report.
? French wine blog: Master of Wine Sheri Sauter Morano is blogging about French wine for Sopexa, which does marketing and public relations for much of the inexpensive wine that France sends to the U.S. She knows her stuff, and writes in an approachable, easy to ready style (and is not nearly as cranky as some of us).
? Wine and your health: Tired of all reading those stories that say wine is good for you? So is Brandon Keim, writing in Wired. He is discussing recent reports that associate resveratrol, an anti-aging ingredient, found in red wine: ?But to receive an ostensibly therapeutic dose from wine, you’d have to drink yourself to death. … Tell your friends and family first: you’ll need to drink 750 bottles. ?
The Wine Curmudgeon does not like livestock wine. This has nothing to do with its quality. Some of it can be quite good, despite the cuddly creature on the label. My objection is the label itself, which influences people to buy the wine not because it tastes good, but because it is cute.
Livestock wine ( a term invented by the incredibly palate-talented Lynne Kleinpeter) refers to wine which has some sort of animal, cartoon or other clever picture on the label has made huge strides in the U.S. According to the Nielsen survey, the various animals, cartoons and characters accounted for 11.5 percent of the wine sold in the U.S. in 2007 in dollar terms.
Livestock wine is, apparently, here to stay.
? Texas award winners: Two big prizes for Texas wines — a double gold for Brennan Vineyard’s 2006 cabernet sauvignon reserve at the prestigious Indy International Wine Competition and a bronze for Sunset Winery’s 2004 Texas High Plains Newsom Vineyard ?Moon Glow ? Merlot at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition this spring. Both showings are impressive. Brennan’s cabernet joined a Clos du Bois from Alexander Valley, a Clos Du Val from Stags Leap District and a V. Sattui from Napa in the double gold category. Sunset’s bronze may be even bigger, given that it is essentially a two-person operation in a converted house in suburban Fort Worth.
? A wine-powered car: Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, runs his Aston Martin, on bio-fuel made from English wine. (No jokes, please, about English wine.) The wine used in the petrol is surplus English wine that European rules don’t allow to be made into wine. The Daily Telegraph reports the wine is apparently not left over from royal house parties at Clarence House or Highgrove, two of the prince’s homes. The prince’s Jaguars, Audi and Range Rovers have all been converted to run on 100 per cent biodiesel made from used cooking oil.
? Bordeaux wine ratings: Turns out an academic study has found that the 1855 Bordeaux classification system, which has changed just one since then, is outdated. Wrote the authors: “Based on the wine scores that we analyzed, however, some chateaux have moved up in rank, while others have faded. While we doubt that the 1855 classification will be revised, market prices for these producers reflect the new standings.” Though this isn’t surprising, what is (to me anyway) is that they the researchers used scores from the Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, and Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar to measure quality. That’s treading dangerous ground, isn’t it?