Category:Wine news

Winebits 652: Restaurant carryout booze, local rose, cheap local wine

carryout boozeThis week’s wine news: More restaurants opt to sell carryout booze, plus Illinois wineries embrace rose and local wine needs to be more affordable

Restaurant carryout booze: More restaurants see carryout booze, including wine and cocktails, as a way to help the weather the duration. Which is pretty damned amazing, since this was illegal in most of the country before the pandemic. In Texas, for example, the governor has signed an order allowing restaurants to sell to-go cups, just like New Orleans. This is mind-boggling; most of Dallas was dry in some way until a decade ago, and the state is still famous for its dry counties. Perhaps even more amazing? A suburban Chicago restaurateur is selling wine at retail for carryout and not phony restaurant prices. She hopes to make up the difference in volume – an amazing concept, yes?

Local rose: Just when the WC gets all flustered about the future of Drink Local, I read this in the Southern Illinoisan newspaper in downstate Carbondale (where, a long time ago, I was a general assignment reporter). The Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Alliance launched an aggressive and seemingly expensive marketing campaign this spring to make rose Illinois’ official state wine, and “unite” the industry with a common product. Give the WC’s enthusiasm for Drink Local and pink wine, what could be a better idea?

Not just in England: Oz Clarke, one of the patriarchs of modern wine writing, says English wine won’t become more successful or more popular until more people can afford to buy it. This is a lesson that emerging wine regions, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, never seem able to understand. It’s one of the biggest problems with Drink Local, where producers don’t understand that people are more likely to buy $15 wine than $30 wine, no matter how noble the $30 wine is. Clarke told a wine seminar that it was crucial to get “really good bottles of still wine in front of people for the same price as, say, New Zealand.” Wise words, indeed.

It’s not local wine when you’re buying grapes from another state

local wineColorado craft brewer says its new wine is innovative, but it’s the same approach Big Wine uses

Craft beer made name its name on authenticity and honesty. This was in marked contrast to Big Beer, which kept selling the same worn out and bland fizz for no other reason than because that’s what Big Beer did.

So what happens when a craft beer producer moves into wine? Does it bring the same authenticity and honesty that it brought to beer? Not, apparently, if it’s a leading Colorado craft producer called Odell Brewing.

Maybe Odell Brewing has a reason for making its wine with out of state grapes instead of those from its native Colorado — which is hardly craft, authentic or honest. I asked, but never heard back from the company. Maybe someone there truly believes the twaddle in its news release, that Odell claims it “is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of modern American wine.” And that “we’re committed to making wine that is just as innovative as our beer.”

Because making wine with out of state grapes is the sort of thing that small wine producers criticize Big Wine for doing, and that those of us who believe in Drink Local have been fighting against for years. It’s neither innovative nor boundary pushing; rather, it’s just a way to cut costs, since those grapes will probably be cheaper than buying Colorado grapes.

And Odell’s wines – a red and white blend, plus two roses, and all made with grapes purchased from Oregon and Washington – are hardly breathtaking. And that the wines will come in cans? Not exactly innovative, either, not in the middle of 2020.

Let’s be clear here – Odell can do whatever it wants, and I’m not criticizing the company for making wine. Rather, it’s because Odell is pretending that its wine effort is something that it’s not.

In fact, I can’t help but think that someone at Odell and its wholesaler, Breakthru Beverage (the third biggest in the country) wanted to duplicate the almost unprecedented success of Cooper’s Hawk. That’s the restaurant and winery chain that uses California grapes no matter where its stores are located. For one thing, Breakthru is mentioned in the second paragraph in the news release, and that’s just odd. Why would anyone care who the distributor is?

So good luck to Odell – just don’t expect anyone who knows local wine to pretend your product is local.

Winebits 651: Walmart, Grocery Outlet, neo-Prohibitionists

WalmartThis week’s wine news: Walmart will appeal take Texas liquor store case to Supreme court, plus blog favorite Grocery Outlet wins award and the neo-Prohibitionists strike again

Walmart appeal: Walmart, rebuffed twice by a federal appeals court, will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to be allowed to open liquor stores in Texas. We’ve followed this closely on the blog, since Walmart is trying to overturn a state law that forbids publicly-held or out of state companies from getting a retail liquor license (one of the WC’s favorite three-tier restrictions). Walmart won its case at the trial level, but was rebuffed twice by the the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. There’s no certainty the Supreme Court will take Walmart’s case. But if it does, expect some serious three-tier fireworks.

Award-winner: The Wine Enthusiast has named blog favorite Grocery Outlet as one of its 50 best U.S. wine retailers. This is a big deal, if only because Grocery Outlet — best known for its cheap wine — is still mostly on the West Coast. The award puts Grocery Outlet in the same class as Costco, perhaps the U.S. leader in what the magazine calls “value-driven” wine.

One glass of wine: An influential federal panel, reports Forbes, is recommending that men reduce alcohol intake to one drink per day, and that all Americans should cut back on added sugars. Who knew that a couple of glasses of wine were as deadly as that quart of vanilla ice cream? But that’s the finding from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which says that the extra glass of wine is associated with a “modest but meaningful increase” in death rates.

Winebits 650: Canned wine, wine advice, half bottles

canned wineThis week’s wine news: Will aluminum shortage slow canned wine’s growth? Plus, sensible advice in a new book and the popularity of half bottles

Canned wine: Two blog readers reported an absence of canned soft drinks during supermarket visits recently, which seemed odd. Who runs out of diet Coke? Turns out the pandemic has screwed up the aluminum supply chain, thanks to increasing demand for canned beer during the duration. Says one supplier for the wine business: “We have to ensure that we don’t get into a toilet paper situation.” In addition, some beer and wine producers have seen price gouging from can suppliers.

Keep it simple: A new wine book has given the WC reason for hope. “‘How to Drink Wine” (Clarkson Potter, $17), by Chris Stang and Grant Reynolds, wants to make wine as accessible as possible. Says Stang: “Wine can be intimidating for some people. Some might think they don’t have the time to ‘be into wine.” You can learn by just drinking wine with friends and talking about it.” Sound familiar? And lots more welcome than most of the “advice”” we get from the wine business?

Bring on the half bottles: The 375 ml bottle, not especially common before the pandemic, is enjoying a resurgence. Reports the Wine Enthusiast: “Easily shippable for virtual tastings and a sensible substitute for by-the-glass service, the small-format bottle is especially suited to pandemic life.” One East Coast retailer increased his half-bottle inventory by 60 percent, and several retailers have told me they can’t keep the smaller size in stock.

One more reason to be wary of alcohol health studies

alcohol health studiesFinnish researchers find – gasp – that people who abuse alcohol have higher health costs

The Wine Curmudgeon, long suspicious of alcohol health studies, is not surprised by one of the latest, which links alcoholism with higher health costs. What is surprising is the headline on the news release: “Researchers put a price tag on alcohol use” – which, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the study.

First and foremost, let me remind everyone I know first-hand the horrors of alcoholism and abuse. A friend died from them; two more are long-time members of abuse support groups. So I am not making light of alcoholism or saying it isn’t a problem.

Rather, it’s to note, once again, that there is a difference between alcohol abuse and moderate drinking, and which is something that has apparently been shunted aside in the rash of “all drinking is evil” studies we’ve seen over the past couple of years. Drinking is not cigarette smoking, no matter what one study claimed, and drinking wine in moderation is no worse, and may even be more healthy, than regularly eating nitrate-laced supermarket hot dogs. Which, of course, no one has yet done a study about.

This effort, on the other hand, was reaffirming the obvious. Finnish researchers, using what they called a “novel” methodology, say it costs an additional €26,000 (around US$30,000) over five years to treat patients with multiple alcohol abuse factors, such such as homelessness and drug abuse. It also recommends that people with alcohol use disorders should get better treatment for their non-alcohol related conditions.

Which is all well and good, but hardly unusual. So how did the release that ended up in my inbox carry that headline? After reading it, one expects to find the social and health costs of all drinking, moderate and abusive, listed. Which aren’t there and wasn’t the study’s intention.

Maybe the reason is as simple as the headline on the Finnish study being badly translated into English. Maybe it’s nothing more than more bad marketing and public relations work, each of which as gotten progressively worse over the past several years as agencies cut back on employees and training.

And maybe it’s part and parcel of positioning all such studies as being about drinking and doom, and working on the gullibility of newspapers, websites, and the like where the bosses are more concerned with their bonuses than with quality journalism.

I assume it’s one of the first two, and probably the second. I’m terrified it’s the third.

Join the Wine Curmudgeon for a virtual Happy Hour tonight

virtual tasting

“Damn. Who knew a WC virtual tasting would be this popular?”

The WC will taste two great cheap wines, take questions, and maybe even go off on a rant or two

Blog readers spoke, and the Wine Curmudgeon made it work – with lots and lots of help from my friends at the American Wine Society. Hence, a virtual happy Hour at 7 p.m. EDT tonight. Best yet, everyone is welcome, even if you’re not a member of the AWS.

So what will we taste? Cheap wine, of course – one of the blog’s favorite roses, the La Vieille Ferme, as well as one of the best cheap pinot noirs out there, from the always top-notch McManis family.

Don’t have those? Not to worry – drink what’s on hand, and we can visit anyway. I’ll talk about why I do what I do and why cheap wine is important, discuss the two wines, offer a few thoughts about wine during the duration, and perhaps go off on a rant or two. Plus, of course, take questions. Click this link to join the fun; the AWS uses Zoom for their events.

Winebits 649: Wine snobs, pandemic wine, focus groups

wine snobsThis week’s wine news: Wine Folly takes on wine snobs, plus South African wine shops re-open, and a better way to do wine focus groups

Wine snobs during the duration: The Wine Folly website lists its 50 favorite wine snob moments from the past couple of months, courtesy of its readers. The list is a little long to get through, and some of the complaints could only come from wine geeks. Having said that, though, how can one not enjoy a list that includes the time someone brought their own bottle of wine to a tasting, since it was better than the wine at the tasting? Or the time a sommelier sniffed a screwcap? My favorite? The person who told a group of winemakers what was wrong with each of their wines. Which, of course, I have never, ever seen any of my colleagues do at a tasting.

Wine returns to South Africa: Liquor stores weren’t seemed essential during South Africa’s pandemic lockdown, so there was much rejoicing when they recently re-opened. The BBC reports long lines formed outside stores, and loud cheers were heard when they opened. But several resrtictions remained: Stores were only allowed to be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and anything bought at the store can only be drunk at home and not at the store.

Wine focus groups: The Wine Curmudgeon’s antipathy for wine focus groups is well-known, since it gives us wines that tend to taste alike – “smooth, devoid of character and interest, and overpriced. So I was intrigued by this: Wine Opinions tracks wine consumption, but it actually hasn’t been able to hold any traditional focus groups during the duration. So it has refined its process, where it says it has “perfected online qualitative research methodology that provides not just an alternative, but a new form of qualitative research superior in many ways to the traditional focus group.” If so, maybe it will rub off on others who do focus groups.