Category:Wine news

2021 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

2021 $10 Hall of FameGood news, and just when we need it — nine wines entered the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame

Somehow, nine wines entered 2021 $10 Hall of Fame. That’s the most since 2017, which also had nine.

How is that possible, given the Trump tariff, premiumization, and supply shortages caused by the pandemic? I’m not sure. Chalk it up to a bit of good fortune, as well as a variety of far-sighted importers and retailers who saw an opportunity in a market glutted with overpriced, supermarket-quality plonk.

All was not good news, of course. Some of  the greatest cheap wines in the history of cheap wine dropped out. France’s Chateau Bonnet red, white, and rose now cost as much as $20 each, while the importer for Italy’s much beloved Falesco Vitiano dropped the white and rose and limited distribution of the red. Two other wines dropped out — New Zealand’s Matua sauvignon blanc and the Australian Yalumba Y series rose, both for quality.

Meanwhile, availability became an even bigger problem last year. A half dozen more wines were Hall quality, but weren’t readily available, so I couldn’t use them. And even the ones I did add might be more difficult to find now than they were when I tasted them in 2020. There are still too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they don’t want products from the smaller, niche producers who make the most interesting cheap wine.

Still, given how cheap wine quality has plummeted over the past couple of years, and how pitiful last year’s Hall was, any good news is welcome. The inductees include the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year, the MAN chenin blanc from South Africa; the Campuget and Masciarelli roses; the Italian Tenuta Carpazo sangiovese and La Valentina Montelpuciano; a vinho verde, the Aveleda Fonte; the Spanish Balnea verdejo; the French Le Paradou viogner; and an old friend, the Mont Gravet carignan.

The complete 2021 $10 Wine Hall of Fame is here. You can also find it at the Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $13 or $14 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.

You’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF. Look for the printer icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

Winebits 679: Nutritional guidelines, expensive wine, wine taxes

wine and health
Damn, I’m good — I’m suffering from “quarantine 15” even though Americans are drinking less alcohol.

This week’s wine news: The WC’s beloved New York Times screws up a wine and health story, plus the eminent Jancis Robinson laments overpriced wine and wine tax relief

Even the Times: The Wine Curmudgeon has nothing but respect and admiration for the New York Times, which regularly reminds us what great newspapering can be. But the Times, apparently, has the same weak spot as the rest of the media – wine and health stories. In a story last week about new federal nutrition guidelines, Roni Caryn Rabin writes: “Confined to their homes, even those who have dodged the coronavirus itself are drinking more and gaining weight, a phenomenon often called ‘quarantine 15.’ ” I can’t speak to the weight part, but as we’ve noted on the blog since the pandemic started, Americans are probably drinking less. U.S. alcohol sales, as near as can be told, have declined during the pandemic, which would make it difficult for us to be drinking more. How this unsubstantiated sentence got into the Times – and past its topflight copy desk – is beyond me.

Too expensive: Jancis Robinson, one of the most respected wine critics in the world, agrees with the Wine Curmudgeon that wine costs too much money. She writes: “I’m not thrilled that prices for the established trophy wines of France, Italy and California have skyrocketed in recent years, putting them out of the reach of most wine drinkers, but I understand why. They are in relatively short supply and there are more and more billionaires in the world who need billionaires’ drinks. … But it does stick in my craw to see four- and even five-digit prices being asked for bottles with hardly any reputation at all.” When Jancis Robinson and I agree – and our wine worlds and perspectives have little in common – then wine really is messed up.

Tax relief: The wine business did get some good news in 2020. At the end of the year, Congress passed a law extending excise tax cuts that would have expired otherwise. The bill makes permanent a variety of credits and reductions aimed at helping the small producers who make up some 90 percent of the more than 10,000 wineries in the U.S. These days, these producers can use all the help they can get. I’ll do a podcast later this month with Michael Kaiser of the Wine America trade group, who was instrumental in getting the legislation passed.

Winebits 678: Icewine, World Market, and Manischewitz

icewineThis week’s wine news: Icewine, already rare and expensive, is getting more rare and more expensive. Plus, Bed Bath & Beyond dumps World Market and something else.

Icewine is even pricer: Canada’s Niagara region, one of the world’s most important for icewine production, is looking at one of its smallest harvests ever. One large producer may make one-quarter less wine, and smaller wineries are reducing production even more. Ironically, it’s not climate change forcing the cuts, but the pandemic. Since tourism has all but ended, winery officials say there’s less of a market for the product. Hence, prices may go up into the mid-triple digits for the best wine.

Dumping World Market: Bed Bath & Beyond, which bought Cost Plus World Market and its extensive wine retail operation in 2012, has sold the chain. The purchase didn’t make much sense then, even to amateur retail analysts, and new management at Bed Bath has finally figured that out. Selling wine and housewares isn’t that much of a fit. Ironically, Cost Plus’ wine operation is not the cheap wine heaven it was at the time of sale — these days, it’s mostly overpriced private label and Big Wine brands. The new owner is a private equity firm, and that usually means store closings and layoffs. As noted in the post I wrote in 2012, I wish this had worked out. That it didn’t may mean more bad news for Cost Plus.

The ultimate in wine nostalgia? Seth Stevenson, writing in Slate, tells us everything we need to know about Manischewitz, the Kosher wine that is known for being sweet and not very drinkable unless you like very sweet wine. He discusses its post-Prohibiton origin, its popularity in the Black community — Billy Eckstine, no less — and that it remains the best-selling Kosher wine in the country. The latter is stunning news, given that today there are Kosher wines that taste like wine. Which, of course, Manischewitz never really did.

Photo: “icewine grapes3” by Rivard is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Winebits 677: The year-end supermarket wine edition

supermarket wineThis week’s wine news: Supermarket wines could account for almost half of the wine sold in the U.S. Meanwhile, Kroger says sauvignon blanc was a 2020 hot trend and southern California retailer Gelson scores with its private label wine.

How important is supermarket wine? Pretty damned important, if this study from the American Association of Wine Economists is accurate. Its numbers show that the 30 biggest wine brands in the U.S. – all mostly supermarket labels costing $10 or less – accounted for 49.8 percent of the wine sold in the U.S. by volume in 2019. Think about that: There are more than 10,000 wineries in this country, and just 30 labels make up half of the wine sold. But that’s just part of the study. Barefoot and Franzia sell about one of every seven bottles, and their wineries, E&J Gallo and The Wine Group, control almost one of every three bottles sold. And people doubted consolidation matters? The other bit of news about this study? It’s not really news – just a slightly different take on the numbers than the annual Wine Business Monthly report, which will be released in a month or so.

Bring on the sauvignon blanc: Kroger, which ranks among the biggest wine retailers in the country, reports that sauvignon blanc – yes, that sauvignon blanc – was the fourth biggest food and drink trend in its 2,800-store national chain this year. That put the white wine between flavored potato chips and heavy whipping cream, and ahead of chocolate (No. 8) and coffee pods (No. 9). The pandemic and people drinking at home instead of restaurants no doubt accounted for the high ranking, but let’s not overlook relaxed rules on wine shipping and delivery. As noted last week, Kroger has the money and chops to flex its political muscle to keep many of the changes permanent when the pandemic ends.

Private label wine: Southern California grocer Gelson’s Markets expanded its private label wine collection in 2020, taking advantage of the wine glut to offer pricier wines than the stuff in the first item in this post. The chain added four reserve Napa wines, products that can cost as much as $100 with a winery name on them. Gelson’s is a high end retailer with a big wine commitment; about half of is 27 stores have wine bars.

Photo: “Barefoot Wine Display at Ralph’s” by JoeInSouthernCA is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Winebits 676: Prosecco, tariff, e-commerce

proseccoThis week’s wine news: Top Italian producer says cheap Prosecco is undermining the market, plus chefs oppose wine tariff and Kroger becomes top e-commerce company

Cheap Prosecco: A leading Italian producer says too many wineries are selling Prosecco at slashed prices, which is hurting the bubbly. “Prosecco is being sold at below the production cost at some retailers, which is such a big mistake,” Sandro Bottega told a virtual tasting in early December. “I don’t know how or why they do it, but it’s conveying a bad message for consumers about the product.” This is not the first time we’ve seen this complaint; it seems to happen every couple of years. In this, Bottega says producers need to produce less wine, but of higher quality at higher prices.

Chefs vs. tariff: A new chefs group has called for the Biden Administration to end all tariffs on European food, wine, and spirits via executive action on its first day in office. The group, Coalition to Stop Restaurant Tariffs, says tariffs make the pandemic that much worse for restaurants, increasing costs that they can’t already afford. The group is a who’s who of the restaurant business, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and New York City’s Daniel Bouloud. This is a big deal, not just because of the names, but also because chefs usually don’t get involved in politics like this.

Kroger e-commerce: Kroger has become the country’s ninth biggest e-tailer, the only grocer to make the list, reports Supermarket News. Why does this matter to wine drinkers? Because more than half of the wine sold in the U.S. is sold in supermarkets, and Kroger is one of the biggest. As such, it has a stake in continuing the growth of on-line wine sales that has taken place during the pandemic – and it will likely want to. I saw Kroger’s political muscle when it bankrolled a wet-dry election in Dallas after the recession; anyone who thinks it will go meekly back to the old days when the pandemic ends is mistaken.

Photo: “Birthday Prosecco” by Mel Sharlene is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Binge drinking during the pandemic — or not

binge drinking
“Forgive me, mom. I didn’t know wine with dinner would turn me into a binge drinker.”

One study says one out of three Americans are binge drinking during the pandemic; another says worldwide booze consumption will fall 8 percent this year

The Wine Curmudgeon has been trying to avoid writing wine and health posts on the blog for almost as long as the blog has been around. But then something happens, and I am forced to take keyboard in hand again.

This week, a Texas study claimed one in three of us are binge drinking during the pandemic. Meanwhile, a leading alcohol market consultancy says global booze consumption will fall eight percent this year, and “beverage alcohol volume consumption during the pandemic was down across almost all markets.” The U.S. and Canada were the exceptions – up a gigantic two points.

Sigh. Am I the only one who notices these contradictions?

Apparently not, given how much of this we’ve seen over the past couple of years, and especially during the pandemic. In this, the Mainstream Media will leap on the binge study to report we’re all passed out in front of our loved ones, reduced to a combination of drool and spittle.

So, once again, I will perform my journalistic duty and point out why the binge study can claim what it claims – and why these sorts of health studies are notoriously unreliable.

• The binge study lumps all alcohol together, which strikes me as problematic. Is binge drinking spirits worse than binge drinking wine? Does one binge one type of alcohol more than the other? Where does beer fit in? Or hard seltzer? Do we need a study to answer these questions? (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

• The definition of binge drinking is full of holes – “four alcoholic beverages per occasion.” As noted here before, that makes anyone who drinks wine with dinner a binge drinker. Even the study’s authors acknowledge this problem, writing that the study didn’t take into account the time frame for drinking – four drinks in 20 minutes vs. four drinks in four hours. Which makes me ask: So what use is the study?

• The study acknowledges that many Americans don’t drink, then ignores that to come up with the one-third number. Hence, one-third is probably a lot less if we take non-drinkers into account. Which makes me ask again: So what use is the study?

• Serious sampling errors. The authors write that the study is skewed toward rich, white people, which might mean its “alcohol consumption is overestimated compared to the general population.” Which makes me ask a third time: So what use is the study?

Please, someone, stop these health researchers before they study again.

Photo courtesy of TheJournal.ie, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 675: Wine packaging, wine writers, Brazilian wine

wine packagingThis week’s wine news: Swedish wine drinkers say plastic bottles could be OK. Plus, a gift suggestion for the wine writer on your list and Brazilian wine makes a comeback

Yes to plastic? Two-thirds of Swedish wine drinkers say they’d consider buying wine in a plastic bottle. This is stunning news, given plastic’s unsavory reputation among wine drinkers and even though Swedes are not exactly a perfect fit the for typical wine drinker. The study, from Britain’s Wine Intelligence consultancy, may be another sign that the traditional 750 ml bottle and cork-style closure has competition. Plastic and PET bottles came in third behind boxed wine (74 percent) and the 750 ml bottle (85 percent). It’s probably significant that the traditional bottle didn’t score in the 90 percent range, given that most of the wine in the world is still sold that way.

Wine, of course: The weekly PR Newswire tip sheet offers holiday gift ideas for writers. The list includes the Jed Steele Writer’s Block wines, a long-time favorite among the wine writing community. This reminds me of my failed attempt, in the blog’s early days, to get someone to make a red and white $10 blend, called something like Wine Writer’s Plonk, with a scruffy wine writing type hunched over a typewriter on the front label. Several winemakers told me the idea was not cute and would not sell and that I should stick to wine writing.

Brazilian wine: The pandemic is boosting Brazilian wine, long known mostly in this country for its role in the white zinfandel boom. China’s Xinhua news agency reports that sales were up 37 percent from 2019 to 2020, and sales in July were triple the amount in March. Brazilian wine, even in Brazil, is little respected, but the pandemic seems to be changing that. Says one analyst: “The great challenge for the sector now will be maintaining the customers that it gained during the pandemic,” after investments to improve wine quality over the past several years.

Photo courtesy BlogYourWine.com, using a Creative Commons license