Category:Wine news

Winebits 673: sales, restaurant wine, tasting notes

wine.comThis week’s wine news: reports 217 percent sales increase, plus restaurants are headed in the opposite direction and another critic ponders the need for toasty and oaky sales:, the U.S.’ biggest on-line wine retailer, ended the first six months of its fiscal year with a 217 percent sales increase compared to the previous 12 months. Can anyone say pandemic? Even without the increase in on-line retail caused by the coronavirus, sales for the previous 12 months were up 102 percent. One key to the jump: repeat sales from customers who pay $49 a year for free shipping, similar to Amazon Prime’s free shipping. Sales from those customers increased by about one-fifth more than overall sales for the past 12 months, as more of those customers bought more wine on-line. This raises the question again: How, once the retail world returns more or less to normal, will we be able to go back to thinking of on-line wine as something special, and not something we buy every day?

Not so good news: Tom Wark, writing on the Fermentation blog, asks: “Do we allow a huge swath of restaurants across the country to simply disappear in the wake of COVID and state’s restaurant shutdown orders or do we act to aid these institutions?” This has been the elephant in the room as the pandemic continues, with restaurants — rightly or wrongly — bearing the burst of government restrictions. I don’t know that I agree with all Tom writes, but his piece is well worth reading.

No tasting notes: Guy Woodward, writing in the British trade magazine Harpers, pulls no punches: “Who reaps the benefit, for example, of reading that a wine has notes of  ‘gentian, elderflower, seaweed, mussels, salt spray, chicken stock, sage, fennel, peach kernel, lemon, alkali and wet stone’?” This is the second British shot over the winespeak and tasting notes bow in recent weeks — quite a surprising development, given how entrenched the two are. Again, reason for optimism that some in the wine business understand the need to make wine more accessible.

Winebits 672: Birthday week 2020, or international tensions clobber the blog

internatinal tensionsBirthday week 2020 wine news: Foreign visitors? What foreign visitors? Plus, Linux surges and Firefox doesn’t

Not in this country: China, which was the big visitor news last year, wasn’t this year. Chinese blog traffic dropped 83 percent. Beijing, last year’s top city, fell to 16th with an 85 percent decline. Meanwhile, 19 of the top 20 cities were in the U.S., led by New York. And I don’t know that that has ever been the case. But that’s what happens when we throw up trade barriers and bluster at the rest of the world.

Poor, poor pitiful Firefox: Those of us old enough to remember the second browser war, when Firefox was going to save us from evil Microsoft, will find this hard to believe. Less than six percent of blog visits came via some from of Firefox. Apple’s Safari, thanks to a surge in iPhone visitors, edged out Chrome, 44 to 42 percent.

Not so pitiful Linux: The pandemic, according to a variety of statistics, was supposed to be giving a boost to my beloved Linux operating system. I didn’t believe the reports, having seen Linux use on the blog stay around one percent — if not lower — over the years. So imagine my surprise when the number turned out to be 2.8 percent this year — four times what it was last year. Having said that, obsolete Windows systems (Windows XP, 8.0/8.1, and Vista) totaled five percent. So I guess the world still isn’t ready for the year of the Linux desktop.

Wine Curmudgeon most popular posts 2020

popular posts 2020
“Churro, we need to find a way to boost blog traffic. Your being cute didn’t do much.”

The Wine Curmudgeon’s most popular posts 2020: Not necessarily about cheap wine, and a lot fewer visitors

What does one make of a blog about cheap wine when a majority of the most popular posts weren’t about cheap wine — or  were even wine reviews?

That’s where we find ourselves as the blog celebrates its 13th annual Birthday Week. Only four of the top 10 posts from November 2019 to November 2020 were sort of about cheap wine. And one was about as far removed from cheap wine as possible — a six-year-old post about the $300 Coravin wine opener at No. 10.

Ordinarily, I’d blame all this foolishness on our overlords at Google, whose search engine algorithm has more to do with sending visitors to the blog than anything I write. But the past 12 months also saw a precipitous decline in traffic, about one-third from last year’s 600,000 or so visitors. That no doubt also contributed to the bizarre top post results — fewer visitors exaggerates the importance of the posts that do get traffic.

So what caused the drop? The pandemic, almost certainly, combined with the U.S. presidential election. There were other things on people’s minds that didn’t involve finding a $10 wine that doesn’t taste like alcoholic grape juice. Even sites like Linkedin, which should be immune, may have had some traffic declines.

Which I understand. The problem comes if traffic doesn’t recover if and when we get back to normal toward the end of next year. What’s the point of a wine blog where no one wants to read about wine?

The top 10 posts of 2020:

1. The four-year-old “Barefoot wine: Why it’s so popular.” This was the top post in 2019, as well, and was No. 7 in 2018. But it didn’t make the top 10 in 2016 or 2017, which makes no sense given how the Internet is supposed to work.

2. The Kim Crawford wine ad critique, which moved up from fifth in 2019. There are 38  comments, most very harsh about the ad; that’s not only a lot of comments for the blog, but that so many people agreed with me is also unusual.

3. The 10-year-old Barefoot wines (again) post was third for the second year in a row. How does a post that old get so much traffic? Ask our overlords at Google.

4. The residual sugar post was fourth, after being second for two consecutive years. This is something I am quite proud of, that wine drinkers can come here and get practical information to help them make intelligent decisions.

5. The Louisiana shrimp boil wine and food pairings post l call it my contribution to making the pandemic a little less difficult It’s also the first wine and food pairings post to make the top 10.

6. Ask the WC 1 — another pandemic-specific post, I think. It offers cheap cava suggestions, though why a seven-year-old post that was only partially about cheap cava is beyond me.

7. The 2020 $10 Hall of Fame. Long gone are the days when that year’s Hall of Fame was the most visited, and a couple of others would be in the 1op 10. Again, I have no idea why, and it’s more than a little sad.

8. Will the pandemic bring permanent changes to the three-tier system? This is self-explanatory — and  one of the few hopeful things to come out of this year.

9. A post about discount wine retailer Grocery Outlet. Which, hopefully, is coming soon to a town near you.

10. That damned Coravin post. I wonder if it’s because I actually discussed its value to wine drinkers, instead of fawning over it like most of the Winestream Media.

A few other thoughts:

• The $10 wine category was 34th for the second year in a year. Double sigh.

• The various five-day, $3 wine challenge posts dropped out of the top 10. The highest ranking one was 15th, and again, I have no idea what that means. One would think this would be a very popular pandemic-related post.

• My undercover, illegal interstate wine shipping post was 16th, which isn’t bad since it didn’t post until the end of July.

More about the blog’s top posts:
2019 top posts
2018 top posts
2017 top posts

Wine tariff update: It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better

tariff warNew 25 percent EU spirits tariff threatens to ratchet trade war up another notch

The good news about repealing the 25 percent Trump European wine tariff? The administration that levied it will be gone in a couple of months. The bad news? A couple of commentators don’t see the Biden Administration as being necessarily more friendly toward trade and the European Union.

Alan Beattie, writing in The Financial Times, says the new administration won’t be as loopy on trade as Trump’s was, but that the days of free-traders Bill Clinton and Barack Obama won’t soon return. A Biden Administration won’t rush into anything, and while saying it believes in free trade, may not do what we want or hope it will do.

The other bad news? This week’s 25 percent European Union duty on U.S. rum, brandy, vodka and vermouth – one more tax as part of the Airbus-Boeing aircraft parts dispute, whose sad, pathetic history has turned into something only Dickens would recognize. This is in addition to a 25 percent tariff on U.S. bourbon and other whiskeys that took effect in June 2018, while Trump retaliated with the wine and Scotch tariff last fall.

In other words, all of us who were cautiously optimistic about being cautiously optimistic were probably too optimistic. Whatever signs there were that the EU was willing to compromise with the Biden Administration disappeared with the most recent tariff. Spirits producers on both sides of the Atlantic were already reeling – one trade group puts the sales losses at more than 30 percent for Scotch labels in the EU and more than 40 percent for U.S. brown goods companies. Hence, it’s difficult to see one more tariff as a sign of good faith.

Having said that, the Financial Times’ coverage of the U.S.-EU tariff war has been universally gloomy, so that’s one thing. More importantly, we’re all adults here, and rational people on both sides must realize that throwing tariffs at each other to settle a dispute that has already been mostly settled (both aircraft companies have renounced the illegal subsidies) seems pointless – as well as economically dangerous. And isn’t the economy in enough trouble as it is?

Winebits 671: Wine descriptors, expensive booze, Gallo deal

wine descriptors
“What do you mean, they’re tired of toasty and oak?”

This week’s wine news: Are consumers tired of wine descriptors? Plus, posh tequila and the Gallo-Constellation cheap wine deal nears completion — sort of

What? Cigar box aromas don’t matter? Wine descriptors, those corny, often pretentious adjectives to describe wine, may be becoming less important. The cause? The pandemic, reports Britain’s Wine Intelligence consultancy. Consumers are buying more wine on-line and in supermarkets, so descriptors matter less. That’s because we have less time — or no time at all — to read the back label, where toasty and oaky make their appearance. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the study applies only to the United Kingdom, but we can have hope, yes?

Bring on the rich guys: Is spending $1,450 for bottle of wine not enough for you? Then How about a $250 tequila? That’s Elon Musk’s new product, called — not surprisingly — Tesla Tequila, after his car company. It’s already sold out, of course, since those are the times we live in. My favorite part of the product? The descriptors, of course: “dry fruit and light vanilla nose with a balanced cinnamon pepper finish.” And the bottle is shaped like a lightning bolt, which could present problems if you drink too much at one time.

Gallo-Constellation deal: The end is in sight for the $1.1 billion deal, in which Constellation Brands is selling most of its cheap wine labels to E&J Gallo. Originally, Constellation wanted $3 billion, but that never happened. The two-year sale has had a troubled history, which includes federal government  anti-trust concerns. Constellation expects it to finally end sometime next year. That will allow the company to spend more time on its ber and legal weed businesses.

Winecast 54: Melanie Ofenloch and wine’s #MeToo moment

Melanie Ofenloch
Melanie Ofenloch: Yes, wine has a good old boys network.

“It’s something that is so pervasive and such a part of the fabric of how men feel they can take things. It’s just not right.”

Melanie’s post about the podcast and the sommelier sex scandal

Melanie Ofenloch writes the Dallas Wine Chick blog, and is well regarded for her work. But that’s not her day job — she is a long-time top-level marketer, and she has traveled the world for a variety of multi-national companies. As such, she lends a unique perspective to wine’s #MeToo moment.

And, not surprisingly, says Melanie, the Court of Master Sommelier sex scandal is no different than anything she has seen in the business world. The surprise is that so many people accepted it as part of the culture. But the stories that have come out, she says, don’t even scratch the surface.

So why were people in wine so complacent? Why did it take so long for this to come out? Why did it happen in wine, which prides itself on being different? And what can be done to fix it?

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 13 minutes long and takes up almost 9 megabytes. Quality is mostly excellent.

The WC Wine Business Index: Four more signs the wine glut is upon us

grape glutThe grape glut means there’s lots of cheap wine on the market, from Aldi to Costco to Albertson’s

This is the first of two parts looking at the conundrum that is wine pricing today – we’re awash in cheap, often crummy. wine, while the prices of the world’s great wines are at all-time highs. Today, part I: The grape glut, and what it means for consumers. Part II: How we got to the point where no one but the ultra rich can afford the world’s great wines.

How do we know the wine glut is upon us? Because the Wine Curmudgeon’s Wine Business Index tells us so. How about $2 wine in many of Albertson’s California stores? An Aldi chardonnay where the bottle probably cost more than the wine inside it? Or a constant flow of samples this fall of cheap wine that I’ve near heard of before?

In other words, there are lots and lots of grapes in California, and neither the Trump tariff or increased on-line sales have done anything to fix it. And why do we care about a grape glut? Because if there are too many grapes, we’re going to see cheaper wine prices, thanks to the law of supply and demand. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see lower prices on established wines; rather, what I’m hearing is that producers are “inventing” cheap wine brands or making private label wine to soak up excess grapes.

First, though, what you need to know about the WC Wine Business Index. It’s my attempt to overcome the contradictions, inaccuracies, and confusion that are inherent in most wine statistics. I interview retailers, producers, and marketers from around the country to see if I can outline where the wine business is and what it means for consumers.

Alive and well

And from what I’ve found, the glut is alive and well:

• Consider Albertson’s Sea Ridge wines, which have been marked down to $2.21 from $3.49 in many of the chain’s West Coast stores. At that price, the supermarket is more or less selling the wine at cost. (And a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to blog regular Nick Angel for sending this my way.)

• Aldi’s $8 Exquisite California chardonnay. It comes in a heavy bottle (about 21 ½ ounces) with a deep punt and a heavy foil cap. This is could well be a “shiner,” said one long-time Sonoma winemaker. That means the wine was bottled by another producer, but sold to Aldi at a discount. “I haven’t tasted it,” said the winemaker, “but it would have been produced by someone who thought they would sell it for $30-plus a bottle, but it became ‘albatross inventory’ and got sold real cheap.”

Costco’s Kirkland Sonoma chardonnay, which has sold for $7 or $8 for the past couple of vintages That’s an almost unheard of price, even for a deep discounter like Costco. It works out to about $3 a bottle for the wine (allowing for $2,400 a ton for chardonnay and 756 bottles to a ton). So, somehow, the cost of production and any profit has to come out of the other $4 or $5. (Another tip o’ the WC’s fedora to blog regular Walter Blood for sending this my way.)

• Sample after sample of wine costing $15 and less from producers I’ve never heard of. Typically, this only happens when there are excess grapes and chance to make a wine at high margins even at lower prices.

Having said all of this, one Napa winemaker told me she doesn’t expect the glut to last much after the 2020 vintage. This year’s harvest almost certainly won’t be as big as 2019’s, which will limit production. So the future for prices as we go into 2021 remains uncertain.