Category:Wine news

2020 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

2020 $10 Hall of FameJust six wines entered the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame, and it’s probably going to get worse

Remember how distraught I was about last year’s $10 Hall of Fame? I’m even more distraught this year; compiling the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame was an exercise in misery — and that’s even before I started worrying about tariff-induced price increases.

Just six wines entered the Hall, five dropped out, and none of the new wines were roses or from California. My notes contained so few “HoF 2020” notations that I went through almost all the wines I drank last year, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I didn’t.

How did we get to this point? Premiumization, of course, as well as the dumbing down of what’s left of wine costing less than $15. Big Wine, Big Retail, and all the rest are convinced that if they make wine taste less wine-like by adding sweetness, fake oak flavors, and purple grape juice concentrate, they’ll convince people who don’t drink wine to drink it. Which, as White Claw demonstrated, doesn’t really work.

Availability, always a problem, got worse last year thanks to wholesaler consolidation. There are too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they prefer Big Wine products. Since most of the most interesting cheap wines are from smaller, niche producers, they can’t find a distributor (or suffer a small one with little clout) and disappear from shelves.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s proposed 100 percent tariff would double the price of European wine, which means there would be almost no $10 wine worth drinking or writing about. If that happens, the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame might well be the last one.

Some good news

The six wines that entered the Hall are top-notch, as good as anything I’ve tasted in 20-some years of wine drinking. That includes the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year, Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay; the return of the Gascon classic, Domaine Tariquet; the stunning Portuguese red and white Herdade do Esporão Alandra; the 1-liter Azul y Garanza tempranillo; and the French white blend, Little James Basket Press.

The complete 2020 $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 627: Happy New Year 2020 edition

legal weed

This week’s wine news: Beaujolais legend Georges Duboeuf dies, plus the Italian Wine Guy critiques wine writing, and Canada’s legal weed bubble bursts

An icon dies: Georges Duboeuf, one of the icons of French wine, died on Saturday. He was 86. Dubouef, known as the Pope of Beaujolais, almost single-handedly made the release of Beaujolais Nouveau an international event every November. Said one of his competitors: He “was responsible for “raising the Beaujolais flag all over the world. He had a nose, an intuition, [he was] a step ahead of everyone.”

• “A pitiful thing:” Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy, doesn’t mince words in assessing the state of wine writing: “Wine writing has become a pitiful thing. There are so many bad articles about wine, misspelled, written from a perspective that sounds more like someone is pushing a (p.r.) agenda rather than trying to educate the readers. …But real writing, real good writing?” Cevoola writes this as someone who has been around wine writing for decades, both as a retailer and wholesaler and as a successful wine writing. So his opinion is worth pondering.

Not so fast: Legal weed in Canada was going to make everyone rich when it debuted a year ago – and the wine business was more than a little worried about how it would hurt sales. Turns out, hardly at all, reports the BBC, with Canadians sill buying pot from the “black market.” Or, as we used to say, “you know, the guy down the street, who knows your friend.” Says the story: “Statistics Canada estimates that about 75% of cannabis users still use illegal cannabis,” since the guy down the street is cheaper and more convenient. Which, in retrospect, seems quite obvious.

Photo: “Wine Train – The restaurant” by micurs is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Wine prices 2020

wine prices 2020

Damn those Europeans and their snotty wine. No self-respecting American likes that junk.

The current 25 percent European wine tariff, which may turn into a 100 percent covering all European wine, makes deciphering wine prices 2020 a sad and painful duty

Forecasting wine prices 2020 should have been easy. Combine too many grapes in California with fewer wine drinkers in the U.S. and Europe, and throw in the beginning of the end of premiumization. The result? Steady to lower wine prices, and maybe a lot lower, by the end of the year.

And then the tariffs happened.

The first, last October, seemed horrible. And then we heard about plans to impose a 100 percent tariff on all European wine, which would effectively double the price of every bottle of wine made in Europe and sold in the U.S. And suddenly, 25 percent didn’t seem so horrible.

Tariffs artificially raise prices, and economic theory says consumers then switch to cheaper, similar domestic products. But the similar products are not as cheap as the original, so the consumer is paying to prop up a domestic industry. Which pretty much explains the popularity of tariffs on goods like steel.

But there are very few $13 California wines that are similar to $10 French or Spanish wines. Wine isn’t finished steel. So in my search for a cheaper product, economic theory says I could well move from wine to something even cheaper, like beer or White Claw — especially if I’m buying wine on price. Which is the dark, dirty secret of the wine business.

In this, the tariff will push wine prices 2020 up, until demand weakens so much that no one will buy wine at the tariff-inflated prices. Then we will have shelves full of wine, including domestic, way too many grapes, and even weaker demand than before. How much fun will that be?

And, among all this mayhem, there would be little point to the blog. Somehow, I don’t think that’s supposed to be the result of a political dispute about aircraft parts.

Havoc and destruction

In this, the 100 percent tariff would come close to destroying the European wine business while wreaking havoc on U.S. wine retailing, distribution, and importing. That’s because the U.S. is the EUs biggest wine market, accounting for more than one-quarter of its exports. The tariff would all but eliminate the market for European wine in this country; who’s going to pay $30 for a $15 bottle? It would also lead to bankruptcies, layoffs, and business closings among retailers, importers, and distributors. That includes the largest wholesalers, who, I’m told, are just as worried about the end of the French wine market in the U.S. as their smallest competitors.

So I’m going to do something I have done but once in the blog’s history: Get political. When the publisher of the Wine Spectator and I agree about something, then there’s no time to waste.

The 100 percent tariff is nothing but spite, a finger in the eye of the EU for no legitimate reason by a Trump administration that apparently has no understanding of economics or tariffs. For it, it’s easier to tweet trade war bravado than to understand the implications of the Smoot-Hawley tariff in the 1930s. That U.S. citizens will suffer far more from the tariff than U.S. aircraft companies will benefit is beyond their comprehension.

And it’s not like U.S. aircraft companies need the help. Boeing, the focus of the original World Trade Organization ruling that led to the 25 percent levy, had $10.5 billion profit in 2018. That’s larger than the gross domestic product of 30 countries, and that’s just Boeing’s profit. Its revenue was $101 billion, which would make it the 177th biggest country in the world by GDP.

But Boeing gets a boost, while many U.S. wine retailers will get to go out of business. That seems fair, yes? The owner of a small wine shop in the Dallas area, with a wife and child, can ponder his fate (as well as ousted Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s $62 million farewell package) while he looks for work.

You can comment on the proposed 100 percent tariff — go to www.regulations.gov, enter docket number “USTR-2019-0003” and click search. Then, click “comment now” and explain why this is not a good idea. Comments are open until Jan. 13.

And those of you who disagree with me – you’re more than welcome to pay $20 for $10 wine. Enjoy the privilege.

Winebits 626: The Happy New Year edition

joy of cookingThis week’s wine news: The new Joy of Cooking does wine, plus bad news on the consumption front and the relationship between wine and God

The Joy of Wine: The new version of the iconic Joy of Cooking has a terrific section on wine. It’s an outstanding introductory guide to making sense of wine as it relates to cooking — simply written, without too much winespeak, and it doesn’t talk down to its readers. Plus, it strikes a blow for screwcaps. This is my third Joy, and it’s easily the best of the three when it comes to wine. And it remains an indispensable cookbook. Highly recommended..

More bad news: More of us are drinking spirits and fewer are drinking wine, and the difference between the two numbers is reaching historic levels. That’s according to a recent report by SipSource, which tracks wine and spirits sales by distributors. The report calls the difference “epic,” noting that “the divide is widening – the trend gap between wine and spirits has grown to +5.4 percent.” Even rose’s growth has slowed, something few of us expected.

In search of God? A California religious studies professor says wine may help people deepen their connection to something bigger than themselves, including God. Stephen Lloyd-Moffett’s book “The Spirit of Wine, Finding Religion in the Fruit of the Vine,” says wine is often associated with social activity, sharing, and feelings of gratitude and deep thinking — all qualities associated with religion. This is an intriguing approach, and it does help put Catholicism’s use of wine into some sort of context. But I do wonder what the neo-Prohibitionists would say.

Winebits 625: The Happy Holidays edition

gerrit cole

Gerrit, dude, think $10 Bieler Provencal rose.

This week’s wine news: A $900 wine helped the New York Yankees sign Gerrit Cole, the best free agent pitcher on the market. Plus, a couple of decidedly Bah Humbug developments about the wine tariff and distributors.

I’ll take two, please: The New York Yankees may not have signed top free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole because they threw a record-setting $324 million at him. Rather, a couple of bottles of $900 Italian wine may have been equally as important. The Yankees gave Cole the 2004 and 2005 Massetto — made with merlot, of all things — and he practically melted. If I had known Cole was a wine aficionado, I could have helped my beloved Chicago Cubs sign Cole. Frankly, he would get a better deal with 180 bottles of the $10 Bieler Provencal rose than two bottles of an Italian merlot, no matter how good it is (and my Italian wine expert says it’s good, but not that good).

More tariff threats: The U.S. government is considering boosting October’s 25 percent tariff to 100 percent and including almost all beer, wine, and spirits produced in any European Union country. That would include those exempted in October. You can read the sad details at the link; why anyone would want to destroy the European booze business is beyond me. That’s just spite. I’ve talked to a couple of importers and producers, and they’re urging wine drinkers who think this thing is foolish to leave a comment with the feds. Go to www.regulations.gov, enter docket number “USTR-2019-0003” and click search. Then, click “comment now” and leave your comments/concerns. Comments are open until Jan. 13.

Not enough distributors? The WC has written quite a bit about distributor consolidation, and how it benefits no one but the distributors and their biggest customers. Turns out someone agrees with me. Cyrus Azari, writing for a trade blog, says there may not be enough distributors for all of the wine in the market, and this is a “huge pain point for wineries who get cut off from markets.” In other words, no distributor means the wine can’t appear on store shelves, since the law requires every wine to have a distributor. That sounds like a fair system, yes?

Winebits 624: Scratch and sniff, Gallo-Constellation deal, Amazon wine

scratchand sniff

“Hmmm.. is that gardenias and lilacs?”

This week’s wine news: Scratch and sniff wine corks, plus Gallo and Constellation rework their wine deal and Amazon launches private label wine in Europe

It smells so good: How about scratch and sniff wine corks? Amorim, one of the largest closure producers in the world, has developed wine stoppers that contain a fragrance, as well as a complementary spray that can be sold with the wine. Call it perfume for wine. There’s no indication in the story in the link, which reads like a cut and paste news release, how the fragrance doesn’t get in the way of the wine’s aroma — which would seem to be a serious problem. In addition, the scratch and sniff product is part of a new line of closures that includes one with an LED and one that changes color when the wine is at the correct temperature.

Not so fast: E&J Gallo and Constellation Brands have revised their massive wine sale after a warning from U.S. government regulators. The original $1.7 billion deal has been reduced to $1.1 billion, and Constellation won’t include several brands that would have given Gallo too big a share of the U.S. market in several categories. That includes Cook’s California Champagne, a $7 sparkling wine, since Gallo already owns Andre, a similarly priced California bubbly. Expect Constellation, which is running away from wine as quickly as possible in favor of legal weed, to dump Cook’s on someone else.

Amazon wine: Amazon has launched its own-branded wine in Europe. The story in the link, which focuses on how this might affect California, misses the point – that it’s likely illegal for Amazon to do this in the U.S. It also misses the point about Amazon’s competition in Europe, which aren’t high-end wineries, but supermarkets selling €10 wine. So the on-line retailer is selling €20 wine in Europe, apparently because it doesn’t want to compete with Aldi, Lidl, and the rest.

Jim Caudill: 1950-2019

jim caudill

Jim Caudill

Jim Caudill was a consummate professional, as well as a hell of a nice guy. How do you say goodbye to someone like that?

Jim Caudill was a professional, and I can’t think of higher praise for someone who does what we do. And I can’t believe I’m never going to talk to him again.

But Jim died over the weekend, and so I won’t.

I’ve known Jim since I wrote about wine for a Fort Worth newspaper. He did marketing at Hess, Brown-Forman, and most recently at Treasury Wine Estates. At each, he always returned phone calls and emails, always gave an honest answer to a question, and never once complained if I wrote a review that didn’t fit the company line. Jim would just send me another sample. How is someone like that going to be replaced?

Three things – among very many – stand out:

• Jim knew the ins and outs of how Big Wine worked, whether it was the complexities of pricing or how to sell lots of wine in supermarkets. And he was happy to share his knowledge with me. I have an email, and I’m looking at it now, that he sent for a story I’m trying to get a handle on. I took many PhD seminars the wine business from Jim, and just because I was curious.

• When Treasury released its 19 Crimes virtual reality wine labels, Jim emailed me. This is a great story, he wrote. We’re doing something that no one else is doing. Jim, I wrote back, I don’t like the wine, and I don’t think wine should be sold because of the label. Yes, he emailed me in return. But I figured you would have a more open mind about something as intriguing as this. And he was correct – I should have had a more open mind and not dismissed the labels because I was feeling cranky.

• Jim was in Dallas to attend a major wine event when he worked for Hess, sponsored by one of the big wine magazines. We met for a glass of wine beforehand, and he asked if I was going to the tasting. He could even get me in. “Jim,” I said, “the tasting will be full of over-priced, snooty wine and over-priced and snooty people. Why would I want to go?” Later, I asked Jim how the event went. He laughed. “Remember what you told me?” And then described a woman who came to the Hess table, saw it wasn’t expensive enough, and walked off.

In all of this, Jim Caudill was a nice guy, and we don’t have nearly enough of those in the wine business. So long, my friend.

There’s a Go Fund Me page in honor of .Jim and his Sonoma County property, Windborne Farm