Category:Wine news

Winebits 582: Wine scores, corkage, nutrition labels

wine scoresThis week’s wine news: A Swiss study finds wine scores continue to be unreliable, plus an Aussie restaurant jacks up the corkage fee and a consumer group consortium asks for nutrition labels

Not really: David Morrison, analyzing wine scores from two top U.S. critics, does not mince words: “I have rarely seen scores differ by this much — 13 points is a lot of quality-score difference. It is pertinent, I think, to ask whether these two people were actually tasting the same wines!” In other words, his math confirms what those of us who don’t use scores have said for years. Scores, at best, are an overview. At worst, they’re damaging to the wine business, confusing consumers and putting people off wine they might otherwise like.

Yikes: A Swiss wine merchant claims an Australian restaurant charged him A$8,000 (about US$5,700) to bring eight of his own bottles to dinner. The story, from London’s Daily Mail newspaper, doesn’t have quite as many facts as I would like, but seems to be legitimate. This practice is called corkage – when one brings their own wine, the restaurant charges a corkage fee. It ranges from $10 to $30 a bottle; this way, the restaurant can make up for the lost sale but not gouge the guest. In this case, though, the Swiss claims he was charged $725 a bottle, about five times the value of the wine. It’s good to see Australian wine service can be as shabby as service in this country.

Yes, labels: So much for the Wine Curmudgeon’s good intentions. I promised that last week’s post would be the final effort on the blog  about ingredient and nutrition labels, but then this happened: The Center for Science in the Public Interest and 67 other groups have asked the federal government to require labels “covering alcohol content by percentage and amount, serving size, calories, ingredients, allergen information, and other information relevant to consumers.” Which, of course, is what I have been begging the wine business to do for years.

Winecast 35: Dave Falchek, American Wine Society

dave falchekDave Falchek, the executive director of the American Wine Society, is more optimistic about wine’s future, and especially with younger consumers

Dave Falchek, the executive director of the American Wine Society, gets a different perspective on the future of the wine business, what with being around wine drinkers more often than most. As such, he is more optimistic about wine’s future, and especially with younger consumers.

Dave’s point: There are millions of Americans turning 21, the legal drinking age, and there is no reason to assume they won’t be interested in wine just because the rest of us are so cranky about the subject. Younger consumers are more open to new ideas, so why not wine, he asks? Just don’t assume it’s going to be the same thing their parents and grandparents drink.

In this, Dave knows of what he speaks: The AWS is the largest and oldest organization of wine drinkers in the United States.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 11 1/2 minutes long and takes up 4.2 megabytes. The sound quality is very good; Skype’s new recording feature is still a Microsoft project with all that means.

The final “nutrition and ingredient labels for wine are a good thing” post

ingredient labelsOne more study shows consumers use ingredient labels and that it influences what we buy

The Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated nutrition and ingredient labels for wine, but the response has been silence punctuated by more than a few cat calls. So, rather than continue to elicit abuse, consider this the final post on the subject. I can’t make the point any more forcefully other than to report this story:

An analysis of studies that looked at how labeling on food packaging, point-of-sale materials and restaurant menus prompted consumers to eat fewer calories and fat; reduce their choice of other unhealthy food option; and eat more vegetables.

What more do we need to know about the efficacy of labels? How much better off would wine be if each bottle listed calories, fat, and the like? Wouldn’t consumers benefit to know that there are about half the calories in a glass of wine than in a jelly doughnut? Wouldn’t they feel better knowing their wine was mostly fermented grape juice instead of something like Dr Pepper – with its 250 calories, high fructose corn syrup, and four percent of the daily value of sodium?

The wine business disagrees, and just not because it doesn’t want consumers to know wine sometimes has a lot more in it than fermented grape juice. Instead, I will get emails and comments citing another part of the study: Consumers “also selected 13 percent fewer other unhealthy food options such as sugar-sweetened beverages, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic caloric beverages, french fries, potatoes, white bread, and foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars or sodium.”

My answer: Doesn’t wine need to do something drastic when it’s compared to french fries, white bread, and sugar-sweetened beverages? When consumers think your product is as nasty as french fries, you’ve got nothing else to lose.

So read this, and know the way the world is going. And know that the wine business is headed in a completely different direction.

More about nutrition and ingredient labels:

Wine and GMO labeling
Update: Nutrition labels and what the wine business doesn’t understand
Nutrition labels for booze

Winebits 581: Wine humor, Cooper’s Hawk, wine palates

wine humorThis week’s wine news: Even The Onion can’t make wine humor funny, plus Cooper’s Hawk may be for sale and women may not have better palates than men

Still not funny: The Onion, which can make almost anything funny, can’t do it with wine. A recent effort mostly recycled the cliches that have bored millions for decades, including this: “MYTH: Red wine lowers blood pressure. FACT: It’s probably not great that you’re so eager to justify drinking poison.” The blog has long considered why so much wine humor isn’t funny, but to no avail. One would think that wine offers so many targets that it would make us laugh without any effort. But apparently not. One scholarly paper, without naming wine, does offer an explanation about how humor works, and wine doesn’t really fit into any of them. Could it be that wine is so boring and cliched that wine humor is an oxymoron?

On the market? Cooper’s Hawk, the Illinois-based winery and restaurant with 25 units in nine states, may be the next target for restaurant conglomerate Darden, which owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. Ron Ruggles of Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the chain fits “quite well with what Darden would ideally seek.” And the 325,000-member wine club and 30 percent annual sales growth probably don’t hurt, either. The Wine Curmudgeon once judged with Cooper’s Hawk founder Tim McEnery at the Indy International, and famously told him the concept didn’t sound like it would be too successful.

Wine palates: Do women have better palates than man? That has been accepted for as long as I’ve been writing about wine, but one study says it may not be true. Research using wine competition scores says men and women taste wine with equal precision, something that bothered me when I read it. That’s because wine judging isn’t exactly tasting. As one expert says in the story, judging “is not very good sensory [evaluation] …. The sheer number of wines they go through in that time frame is hugely fatiguing. There has been some interesting work that shows that wine judging is very inconsistent.” So more work needs to be done.

Winebits 580: The “Is legal weed taking over the world?” edition

legal weedThis week’s wine news: The many sides of legal weed and its effects – real, imagined, and anticipated – on the wine business

Not really: Tim Hearden, writing in Western Farm Press, callas legal weed “a shiny new object” – but doesn’t see it hurting the wine business much. “But they’d have a long way to go to make a serious dent in California’s $1.53 billion wine industry, and I’m not yet convinced they’ll get there, at least in the near future.” His point is common among those I’ve interviewed over the past couple of months: “The nascent cannabis industry is sure to grow. Cannabis-infused beverage consumption rose by 61 percent last year in states where it’s legal. But I see it filling its own niche, not toppling – or threatening — California’s world famous wine empire.”

Really? Legal cannabis use in Canada didn’t grow as quickly as anticipated after legalization, reports the Canadian government. In fact, the number of users barely changed since last October, when weed became legal. About 4.6 million, or 15 percent of Canadians aged 15 and older, reported using cannabis in the last three months, reported Statistics Canada. That’s the same number as reported in the third quarter and throughout 2018. The story doesn’t delve into reasons, but whatever the cause, few of the experts expected so little growth.

Yes, really: Analysts expect a $600 million market for cannabis-infused beverages in the next several years – if someone can find a cost-effective infusion process. Bloomberg News reports that the the catch is a major one, since alcohol is water-soluble and cannabis is not. That means alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, but cannabis takes far longer. So the trick with cannabis-infused drinks is to find a way for them to mimic alcohol’s affect on the drinker. And so far, no one has quite figured that out.

Winecast 34: Dave McIntyre, Washington Post

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post says those of us who care about affordable, quality wine should be worried about the direction of the wine business. But he says we can fight back.

Dave McIntyre, the wine columnist for the Washington Post, has spent the past decade fighting for affordable, quality wine — no scores or winespeak, but intelligence and passion. He’s one of the best wine writers in the country, and I’d say that even if we weren’t friends who suffered through interminable wine trip bus rides and even longer Drink Local Wine conference calls.

Dave and I talked about the challenges of the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century and what those of us who care about quality and value can do to overcome those hurdles. Something is very wrong, Dave says, when the average bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon costs $67. But there is hope, as our experiences with drink local demonstrate. Consumers will buy interesting wines that don’t taste exactly like each other, which is the promise of the regional wine movement.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is almost 20 minutes long and takes up 7.2 megabytes (and that’s Dave’s dog, Ringo, chiming in at the end). The sound quality is very good to excellent; we used Skype’s new recording feature, which works surprisingly well for a Microsoft project.

Winebits 579: Super Bowl, robot bartender, liquor museum

super bowlThis week’s wine news: The WC’s readers didn’t desert the blog during the Super Bowl, plus a grocery chain installs a robot bartender and a New York City booze museum

Thank you, readers: This year’s Super Bowl must have been as lackluster as the score indicated, since the blog didn’t suffer its usual 30 percent drop in traffic. In fact, visitors increased 21 percent over a typical Sunday, the second year in a row for better than average numbers during the game. I’m not sure why – maybe it was everyone avoiding the third successive Yellow Tail commercial. “It tastes like happy” was dumb, but it was still a marked improvement over two years of the Roo.

Do you tip it? Gelson’s Narkets, an upscale grocer in southern California, has added the Somabar robot bartender to a couple of its in-store wine bars. The machine – which loads containers of booze and mixes the cocktail in 10 seconds, uses lower-proof spirits to mirror almost two dozen drinks, including margaritas and cosmopolitans. This allows wine bars to skirt licensing issues that prevent them from serving drinks with full strength spirits.

Thousands of items: A house on Staten Island is home to the Booze History Museum, with more than 1,000 artifacts in two rooms – a jumble of signs and statuettes, hundreds of different Russian liquor labels, and 10 glass cases of booze-related bric-a-brac. Says its founder: ““When you’re talking about alcohol, it’s always just drunken driving or breaking up families. Nobody talks about how many people are getting relaxation, how many people are getting enjoyment from drinking alcohol, how many people are getting together because of alcohol.”