Category:Wine rants

Update: Dumbest pop culture wines 2020

pop culture wines

“Damn, sold out of Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey wine.”

Pop culture wines 2020 include swimsuit models, reality shows, and pro wrestling

How could I forget to update the dumbest pop culture wines list in 2019? Chalk it up to even more wine business foolishness than usual – the 25 percent European wine tariff, the grape glut but not necessarily lower wine prices, and all the rest.

So here are the dumbest pop culture wines 2020. The list is not scientific in any way or meant to be inclusive. Talk about the headache I’d get trying to do that.

And not all wine made by celebrities or based on movies and TV is useless. My pal John Bratcher had a long talk last month with actor Kyle MacLachlan, who owns a Washington state winery. He was just as unhappy with the three-tier system as any of the rest of the us; how much more legit can MacLachlan’s wines be?

Pop culture wines are not about quality. They’re made because the grapes are cheap and the margins are high, and they get a lot of free ink, cyber and real, from the non-wine media. Because, celebrities! Or, as one review put it for wine based on the “Outlander” series, “Truth be told, the labels are what really sell this wine.”

Otherwise, is there really any reason for these wines to exist?

• How did we have to wait so long for a pro wrestling wine? “Dream” Sparkling and “Nighmare” GSM, a red blend, from the legendary Rhodes wrestling family. They’re apparently sold out, so fans of the squared circle are out of luck.

• Christie Brinkley is world famous for her Sports Illustrated swimsuit appearances, but I wasn’t aware that qualified to her to sell three $20 Proseccos. But what do I know?

MasterChef wine, based on the reality cooking show. Three bottles, $56. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

More about pop culture wine:
Welcome to the wine business, Sarah Jessica Parker
Update: Dumbest pop culture wines 2018
Do we really need more celebrity wine?
Downton Abbey claret — wine merchandising for dummies

Follow-up: The fifth $3 wine challenge

$3 wine

Consumers have gone through a lot — and I mean a lot — of empty $3 wine bottles since Two-buck Chuck debuted 18 years ago.

Does the continuing popularity of $3 wine, which isn’t all that tasty, tell us more about the wine business than the wine business wants to know?

Five times I’ve tasted $3 wine to see if wine drinkers can survive on ultra-cheap wine. Five times, the answer has been no – and the wines have tasted worse each time I have done it. So why do these wines still exist?

Welcome to the deep, dark dirty secret of the wine business — and which is rearing its ugly head this year: We buy wine on price, and if the price is low enough, nothing else much matters. Despite all of the hoopla about premiumization and trading up, $3 wine exists because people buy it. And we buy lots and lots of it.

Trader Joe’s has sold more than 83 million cases of Two-buck Chuck since the wine debuted in 2002, about 4.6 million cases a year. That would make the Charles Shaw brand the 10th biggest winery in the country by volume in 2020 if it actually existed. And, surprisingly, that total is closer to No. 9 Jackson Family and its ubiquitous Kendall Jackson chardonnay, than almost anyone could imagine.

It’s also worth noting the success of E&J Gallo’s $7 Barefoot, which is estimated to sell $1 billion worth of wine this year, about 18 million cases, That would make it the fifth biggest brand in the country if Gallo didn’t own it. And, when we parse the data, isn’t the popularity of White Claw and the rest of the hard seltzers about price? Why would someone buy flavored spritzy water with a bit of booze if it wasn’t cheap? Like Two-buck Chuck, they’re certainly not buying it for the sensual experience.

The other thing that fascinates me about $3 wine? That its adherents take it as a personal affront when I criticize it. How can you be such a snob? they ask (and not always that politely). We’ll ignore for a moment that I may be the least snobbish person in the wine business. What matters is that they need affirmation that buying on price is OK, because that’s the exact opposite of the way the wine business works.

And in this, they miss the point of my criticism. The first rule – and really the only rule – for wine is to drink what you want, but be willing to try different things. They can drink as much crappy, thin, and watery wine as they want. What does it matter what I think, as long as they enjoy it? So should the question they ask not be what I think, but if they really enjoy it?

Wine blogging in the time of coronavirus

coronavirus

How many of us remember this from high school?

What’s the point of a wine blog in a world consumed by the coronavirus? Call it necessary optimism

Friday update: Thanks to everyone who left such kind comments and sent such considerate e-mails. Again, I didn’t write this post to elicit sympathy, but to try to offer a bit of perspective. And to those of you who sent less than kind e-mails? No doubt your pandemic pantry is well stocked.

Blog traffic has been down as much as one-half over the past couple of weeks, mostly since the coronavirus started its deadly expansion from China to western Europe and points in between. In addition, blog cancellations have increased steadily, even though I haven’t written about screwcaps, ingredient labels, overpriced California wine, or any of the other things that usually portend cancellations.

Frankly, it’s damned depressing to write posts that no one reads. I say that not to elicit pity, but to ask a larger question: What’s to be be done about wine blogging in the time of coronavirus? Does it matter? What’s the point? Does anyone really care?

The answer, of course, is incredibly complicated. On the one hand, don’t we all want to behave like Albert Camus’ narrator in “The Plague” – “a man who, faced with suffering and a common crisis, does what he must and becomes a leader and an example, not out of heroic courage or careful reasoning, but rather from a sort of necessary optimism?”

On the other, and no matter how absurd it may seem, we also have a need to overwhelm Walmart and Costco to buy hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, household cleaners and staples like rice, pasta and canned food to build a “pandemic pantry” – just in case. And what about all that toilet paper?

And I can’t shake the feeling that the people who are supposed to be our version of Camus’ Dr. Rieux are more concerned with the stock market, the presidential election, and interest rates than they are with the coronavirus.

And maybe that’s the point, that the answer lies somewhere among all those contradictions. I am neither an epidemiologist nor a philosopher, but it seems that Jim Schutze, a former newspaper colleague and all around wise human being, hit on something recently: “We should be thinking about ways to keep doing what we need to do while minimizing our risk. It won’t work to try to shut everything down and hide in our holes. In fact, that will make things worse.”

So the blog will be here. If you read it, you read it. If you don’t, you don’t. But it will be here: Call it my small contribution to necessary optimism.

My apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who wrote “Love in the Time of Cholera,”  and to everyone else who has used a play on that title for their recent coronavirus posts.

Update: Wine prices 2020

wine prices 2020Ignore the headlines — wine prices 2020 probably aren’t going anywhere

How can we have have excess supply and declining demand, and yet still see steady wine prices? Because this is the post-modern wine business.

Somehow, we’re at a point where the laws of economics don’t matter. Too many grapes and less consumer demand, as well as an uncertain economy thanks to trade wars, the U.S. election, and the coronavirus, should mean lower wine prices. We should see $15 wines cut to $12, $12 wines cut to $10, and so forth.

But not in this version of the wine business, no matter what the headlines say.

“Most people in the business haven’t a clue about very basic economic principles, such as supply and demand,” one mid-size California producer emailed me recently. “The $15 to $20 ‘sweet spot’ is not so sweet anymore.”

So what is going on here? Why is the wine business defying supply and demand?

First, thanks to consolidation, we have oligopoly pricing. That is, the producers, retailers, and wholesalers control such a large part of the market that they can afford to hold the line on prices. Prices may change, but they never change all that much or for all that long. One wine may be discounted, but then it’s replaced by another one, which is then replaced by another one. Case in point was a Dallas Kroger this week, when almost nothing was priced differently than normal — even previous vintage roses.

Second, we’re seeing the after-effect of premiumization combined with untenable cost structures. So many producers spent so much money establishing their brands at $15 or $20 or $25 that they can’t “afford” to lower prices. If they do, they will “ruin” their brands. In addition, production costs are so high for so many of these producers that lowering prices means they will sell at a loss, and then their bank won’t be happy.

So what will we see instead of consistently lower prices?

Lots of dumping and heavy discounting. Some of this has been going on for months, and it was one reason why Treasury Wine Estate’s stock tanked at the beginning of February. The company either threw the wine out or sold it at deep discounts, often through non-wine outlets. One Dallas dollar store was selling $8 and $10 Beringer supermarket wines for $2.99 and $3.99 at the beginning of the year. That’s the picture at the top of the post.

Also, new, less expensive one-off wines. This happened quite a bit during the recession, and it’s one way for a producer to protect a $25 brand. They’ll sell their wine to someone else, who bottles it under a different name for $10 or $12 or $15. I’ve seen this already, too. My local Aldi is selling a “reserve” pinot noir for $10. It’s almost certainly more expensive wine that has been relabeled.

So, in the end, don’t expect your local retailer to lower prices. That would make too much sense in a business that is not much connected to reality any more.

Wine, strawberry fruit spread, and nutrition labels

nutrition labels

No thanks: Three tablespoons of this aren’t as appealing as a glass of wine.

The power of nutrition labels: A glass of wine has the same number of calories as three servings of strawberry fruit spread

The biggest surprise during last month’s Silicon Valley Bank State of the Wine Industry report was not the sad state of wine in the U.S. Rather, it was that Rob McMillan, the report’s author, said it was time for wine to acknowledge the need for ingredient and nutrition labels on its bottles.

This was revolutionary. Previously, only a couple of consumer groups, a handful of progressive wineries, and cranks like the Wine Curmudgeon wanted to see the labels. To the rest of wine, the labels were a waste of time – confusing, costly, and bottle clutter. Wine drinkers don’t need to be bothered with what was in their wine, and that was was that. And stop bothering us.

But McMillan’s argument turned that reasoning on its head. Wine, he said, is the most natural of products – grapes and yeast. Why, when younger consumers care more than ever about what’s in their food, should the wine business hide that?

“We can’t be more plant-based than wine – you put it in a tub and squish it and it turns into something else,” he said. “Yet we’ve got to this point where spiked seltzers are seen as a more healthful choice because of the clarity and transparency of the ingredients.”

Which, of course, is what some of us have been arguing for years. I was reminded of the good sense of this approach when I looked at the fact label on a bottle of Smucker’s Natural Strawberry Fruit Spread, where the front label puts the emphasis on “natural” and adds “No High Fructose Corn Syrup.”

A serving is one tablespoon, and there are 40 calories per serving of this “natural” product. In other words, I can drink a glass of wine, which has about 120 calories, or I can have three tablespoons of something called natural strawberry fruit spread. What do you think most consumers would choose?

And how has the wine business missed this connection all these years?

More about wine nutrition labels:
Nutrition labels: What wine can learn from two packages of frozen onion rings
The final “nutrition and ingredient labels for wine are a good thing” post
Wine falls further behind in nutrition and ingredient labels

TV wine ads: San Giuseppe Wines, because you can never have too much bare skin in a wine ad

This 2016 ad for Sam Giuseppe Wines reminds us that when in doubt, flash some skin

One constant throughout the Wine Curmudgeon’s TV wine ad survey has been model-quality men and women baring their skin. Which is exactly the case with this ad for San Giuseppe Wines, an Italian label that sells for about $12. How much longer could the shot last when the guy pulls himself out of the water?

My guess, since the ad is for pinot grigio, is that the swimmer is supposed to appeal to the pinot grigio demographic — the infamous women of a certain age who buy almost all the pinot grigio in the U.S.  The ad’s goal? Get them all hot and bothered so they will race to the store to buy San Giuseppe.

In this, it’s not necessarily any worse than any of the others in our TV wine ad survey. It’s just more of the same. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

Video courtesy of QUE Productions via YouTube

More about TV wine ads:
TV wine ad survey: Hochtaler box wine – even Canadians miss the point?
TV wine ad survey: 1980s Richards Wild Irish Rose
One more example why TV wine ads are so awful

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.