Category:Wine rants

How do you write about quality cheap wine when the system is rigged against it?

Look out! They’re shelling us with premiumization and the wine tariff!

You keep a stiff upper lip, try to ignore the frustrations and complications, and soldier on – because quality cheap wine is worth it

How do you write about quality cheap wine when the wine industry and the federal government have gone out of their way to make quality cheap wine an anachronism?

Because, as we celebrate the blog’s 12th birthday, that’s the situation I find myself in. Premiumization and the 25 percent European wine tariff have made it all but impossible to find the kind of $10 and $12 wine that’s worth writing about. I feel like a character in one of those British Raj movies where the garrison is stranded in a fort on a remote hilltop and we’re being picked off one by one and we know the relief column isn’t going to arrive in time.

Yes, there is still plenty of cheap wine on store shelves, but just because a wine is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking.

So what’s the Wine Curmudgeon to do? Carry on, of course. What else is a stiff upper lip for?

The irony here is that I seriously considered ending the blog after this final birthday week post (with a Hall of Fame wrap-up in January). And if I had known about the wine tariff when I was pondering the blog’s fate this summer, it would have been that much easier to close it after 12 years.

Changing my mind

But two things happened to make me change my mind: First, and most practically, the site’s hosting company charged me for another year in August. So, if I closed the blog with this post, I would have been stuck paying for nine months of service I didn’t use. Second, four people whose opinions I admire and respect pointed out that if I didn’t keep doing this, who would? And that despite my frustration with the blog, there is and will be a need for it.

For the frustrations have been endless. These days, it’s not just about paying homage to our overlords at Google or dealing with out-of-touch producers and distributors and too many incompetent marketers. Or fending off the sponsored content and the fluff pieces that so many others in the wine writing business have turned to in an attempt to make money at something where there is little money to be made.

These days, it’s about making sense of a business that is divorced from reality. Which, frankly, makes me feel like I’m using a croquet mallet to comb my hair.

Consider just these two items: A group of Washington state wine producers, faced with declining sales, say they aren’t worried since the wine they are selling is more expensive. Meanwhile, Italian pinot grigio producers, also faced with declining sales, want to know how to sell more expensive wine to make up the difference.

Making money the hard way

Am I missing something here? Aren’t declining sales a bad thing? Shouldn’t an industry do something to reverse the decline, instead of furthering it by raising prices?

But not, apparently, if it’s the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century. Because, of course, premiumization. I’ve probably written entirely too much about the subject, but mostly because I can’t believe anyone in wine still takes it seriously. Though, and this is welcome news, there are others who are beginning to question its validity. Damien Wilson, PhD, who chairs the wine business program at Sonoma State University, is blunt: Premiumization can be a path to ruin, since sales decline and higher prices scare off new wine drinkers.

The less said about the tariff the better. It’s as counterproductive as premiumization, and its adherents are blinded by politics to economic reality. That the tariff could forever wreak havoc on U.S. wine consumption is beyond their comprehension.

So let me shepherd my ammunition, keep my head low, and hope against hope that the relief column gets through. And keep a very stiff upper lip.

More Birthday Week perspective on the wine business:
Have we reached the end of wine criticism?
• 10 years writing about cheap wine on the Internet
• Premiumization, crappy wine, and what we drink

How about some $5,000 holiday wine?

holiday wineDig deep, because who wouldn’t want to buy a $5,000 holiday wine?

If you spend $5,000 for a bottle of wine, do you actually drink it? That, to me, would be the most fascinating part about a wine auction next month at Christie’s in New York. Among the variety of rare wines for sale: a red Bordeaux, tthe 1990 Chateau Haut-Brion, expected to fetch between $4,000 and $6,000. And such a deal: it’s a large format bottle, an imperial, the equivalent of eight regular-sized bottles.

We’ve discussed this before on the blog: These auctions, their fantastic prices, and the idea that people who pay this much money for wine don’t necessarily drink it. Instead, they keep it in their cellar and show it off like an Old Masters painting or a rare postage stamp.

A good friend of mine, who associates with a much more Gatsby-esque crowd than the Wine Curmudgeon does, says he once knew someone like that. The guy would invite him over to look at the wine, but not to drink it. My friend, after this happened several times, asked the guy when he was going to open a bottle. “Never,” the guy said. “These aren’t for drinking. They’re for looking.”

Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

The other thing worth noting is the price discrepancy between the French and California wines in the auction. The top estimated prices for California are about $600 a bottle, which is about half of the top price for a variety of red Bordeaux and Burgundy. Which makes this about the only place where paying $300 for a bottle of Shafer, a top Napa cabernet sauvignon, can be seen as a bargain.

Photo: “A Great Selection” by toddwight1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

TV wine ads: King Solomon wine, because “Tonight … the king is in town”

This 1984 King Solomon wine commercial knows what it’s about: “33 percent more wine than the regular size”

The Wine Curmudgeon’s TV wine ad survey has found the good (very little), the bad (almost all) and now this — a 1984 spot on a local Philadelphia station for something called King Solomon wine.

This ad is odd, and not just because of its content. For one thing, Pennsylvania was a control state (and still mostly is), so the only place to buy King Solomon wine would have been a state store. And, given this is a concord wine sold because it’s cheap, it’s difficult to believe a state store would have carried it. Apparently, the company that marketed it was well known in Philadelphia, producing a variety of off-brand spirits and wines. so maybe it had some clout with the state.

The other thing I can’t figure out: What does a genie have to do with the Biblical King Solomon?

Still, the ad is on message: The wine is cheap, there’s a lot of it, and it will get you drunk — “a big, bold, two-fisted wine.” How many other TV wine ads actually say what they mean?

Video courtesy of Hugo Faces via YouTube

More about TV wine ads:
Is this the greatest TV wine commercial ever??
Hendrick’s gin: How to do a TV booze commercial
TV wine ads: John Gielgud makes a quick buck plugging Paul Masson

Four 2020 wine trends that you don’t need to worry about

Pass the piquette, please.

These four 2020 wine trends are more click bait than anything else

The Wine Curmudgeon is constantly on the alert for wine foolishness and silliness, since those things usually mean someone is after your money. So when several experts posted their 2020 wine trends, my hooey meter went into overdrive.

Hence, four 2020 wine trends you don’t have to worry about:

Cannabis-infused wine. Yes, legal weed is still it its infancy and it may yet prove to be the next big thing. But so far, it has been a disaster. How big a disaster? Just ask Constellation Brands, which dumped more than two dozen wine brands this spring to focus on cannabis. Along the way, the company has invested at least US$4 billion in Canadian weed producer Canopy, and Canopy has yet to turn a profit.

Pop-up wine bars. Apparently, the experts didn’t consider liquor laws or the three-tier system, which would make this almost impossible in most of the U.S.

Piquette. Lots and lots of websites and experts ask sommeliers about the hippest trends, since they figure sommeliers are hipper than the rest of us. Thus, piquette. This isn’t exactly wine, but is fizzy and has low alcohol, which do seem to be legitimate trends. The catch? Piquette is made by just a handful of small producers on the East Coast, which means that no one will be able to buy it unless they visit a bar or restaurant which has a very hip sommelier.

Organic wine. This was going to be huge when I started writing about wine 20-some years ago, and it still shows up regularly on trends lists. But organic wine has never caught on in the U.S, and shows no signs of catching on now. Organic wine, organically-made wine, and biodynamic wine have a tiny part of the U.S. wine market, probably in the single digits.

Coconut chardonnay: One more reason why I worry about the future of the wine business

A company called Fun Friends Wine sees the future of wine, and it involves coconut chardonnay

The commercial at the top of the post is just one part of the marketing campaign for something called Friends Fun Wine, whose flavors include coconut chardonnay. Is it any reason I worry about the future of the wine business?

As near as I can tell, Friends Fun Wine isn’t exactly wine, but more of a wine cooler — what the trade calls an RTD (for ready to drink). It’s low alcohol, costs $6 for a 750 ml bottle and $2 for a 250 ml can. It’s mainly sold in convenience stores and restaurants.

The idea, apparently, is to push the product to younger consumers who normally drink cocktails. The website is even more focused on that, featuring some of the best looking men and women I’ve ever seen in wine marketing. It’s all beaches and bikinis and hanging out, about as far from traditional wine as possible. In fact, these are the kinds of models that appear in fashion magazines, not on websites plugging flavored wine.

And this begs the question of why the product is called Friends Fun Wine, since it goes out of its way to be everything that “real” wine isn’t – younger, very informal, and featuring flavors like coconut chardonnay. My guess? That as beleaguered as the wine category is these days, there is still a certain cachet to it. And the company behind Friends Fun Wine wants to take advantage of that cachet: “Look, here is fun wine you can drink that tastes good but isn’t that old fashioned stuff that your parents like.”

The point here is not that people shouldn’t drink coconut chardonnay wine. The only rule in wine is to drink what you want, but to be willing to try something else. Rather, why isn’t the traditional wine business marketing wine to younger consumers, using the same – but coconut chardonnay-less – approach? That wine can be fun, and that it isn’t necessarily old fashioned.

Video courtesy of Advantis via YouTube, using a Creative Commons license

TV wine ads: John Gielgud makes a quick buck plugging Paul Masson

This early 1980s John Gielgud Paul Masson TV commercial is no “Arthur”

Did John Gielgud see a chance to play off his Oscar-winning role in “Arthur” and make a ton of money for very little work? Because, otherwise, there’s very little that makes sense in this early 1980s commercial for Paul Masson.

It’s not especially funny — ridiculing modern art was tired and old even then. And, as wine marketing guru Paul Tinknell has discussed on the blog, it makes the same mistake most TV wine ads do: It doesn’t focus on those of us who actually drink wine, but tries to make wine something that it isn’t. Most of us drink wine with dinner. Most of us don’t drink wine at art openings; in fact, most of us don’t even go to art openings.

The other oddity here? The wine business’ use of noted Shakespearean actors like Gielgud and James Mason for TV commercials through the mid-1980s. It’s probably an attempt — a very weak attempt — to make ordinary wine seem more high end. All it does, of course, iPauls make it look silly.

Video courtesy of Sean Mc via YouTube

More about TV wine ads:
TV wine ads: Drink Black Tower, invade a foreign country?
Wine business: Watch this beer spot to see how TV wine ads should be done
What was James Mason doing making a Thunderbird TV commercial?

Putting canned wine in perspective

canned wine

Somebody bring the rose. The socca is ready.

No, canned wine is not the end of the universe. So why do we keep hearing that it is?

A recent trade magazine story asked the question, “How seriously should we be taking the rise of wines in a can?” To which my answer was, “Who cares?’

The story was mostly the same winebiz-speak we’ve been seeing for the past couple of years as cans have become more popular. To wit: The wine business is shocked to discover that consumers will drink wine out of something other than a 750-ml bottle with a cork-style closure, so it’s obvious that cans are going to take over the wine business. So we need to do something!!!!!

Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

We read the same stuff when Tetrapks were au courant and boxed wine was supposed to be the next big thing. And nothing changed – 75 percent of the world’s wine still comes in a 750-ml bottle with a cork-style closure.

So why the panic now? Yes, the quality of much canned wine is suspect. But why should that bother an industry that turns out vast quantities of plonk in bottles?

Because the wine business, and especially the wine business in the U.S., has so much time and money invested in keeping wine exactly the same way it has been since the end of World War II. So anything that threatens the ancien regime is to be feared. And it’s to be especially feared given the current wine climate of flat sales and increased sobriety. Even if, in the end, canned wine won’t make that much of a difference to flat sales and increased sobriety.

So why can’t we just drink wine – canned or otherwise – and enjoy it instead of rending garments and gnashing teeth about the future of the wine business? I recommend this blog post from food writer David Lebovitz. He is discussing socca, the chickpea flour pancake and or crepe thing famous in southern France, and his point is most welcome (as is his socca, one of my favorite Saturday night appetizers):

And for any wine snobs out there that think it’s folly to serve wine in cups instead of glasses haven’t had the pleasure of standing near a wood-burning oven, eating a blistering-hot wedge of socca with a non-recyclable tumbler of wine. Preferably served over ice, Marseille-style.

Photo: “FR’Nice 11’0925 – 13” by karendelucas is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0