Category:Wine rants

Liquor law faceoff: Which state has the silliest?

Vote for the silliest liquor law in the U.S.

Voting is closed, and the winner is Indiana and its foolishness about not selling cold beer. Minimum pricing in Connecticut and Michigan were second. Thanks to everyone who participated.

We’ve talked a lot about the three-tier system during the duration, so what better way to continue the discussion than with a poll — pick the silliest liquor laws in the country.

The choices are hardly complete; that Mississippi isn’t listed says something about how silly the rest are. No doubt, I could have included something from almost every state. If I did miss one, leave it in the comments. Those of you who get the blog via email may have to go to the website — click here to do so.

My favorite, of course, is Utah’s Zion curtain. It’s mostly gone, but not to worry: The state has other safeguards to protect children from the glamour of working in a bar.


Poll image courtesy of The Fine Print, using a Creative Commons license

Greenwashing, wine, and Earth Day

greenwashingCelebrate Earth Day by understanding the difference between greenwashing and wine that’s truly green

Wednesday is Earth Day, an annual event that reminds us that we need to treat the planet with more respect. As such, it’s the perfect time to talk about greenwashing – a marketing technique where producers, manufacturers, and other companies describe their products as environmentally friendly or sustainable even though they may be nothing of the kind.

Sadly, greenwashing is not uncommon in wine. This is the time of year when wine writers are inundated with news releases touting how green a wine or a wine brand is, even if the product in the release isn’t especially ecological. That’s because green products are rated more highly by consumers, and especially by the younger consumers who aren’t much interested in wine.

So why not flog green wine? It’s made of plants, isn’t it? How much greener does it need to be?

A lot, actually, and starting with the glass bottle. Wine bottles are notorious for their excessive carbon footprint, and even wine critic Jancis Robinson, who is about as establishment as wine critics get, has seen the light: “Consumers as well as producers really need to rethink the issue of wine packaging.” That so much wine is shipped in glass bottles all over the planet just makes a bad thing worse.

The other handicap facing wine? It’s almost impossible in this country to figure out how green a wine is. Federal laws regulating organic wine are confusing and contradictory – an organic wine is legally different from a wine made with organic grapes. Organic wine is mostly about not adding sulfites, while wine made with organic grapes is closer to what we think of when we think organic potatoes or tomatoes.

There’s sustainability, and then there’s sustainability

In addition, the leading sustainability standard, promulgated by the Wine Institute trade group, defines sustainable as winemaking practices that “are environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable.” Does this mean sustainability only makes sense if it’s profitable?

Several years ago, I wrote a green wine magazine story, and an organic viticulture consultant in northern California put it plainly: “Consumers assume that wine, by its very nature, is pure and natural to begin with. Ask most consumers, and they don’t equate a vineyard with a factory farm the same way they do for other products. Vineyards are beautiful, and don’t look like a picture of a factory farm.”

In other words, wine is made of plants, isn’t it? How much greener does it need to be?

This is not to say that many growers and producers don’t take green seriously. I’ve talked to many who spend extra time and money to do the right thing, and sustainability groups in the Napa Valley and in Lodi have produced impressive results.

But it’s just so damn easy to greenwash wine. A recent survey found that consumers were more likely to buy wine that used terms like sustainable and organic — and this makes it worth noting that more than two-thirds of the wines called out in the infamous arsenic lawsuit in 2015 could have been certified sustainable.

So the next time you see an ad touting a winery’s stewardship of the earth, give it a second look. There’s stewardship, and then there’s greenwashing. It’s the least you can do for Earth Day.

Image courtesy of GreenBiz, using a Creative Commons license

The Wine Curmudgeon browser wars: Which loads the WC’s site the fastest?

browser war

Why I am wasting my time timing browsers when I could be drinking wine?

And is this post just about browsers, or is the WC trying to make a larger, wine-related point?

What better way to combine two of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite pastimes, wine and computers, than a browser war? Which application loads the WC’s website the fastest?

(And, for those of you who think there is more going on here than just browsers, you’re correct.)

I tested five desktop browsers, cutting and pasting the site’s URL into the browser’s address bar and clicking my phone’s stopwatch. I didn’t test Safari, since I don’t own Apple products. I tested Microsoft’s Edge on Windows 10, while I ran the others on Xubuntu 18.04, my Linux box.

The results:

• Opera 67: 3.11 seconds.

• Chromium 80 (the open-source version of Chrome): 2.99 seconds.

• Firefox 75: 3.73 seconds.

• Brave 1.5 (a new, tres chic, “privacy-oriented” browser): 2.42 seconds

• Microsoft Edge: 4.4 seconds.

So does this mean, as we look to enhance the WC site surfing experience, that everyone should switch to Chrome?

Of course not. The test, though well-intentioned, was hardly scientific. I didn’t include a key browser. I didn’t test the browsers on the same platform. And why should load time for the blog’s website matter in testing browser efficiency?

Which brings us to the larger point here – wine scores, since scores are as unreliable as my browser test. Are scores well-intentioned? Maybe. But that’s far from enough.

If you don’t like California merlot, what difference does it make if the wine gets 88 points? You still wouldn’t drink it. Because, even if Firefox had been the fastest browser, I wouldn’t use it because I don’t like the changes Firefox has made over the past several years. I’m still annoyed I can’t move the menu button from the right to upper left side.

In addition, scores have the same inherent bias that my test did by using Linux and Windows, instead of one or the other. If every wine critic who gave scores had the same palate, then we would know that an 88 was an 88 was an 88. But the platforms are different: Is the Wine Spectator’s 88 the same as the Wine Advocate’s? Is James Suckling’s 88 the same as Antonio Galloni’s?

And finally, how can I test browsers and leave out Safari because I don’t like Apple? That’s a lot like our red wine study, which showed a bias in favor of red wines. How can we depend on scores when the facts show us white wines don’t matter as much to the people giving scores?

So trust your palate. Drink what you like, but be willing to try different wines. Because using scores to figure out what to drink is as silly as wasting a morning running the WC browser wars.

More about wine scores:
Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless
Scores, value, and the Wine Spectator top 100
Wine business slow? Then boost the scores

TV wine ads: Mateus rose — “it’s like a trip to Portugal”

This 1971 Mateus rose ad may explain why it took so long for rose to become popular in the U.S.

Mateus was what passed for rose in those long ago days before the U.S. wine boom — a sweetish, fizzy pink wine from Portugal made with grapes that were obscure even then.

It was huge in the late 1960s and early 1970s, selling some 10 million cases a year. Those are Barefoot numbers, but in a much smaller U.S. wine market. What sold Mateus rose was the bottle — more youth oriented than the traditional 750 ml effort, and perfect for using as a candlestick while drinking the wine and listening to Carole King’s “Tapestry.” In fact, you can buy Mateus bottles on eBay, and the wine itself is still around, too — $5 a bottle, and tasting pretty much like it always has.

The ad misses the point of Mateus’ popularity. Why would Portugal be a selling point for the wine (and the less said about the jingle, the better)? But that it misses the point is not surprising. It is a wine ad, after all.

Video courtesy of robatsea2009 via YouTube

More about TV wine ads:
TV wine ads: San Giuseppe Wines, because you can never have too much bare skin in a wine ad
TV wine ads: King Solomon wine, because “Tonight … the king is in town”
TV wine ads: Almost 40 years of awful

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.