Category:Wine rants

Cash makes a much better bribe than wine

Cash makes a much better bribe than wineThe Wine Curmudgeon, who spent part of his newspaper career writing politics and grew up in Chicago, thought he knew a few things about corruption. How could anyone not learn from Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell, who died and left $800,000 in cash stuffed in shoe boxes? Or the Mirage Tavern, a sting set up by the Chicago Sun-Times to find out if Chicago’s code inspectors were as crooked as everyone thought? Which, not surprisingly, they were. Or that four of the state’s past seven governors have done time?

As newspaper columnist Mike Royko wrote: “This town was built by great men who demanded that drunkards and harlots be arrested, while charging them rent until the cops came.”

But none of this prepared me for news that politicians and related lifeforms have been caught taking wine in exchange for influence and favors. For one thing, this violates the cardinal rule of bribe taking — don’t leave a paper trail. Cash in an envelope, please, and not wine bottles that can be found by some eager young media type digging through the garbage or a fed poring over a stack of distributor invoices. For another, those Chicago politicians didn’t know wine from water polo. They were shot and beer guys, and it was the real estate developers who gave them the envelopes who drank the wine. And we know about real estate developers.

Nevertheless, an Australian state premier (similar to a governor) was forced to resign after accepting a bottle of Grange, the country’s best wine, worth US$2,800 — after sending the fixer who gave him the bottle a hand-written thank you note. You think Powell ever said thank you, let alone sent a note? Of course not. He just found another shoe box.

A Chinese general, meanwhile, was caught with what the news reports called crates of his country’s Moutai wine (which is closer to a spirit, actually, made with sorghum and not grapes). Given that aged Moutai can go for thousands of dollars a case, the general was no piker, and had also amassed an illicit fortune in real estate. But that didn’t make him Chicago smart — what would the cops think he was doing with all that booze? Shoe boxes, general, shoe boxes. What cop is going to look inside a shoe box?

The lesson here? If you want to bribe someone, use cash. Wine is economically and politically inefficient. How can you be sure someone who takes a payoff in wine is going to stay bought, and not demand a bottle with a higher score? Which is just the kind of thing a politician who wants to be bribed with wine would do.

A tip o’ the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to the late Louie Canelakes, a fellow Chicagoan, who was the inspiration for this post.

Second Cheapest Wine

Second Cheapest WineThe Wine Curmudgeon has often lamented the quality of wine humor, but here is something that’s not only funny, but entirely too accurate. Consider just these two lines from a fake commercial for a product called Second Cheapest Wine: “You don’t know much about wine, but you do know that you shouldn’t get the cheapest. That’s why we make it easy for you to get the Second Cheapest.”

The bit takes on restaurants, wine snobs, wine education, and wine stores — and all in only 1:19. And with impressive production values. This is so good, in fact, that I should send the authors a copy of the cheap wine book.

So enjoy — Second Cheapest Wine, from CollegeHumor.com, via YouTube:

Cheap wine can be intimidating

Cheap wine can be intimidating

OMG, $5 wine!

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? That cheap wine can be intimidating, given that cheap wine’s reason for being is that it’s approachable in a way more expensive wine isn’t. But too many wine drinkers who won’t buy a wine because it’s too expensive are also wary of buying a wine because it doesn’t cost enough.

The Wine Curmudgeon saw this again over the weekend, when a couple of old pals came to visit. They are far from wine snobs, and revel in finding value in cheap wine. But when I recommended the $5 Vina Decana from Aldi, one of them looked at me and asked, “But it only costs $5. How can it be any good?”

Fortunately, I am resilient in the face of adversity (as well as very stubborn). We went to Aldi, bought the wine, tasted it, and all was well. This experience reminded me, despite all of the progress we have made with cheap wine over the past decade, how much wine business foolishness we still have to overcome.

Yes, many of us have spent years proselytizing for cheap wine, and the improvement in cheap wine quality has been well documented. But we’re bucking a 50-year-old system that told wine drinkers that cheap wine wasn’t worth drinking, and that very cheap wine was even less worthy of their attention. This has been the point of wine education since the first wine boom in the 1970s, that price equalled quality. It was only sometimes true then, and it’s even less true today. Which is why it’s more important than ever to taste the wine before you judge it, no matter how difficult that may be.

Hence the idea of $4 or $5 wine, despite the success of Two-buck Chuck, is still something pink and sweet that comes in a box and is bought by old ladies with cats. That this isn’t especially accurate any more doesn’t seem to matter in the rush to upsell consumers to $15 and $20 wine that doesn’t necessarily taste any different, but is more hip and with it. Chloe, anyone?

Also, the continued need for people like me, as much as there shouldn’t be. Fortunately, I enjoy the work.

Image courtesy of Hagerstenguy via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license

 

 

Winebits 326: Why I’ve always wanted to be a consultant edition

Winebits 326: Why I've always wanted to be a consultant editionBecause getting paid for writing some of the things that consultants write sounds like a posh gig:

? Do this, or the opposite: Which is the advice the Rabobank Group has for the Spanish wine industry. To be successful, Spain has two choices: Make more wine with “international” varietals like cabernet sauvingon and chardonnay, which have established export markets, or work to establish export markets for wine made with its traditional grapes, like tempranillo and garnacha. Nothing like covering all possibilities, is there? I love this sentence, too, for wonderfully stating the obvious and doing it in consultant-speak: ?Improving the ability of suppliers in Spain ?s main production region of Castilla-La Mancha to develop strong brands with demand beyond the EU markets will have an important positive impact on the wine industry in Spain, but also in the rest of the EU. ?

? We can’t call it cheap, can we? Impact Databank is part of the company that owns the Wine Spectator, and it releases an annual Hot Brands wine list, identifying wines that record sizable sale increases over the past year. Most of these brands cost $10 or less, and the bosses at Impact apparently felt uncomfortable calling the wines cheap. This isn’t unusual (you should see winemakers and PR types cringe when I use the word cheap), but this solution is one of the “best” I’ve ever seen — calling the wines “accessibly priced.” Maybe I should start using the term, too. How does “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Accessibly Priced Wine” sound? Or “the accessibly priced wine expert”?

? Why didn’t anyone else think of this? Did you know that the increasing popularity of wine has led to the increasing popularity of wine bars? Hard to believe, I know, but that’s the conclusion in this report from the IBISWorld consultancy, “where knowledge is power.” And, something to know in case you want to open a wine bar: “Changes in household preferences, disposable incomes and consumer spending also influence demand. …” Wow. Who knew?

What drives wine drinkers? Price, of course

wine drinkers priceNot that the Wine Curmudgeon had any doubt. But listen to enough people in the business, and especially to the Winestream Media, and it’s scores and romance and tasting notes and about as much foolishness as you can imagine. But we have better evidence than ever that wine drinkers buy wine based on price, in the form of the 2013 Wine Market Council Study.

And what kind of wine do most of us buy, even those of us with deep pockets and subscriptions to the wine magazines? Cheap wine, of course.

More, after the jump:

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Why don’t these wines have screwcaps?

scewcapsThe Wine Curmudgeon has been tasting mostly red wine this month, and especially cabernet sauvignon, in an effort to get more wines that I don’t normally drink on the blog. Quality, even around $10, has been surprisingly good, but there has been one major disappointment. Not only do most of the wines have corks instead of screwcaps, but they come in heavy, old-fashioned bottles.

Which raises the question, which I’ve raised before and which is worth raising again: Why don’t these popularly-priced wines use screwcaps and come in lighter bottles? That would make the wines less expensive to produce, lower their carbon footprint, increase profit, and even possibly lower cost. And neither would affect quality.

Consider: The bottle for a 2003 white Burgundy — about as high end as wine gets — weighs 22 ounces and is closed with a cork. The bottle for the $5 Rene Barbier wines, closed with a screwcap, weighs 14 ounces. Yet most of the producers whose wines I’ve tasted use some kind of cork and unnecessarily heavy bottles, often closer to the white Burgundy than the Barbier. Some examples:

? The $11 Pigmentum malbec from France, 19 ounces, artificial cork.

? The $12 Errazauriz cabernet sauvignon from Chile, 15 ounces, screwcap. Ironically, the producer recently changed bottles, cutting the weight by 12 1/2 percent. Otherwise, it would be 17 ounces.

? The $12 Josh Cellars cabernet sauvignon from California, 22 ounces, natural cork.

? The $16 Bonterra zinfandel from California, 23 ounces, artificial cork. The irony? That Bonterra is one of the best selling green wine brands in the country.

? The $17 Downton Abbey claret from France, 19 ounces, natural cork.

In these cases, sadly, appearance is all. The Downton Abbey is the most obvious example, but even the others work from the assumption that consumers expect quality wine to come in heavy bottles with some kind of cork. We can argue forever about screwcaps vs. corks, but the one thing that isn’t in debate is that screwcaps are perfectly acceptable for most of the wine we drink. And there is absolutely no debate about the bottle. This isn’t 1890, when bottle weight mattered, protecting the wine from the perils of 19th century shipping. Lighter weight, given today’s bottle technology, is just as effective. Fifty million cases of Two-buck Chuck are proof of that.

Obviously, what’s in the bottle matters most. At some point, though, the bottle and closure itself is going to matter, whether producers believe it or not.

If you thought winespeak was bad, how does potspeak sound?

If you thought winespeak was bad, how does potspeak sound?The Wine Curmudgeon, whose crusade against winespeak has been a cornerstone of his work, can only shake his head and sigh. Call it an example of the law of unintended consequences — legalized marijuana in Colorado may well bring with it product reviews written in potspeak.

Or, as the humorist Garry Trudeau imagines it: “This limited-edition artisanal cannabis delivers an unexpectedly smooth high, with just a touch of paranoia. …”

I cringe as I edit this. Artisanal? Limited-edition? Where have we read those before? And how did Trudeau overlook the possibility of “boutique” weed? Or that that the toke had hints of cypress and evergreen with spicy overtones?

What’s next for legalized dope? Scores? A terroir debate? The Potstream Media? The Marijuana Spectator? Blogs called Potography and 1 Dope Dude? Or, and let me warn anyone who thinks of this, because I have lawyers on standby, The Maryjane Curmudgeon?