The distracted boyfriend meme pretty much sums up the last five years or so on the blog, doesn’t it? Who knew the Wine Curmudgeon could get so young people — or be as hip as Dolly Parton?
Because, as a friend of mine put it the other day — and he is one of most optimistic wine people I know — it looks like the Golden Age of wine that we enjoyed for the past 20 years may well be over.
“It used to be that winemakers valued terroir, now it’s all about moving merchandise off of shelves,” he wrote me in an email during a discussion about yet another travesty of winemaking. “That is not a groundbreaking revelation. But that goal, sales at any cost, is now the driving force of the industry. It was our naive belief that with the rise of Big Wine many labels were brought into the mix so that many different palates could be satiated. Which is the opposite of what happened, and it has turned into a nightmare for anyone who cares about wine.”
Hence, it makes perfect sense that the 21st century wine business has turned into a 21st century meme.
Premiumization has sucker punched cheap wine quality, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to spend $10 a bottle and get distinctive wine
Can cheap wine still be interesting? This matters more than ever, as producers continue to dumb down wine that costs less than $15 in their effort to produce something whose reason for being is to be smooth and inoffensive.
In addition, the perception that all cheap wine is swill and not worth drinking seems to be growing as premiumization takes hold and consumers buy into the mantra that “If it doesn’t cost $25, don’t buy it.” And who can argue with that when even a producer like Bogle, which once cared about quality, sweetens its sauvignon blanc?
But know four things before we dismiss cheap wine as a waste of time:
• I drink wine most nights with dinner. These days, samples probably account for about one-third of what I drink, so that means I pay for 20 bottles of wine. That works out to $200 to $250 a month, at $8 to $15 a bottle. It’s not the average of $500 a year, but I drink quality wine, get twice as much, and spend about the same as the 10-bottle, $25 buyer. And how is possible I write about wine, but spend less of my income on it than someone who drinks wine as a hobby?
• There is quality cheap wine. Yes, it’s more difficult to find and it may cost $12 to $15 instead of $8 to 10, but it’s out there. The biggest problem for wine drinkers is that they’re terrified to drink something out of their comfort zone, be it varietal or region. And it doesn’t matter how much they spend. So chardonnay drinkers won’t try a $12 French viognier because it’s not chardonnay, and the Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon drinker won’t try a $13 Rioja because it’s not from Napa. In those situations, writing off cheaper wine because it’s different solves the problem of actually tasting it.
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.
Why do Valentine’s Day wine reviews offer so much overwritten prose and overpriced plonk?
Valentine’s Day brings out the worst in the wine business – overwritten prose and overpriced plonk. Is it any wonder the Wine Curmudgeon refers to it as The Holiday That Must Not Be Named?
Hence the following, which – sadly – demonstrates the point after the most basic of Google searches:
• From something called The Spruce Eats: “… Cupid claims some serious turf when it comes to wine for your Valentine.” If so, Cupid should know better than to recommend a 7-year-old rose, which would likely taste like pink paint varnish.
• Most of the wines recommended in this Town & Country post are more than adequate, if a bit pricey. But doesn’t someone at a big-time magazine like Town & Country care about writing? Am I the only one who thinks a line saying that one wine is “just like the slightly sweet kiss from your special someone” should be edited with extreme prejudice?
Who cares if the wine tastes like vanilla cherry cough syrup? We’re being paid to say nice things about it. Stop acting so 20th century.”
Who cares about integrity or honesty or legitimate reviews? I’ll just run paid posts
The following email, asking me to run paid posts for a wine club, shows just how little the wine business cares about the people who buy its products. I’ve changed the name of the wine club (which is reasonably well known) so I don’t get sued; otherwise, it’s verbatim:
Hey Wine Curmudgeon Team,
Big Time Wine Club wants to create some new partnerships with influencers. Our wine club works with acclaimed wineries and vineyards to curate a portfolio of highly rated wines from all over the globe, and then bring those wines to lovers of great wine across the US. You have great blog posts, and I want to find out if we can work with you to create new content around a few of our featured wines. We have some ideas on potential Spring themes, but we are more than happy to talk with you on your ideas for incorporating wine!
We have wine available to send, some paid placement budget, and an affiliate program. I’d love to get your thoughts on the best way for us to work together. Are you available to talk wine this week or next?
The jargon is annoying enough, but what’s worse is asking me to pimp for their products — “create new content around a few of our featured wines.” The only thing in the email that’s fair to consumers is the affiliate program, in which I’d get a tiny, tiny commission if anyone bought one of the wines I pimped for. The rest is an insult to me and to everything the blog stands for. As well as to you.
Madeline Puckette: The three-tier system gouges consumers
Says Puckette: The system gouges consumers with crappy wine and too high prices
“Wine Retail Rant (Why Grocery Store Wines Are Rigged),” written by Wine Folly impresario Madeline Puckette is just the sort of thing that people who are more or less members of the wine establishment don’t write. It’s the sort of thing that I write, and we know what the Winestream Media and the wine establishment think of me.
Nevertheless, there it was, in all its incendiary glory. Wrote Puckette – who has initials after her name: The grocery store wine business is “a rigged market. … runs on Prohibition-Era policies that ultimately gouge the wine consumer, hurt independent wineries, and even hurt small retailers.”
Damn. Someone who isn’t a friend of mine actually agrees with me
The story is remarkable, and not just because of who wrote it. First, the Winestream Media doesn’t acknowledge wine is sold in grocery stores. Second, even if it did, it wouldn’t drink it. Third, it doesn’t acknowledge wine pricing, let alone complain that something isn’t a value. And to use the word “gouge”? Be still my beating heart.
Fourth, and most importantly, it almost never criticizes the Big Wine and three-tier system, and Big Wine makes almost all of the wine we buy in grocery stores. The wine establishment and the big producers and distributors that dominate three-tier are like the bird that eats the insects off grazing animals; each makes the other’s life easier, and both benefit. That they benefit at the expense of those of us who want quality wine at a fair price — and that is easy to buy — is not a consideration.
Yet Puckette is saying exactly that: “So basically, each transaction along the Three Tiers has a tax and a mark-up. The end result is that consumers pay $22 for a wine that the winery sold for $7. … Now, imagine that grocery store wine for $11.99? It was probably really crappy.”
Hmmmm. Where have we read this before?
I’m not as sanguine as Puckette is about some of the solutions she offers, which includes direct sales (though she does say nice things about private label wine). We need to tear three-tier down, not find a way around it. Still, Puckette’s rant is a fine start – in this effort, we need all the help we can get.
Two Italian wines from a Big Wine company, but only one of them tastes like it came from Italy
This is where we are in the wine business in 2019 – two Italian wines from the same Big Wine company, one of which is varietally correct, terroir-driven, and a pleasure to drink, while the other tastes like it was put together by a marketing company and is about as Italian as a pair of panty hose. Why does anyone think this will advance the cause of wine?
The insolia white wine ($14, sample, 12.5%), made by Zonin1821’s Feudo Principi di Butera subsidiary in Sicily, is Big Wine done right. The insolia grape is native to Sicily, and it’s not necessarily easy to work with. But the Butera is all should be – tart green apple fruit, lots of spice and almond, an almost stony finish and even some green herbs. It’s Hall of Fame quality, a white wine that is neither chardonnay nor sauvignon blanc and a reminder of how much value Sicilian wines can deliver. This is seafood wine – risotto with shrimp, perhaps?
Which brings us to the panty hose. The second wine is a sauvignon blanc from Zonin1821’s Ca Bolani in northern Italy’s Fruili region. Italian sauvignon blanc has long taken a back seat to pinot grigio, which probably explains why the Ca Bolani ($14, sample, 12.5%) tastes the way it does. Or, as a friend said when she drank it, “Why did you open this wine? You know I don’t like New Zealand sauvignon blanc.”
Which is exactly what it tastes likes – big, huge smacking gobs of grapefruit. It’s a well made wine, and there is even a little something trying to peek out from behind the grapefruit. And $14 isn’t a bad price. But none of that really matters, since it raises a larger question: Why would I want to buy Italian sauvignon blanc that tastes like it came from New Zealand? Isn’t that what New Zealand sauvignon blanc is for? Shouldn’t Italian wine taste like it came from Italy?
Apparently not. These days, the goal seems to be to make all wine taste the same, so it will be easier to market. Because Big Wine. Hopefully, no one at Butera will realize this and turn the insolia into Paso Robles chardonnay. Because then I would have another reason to worry about the future of the wine business.