Category:Wine rants

Wine Folly’s Madeline Puckette: The three-tier system is rigged

Madeline Puckette

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.

A tale of two Italian wines, one of which tastes like it came from New Zealand

Italian winesTwo 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 wines are from Zonin1821, which owns nine Italian producers (as well as one of the best wineries in the U.S., Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia). Zonin1821 is best known for its $13 Zonin Prosecco, a pleasant enough bottle for a $13 Prosecco. But many of its wines are interesting and well worth drinking, and there are many worse Big Wine companies.

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.

Bud Light debuts new and improved ingredient labels

If Big Beer understands the need for ingredient labels, why is it so difficult for wine to do the same?

ingredient labelsBudweiser is beefing up the ingredient labels on its Bud Light beer. Yes, that Budweiser, whose marketing gurus think the above video is witty and whose product is seen by many as the reason for craft beer.

Yet, somehow, Bud and its parent, Anheuser-Busch, are smarter and more modern and more progressive then the wine business. Wine has  viewed nutrition and ingredient labels as the spawn of the devil since the end of the 20th century, despite their value in the fight against the neo-Prohibitonists. Is it any wonder I’m not the only one worried about the future of the wine business?

Writes the Associated Press: “Bud Light went with a big, black-and-white label, similar to the ones required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on packaged foods. … ‘We want to be transparent and give people the thing they are used to seeing,’ said Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light. … [He] said the brand’s research shows younger drinkers, in particular, want to know what’s in their beer.”

Shocking news, of course, to everyone but the wine business. I’ve been writing about nutrition and ingredient labels for wine since since my newspaper days, and the message has remained the same: Why ketchup and not wine? Why not transparency? What is wine trying to hide?

Or, as consumer advocates said in this 2009 story I did for Palate Press, the refusal to add ingredient labels ”puts the industry outside of the mainstream given developments in food labeling and consumer information. The goal, they say, is more information, not less. ‘It’s all about transparency,’ says dietitian Kathleen Talmadge, RMA, RD. ‘Any time the consumer gets more information, that’s a good thing. You want them to be knowledgeable about what they’re buying.’ ”

So Bud Light, one of the most simple and inexpensive alcohol products, has better ingredient labels than a $25 California wine. How much sense does that make?

The Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite posts of 2018

favorite posts of 2018These five posts weren’t necessarily the best read, but they were among my favorite posts of 2018

Welcome to the Wine Curmudgeon’s fourth annual year-end top 10 list — not the most-read posts on the blog, which anyone can do. These are among the best posts I wrote in 2018 and that didn’t get enough attention the first time around.

Again, these aren’t the best-read posts; Google takes care of that, still sending visitors to the epic, more than eight-year-old, “Barefoot wines (again): Value or just cheap? essay. These are the posts that I enjoyed writing, thought were important to write, or both.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite posts of 2018:

• Three-tier strikes again, as the only employee in Amazon’s employee-less Go stores is in the wine section. The conundrum is not just Twilight Zone-ish, but a big deal in the retail business; witness this story in the Chicago Business Journal quoting the post.

The Champagne glass conspiracy, because we can’t just drink wine, we have to drink wine out of the most expensive glass possible. Right, Hosemaster?

Premiumization out of control: We’re told that spending $40 for a bottle of wine is more than reasonable. I didn’t understand why more people didn’t read this — it was one of my best rants in 2018 and it was about one of my favorite subjects.

• How many wine blogs feature original fiction? I didn’t do an April Fool’s or Halloween parody this year, but I did write about aliens and the riddle that is the wine score.

• Finally, a post that wasn’t especially well received, but should have been: Cheap wine isn’t worth drinking just because it’s cheap. I’ve been arguing this throughout the blog’s 11-year history, but I’m finding increased resistance to something that seems obvious. I know why: Wine prices have gone up and wine quality has gone down over the past couple of years, so people are making do with crappy cheap wine. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy abut it, and I certainly wasn’t in this post.

More on the WC’s favorite posts:
Favorite posts of 2017
Favorite posts of 2016
Favorite posts of 2015

Hangover cures: The worst part of the holiday season?

hangover curesThe annual  PR hangover cures offensive is here again, and it’s as annoying as ever

This holiday season, my in-box has overflowed with emails for hangover cures. Any number of experts claim to have figured out how to fix the headaches, nausea, and overall green feeling that comes with too much alcohol.

In fact, one expert has published a book detailing his remedy, and the effort got a moderately favorable review in the Sunday New York Times book section. Which, to be honest, might be more impressive than discovering an effective hangover cure.

For some reason, hangover cures have been all the rage for the past couple of years. Drink this. Eat this. Follow this routine. Each solution is supposed to do for hangovers what penicillin did for venereal disease, and the hangover experts have the anecdotes, surveys, and assorted facts and figures to support their claims.

What none of them apparently have, of course, is any scientific evidence. But, as has been noted on the blog many times, what does science matter when it comes to booze and our health?

That’s because, scientifically, the only way to cure a hangover is not to get one. Or, as I used to tell my El Centro classes in the alcohol and health lecture, “Drink in moderation.” Even the hangover book author sort of acknowledges this, noting that alcohol causes several physical changes in the body, and that too much drinking involves psychological factors as well. Which is a difficult hurdle for one pill or potion to overcome.

The other thing that baffled me about all of this? Americans are drinking less now than ever, so why the increase in hangover cures? One would think, in the post-modern world of designated drivers, increased police scrutiny, and improved alcohol education, there wouldn’t be much need for a hangover cure. But again, the relationship between health, alcohol, and reality is never quite what common sense says it should be.

Have we reached the end of wine criticism?

wine criticism

“I’m tired of toasty and oaky. Where’s that damned thesaurus?”

Wine drinkers have little use for wine criticism. Do they know something the wine business doesn’t?

The Internet was supposed to revolutionize wine criticism, making it more accessible, more open, and more democratic. So what has happened in the 11 years I’ve been writing the blog, as we celebrate Birthday week 2018?

Just the opposite – wine criticism has become more button down than ever, a continually increasing jumble of scores and winespeak where every wine, regardless of quality, seems to get 88 or 90 points. Which raises the question: Have we reached the end of wine criticism?

More, after the jump: Continue reading

TV wine ads: Drink Black Tower, invade a foreign country

This 1982 Black Tower TV commercial reminds us that TV wine ads don’t improve with age

Black Tower is a German wine, best known for its black bottle. In the 1970s and 1980s, when U.S. wine drinkers wanted sweet white wine, Black Tower played off Blue Nun’s success to enjoy a bit of popularity before heading to the back shelves of the liquor store. Where it remains, for $8 a bottle, in case you’re curious.

Which brings us to this bizarre Black Tower TV commercial from 1982. The brand’s marketing types probably thought they had to distance it from Blue Nun’s image, so they made it much more manly. A deep, dark voice reminds us the wine comes “in the towering black bottle” while faux Wagner music plays in the background. Frankly, after watching this, it feels like it’s time to conquer Europe.

The catch, of course, is that Black Tower was about as manly as a baby diaper. It was a sweet, soft wine, and the commercial crams that information in even though it doesn’t quite fit the rest of the ad. Plus, there’s a blond woman eating an apple, because all wine commercials have to have blond women (though I’m not quite sure why the apple).

Like I said, bizarre.

So one more example of the sad state of TV wine ads, whether today or 36 years ago. Is it wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

Video courtesy of Sean Mc via YouTube

More about TV wine ads:
TV wine ad update: Does this Kim Crawford commercial make sense?
Chill a Cella: Now we know why more Americans don’t drink wine
When Blue Nun ruled the wine world