Category:Wine rants

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

What do wine drinkers want?

wine drinkeresWine drinkers want mostly simple things. Why is that too much to ask?

• Wine prices: What do wine drinkers pay for a bottle of wine?

What do wine drinkers want? That is, those of us who drink wine because we enjoy it and aren’t chasing scores, trying to impress others with how much money we spend, or aspire to become wine geeks.

I shouldn’t have to ask this question, but as I start to gather material for the blog’s 11th annual Birthday Week starting Nov. 12, it remains in the forefront. Because, as one Dallas retailer who usually doesn’t say things like this said the other day: “Why is the wine business starting to treat consumers and wine drinkers like they’re idiots?”

So what do wine drinkers want?

• Fair pricing. The point is not how much a wine costs, but whether it’s worth what it costs. Barefoot, regardless of anything else, usually offers $6 of value. How many $20 wines can say that? And, as noted too many times in the past couple of years, fewer and fewer wines that cost more than $15 are worth that much money – to the Dallas retailer’s point.

• Truth in labeling. If a wine is sweet, say it’s sweet. Why is that so difficult to do?

• Varietal correctness. Chardonnay should taste like chardonnay, merlot should taste like merlot and so forth. Why is this so difficult to do?

• Legitimate availability. I get at least one email a week from a reader saying she or he can’t find wines I’ve written about. This happens even though I try to write about wines that are generally available. So why the problem? Because the system is rigged in favor of the biggest wholesalers and the biggest retailers, but not the consumer. Hence, the most available wines are usually the least interesting, the least varietally correct, the least truthful about sweetness, and the most unfairly priced.

• Knowledgeable sales people. Why a Chicago-area grocery store wine salesman would be rude to my mom when she asked about a wine I had written about is beyond me. But behavior like that is becoming the norm – when you can find someone to help you.

What the people who do wine lists still don’t understand about restaurant wine pricing

restaurant wine pricingRestaurant wine pricing is the key to a successful list – why is that so hard to figure out?

The article in the trade magazine was called “Winning the wine game: Experts share advice for building great lists,” and the five people quoted all seemed to be smart, savvy, and knowledgeable. So what the was the one thing that almost none of them mentioned as a way to build a great wine list? Sensible restaurant wine pricing.

Nothing demonstrates the conundrum that is restaurant wine pricing more than the jargony writing in this article. “Thinking of the list as a holistic set of offerings that compliment each other is key.” Does anyone have any idea what that sentence means? How will it help anyone put together a quality wine list? Plus, it should be complement, not compliment.

Hence, the problem we face with restaurant wine pricing. Not enough people who put together wine lists understand that pricing is more important than anything else. It’s not screwcaps vs. corks or treating wholesalers with respect, two pieces of advice in the article. If we can’t buy wine at a fair price, we won’t – and there is almost 10 years of post-recession wine sales data to prove that point.

We’re tired of paying $35 for a $10 bottle of wine, but no one quoted in the piece seems to realize that. The closest anyone came – “A list needs to contain good lower-end bottle prices, along with the well-known higher end [wines]” – still doesn’t address the problem. Most restaurant wine pricing is too high, and there’s no good reason for it.

And if these five experts don’t see pricing as a problem, what does that say about the rest of the restaurant business – who probably aren’t as expert or as successful? Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

More about restaurant wine pricing:
The John Cleese/Fawlty Towers guide to restaurant wine service
Winecast 28: Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News
British restaurants to customers: Sod off

Has the next phase of the wine slowdown started?

wine slowdownToo many grapes, younger people who don’t drink alcohol, and slowing sales among all age groups are signs of a wine slowdown

Call it a tipping point if you don’t mince words or an easing of momentum if you do, but the results are the same. It looks like a major change in U.S. wine consumption is underway. Call it the post-recession wine slowdown.

Know four things:

• California wineries, faced with an oversupply of grapes from yet another bumper harvest and lagging sales, don’t seem to be buying as many grapes this year. In fact, their attempt to get out of grape-buying contracts in some parts of the state is causing controversy and bad blood.

Wines sales have slowed, so that even an industry cheerleader termed growth for this year at a “sluggish 0.2% projected pace.” These numbers, from the company that publishes the Wine Spectator, confirm what has been reported elsewhere many times – U.S. sales by volume won’t exceed the increase in the drinking age population for the foreseeable future.

• One of the world’s biggest spirits companies expects that the “low-[alcohol] and no alcohol cocktail movement will increasingly shape the bar world” in 2019. The report went on: “What is most notable, though, is the differing consumption habits of the younger demographic, with 46 percent of people under the age of 35 likely to order a mocktail (non-alcoholic cocktail), versus just 16 percent of over-35’s. “

Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank, one of wine’s leading statistical gurus, says the industry is at that tipping point. McMillan says there will be more grapes than are needed to meet slowing demand, and that the industry must come up with a Plan B to sell its product in this more challenging environment.

In other words, we have too many grapes, younger people who don’t necessarily want to drink alcohol, and slowing sales among all age groups. But the industry is hellbent on selling more expensive wine as if none this was relevant – if it was still the heyday of scores and wine magazines in the 1990s and that post-recession premiumization would go on forever.

Consumers – and that includes most wine drinkers – vote with their debit cards. You can only sell overpriced and lower-quality wine for so long before they put their debit cards away. If that is happening now, and I think it is, then we have a wine industry selling something fewer people want to buy. And that is not a recipe for success.