Category:Wine trends

Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?

private label wineAre U.S. retailers ready to sell quality private label wine like their European counterparts?

I tasted two wines just before Thanksgiving that were easily some of the best cheap labels I’ve sampled this year. The catch? They’re only available in Europe – where, of course, they’re wildly popular.

They were grocery store private label wine. One was a €4 (about US$4.55) South African sauvignon blanc called MooiBerg that has sold 750,000 cases at Aldi stores in the Netherlands. The wine so much better made, so much better priced, and so much more enjoyable than the Winking Owl that dominates U.S. Aldi shelves that I was speechless.

The wine’s producer and importer are desperate to get into the U.S. but have had little success. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

That was the bad news. The good news? I tasted the wines at the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association trade show, which dedicated part of this year’s effort to convince U.S. retailers to abandon their traditional overpriced and poorly made private label wines in favor of quality like the Mooiberg. The group is so serious about doing this that it holds an international wine competition for store brand wines.

As part of that effort, I moderated a seminar that explored the differences between private label wine in Europe and the U.S. (Full disclosure: I’m doing some consulting for the trade group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

We were trying to figure out why British consumers get quality €6 Prosecco at Lidl in the United Kingdom and we get crummy $10 domestic sparkling wine at Aldi. In fact, said the panelists, U.S. wine drinkers do want better quality private label wine than they’re getting now.

And this was more than my whining. One of the panelists, Maryrose Rinella, oversees private label wine for the nationwide Albertson’s/Safeway chain. And she told the audience that her company wants to upgrade its private label wine to make more money. Quality private label, she said, is more profitable for the retailer. Talk about a revolutionary concept for the wine business.

So a fine start, but still a long way to go until we get that €4 sauvignon blanc on U.S. shelves. But it will be worth the wait. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

Holiday wine trends 2018

holiday wine trends 2018Holiday wine trends 2018: We aren’t necessarily spending more money, but we’re demanding better quality and looking for something different

• Holiday wine gift guide 2018

Wine drinkers aren’t necessarily looking for more expensive wine this holiday season. Rather, as part of holiday wine trends 2018, they’re looking for quality – and even something out of the ordinary.

“My customers are looking for wine not just for special occasions anymore, but for something they can drink every day that combines value and quality,” says Adam Acquistapace, whose family owns two gourmet grocery stores in the New Orleans area. “They want something they can drink that’s just good.”

In other words, not as many changes as you would expect, given what we’ve heard about wine prices this year. Even at Pogo’s, a high-end Dallas wine store, $15 to $20 is the sweet spot, says Neal Caldwell, who has been watching Dallas wine trends for more than three decades.

So what are we looking for this holiday season (aside from the mass-produced Meomis, La Cremas, and Veuve Clicquots that always sell well this time of year)?

• One change? Traditional is back, says Caldwell. This includes cru Beaujolais, the $15 to $20 French red wine from the Beaujolais region of France. Other retailers are seeing increased demand for Chianti, the Italian red long regarded as something only for people who remember Chianti’s straw bottles.

• Another change? Even older wine drinkers, usually the least adventurous, are taking chances, says Caldwell. How about sparkling wine from the Limoux region of France? Or an Italian nebbiolo instead of California cabernet sauvignon? The number of different wines sold on Wine.com, the country’s largest Internet wine retailer, increased 40 percent from this time last year. Says Michael Osborn, Wien.com’s founder and vice president merchandising: “Consumers are buying everything from aglianico to zweigelt.”

• A third change: Lighter red wines, something that started a couple of years ago and shows no signs of slowing down. That’s more than just sweet red blends, say retailers, but the also Oregon pinot noir, and European reds.

• And rose continues to surge, and especially for less than $15 (music to the Wine Curmudgeon’s beleaguered cheap wine ears). Roses account for 3 1/2 percent of Wine.com’s sales, and it’s a year-round product that shows up on holiday tables. That was unheard of just a couple of years ago.

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

Wine Curmudgeon most popular posts 2018

most popular posts 2018The Wine Curmudgeon’s most popular posts 2018

The blog enjoyed the best year in its 11-year history between November 2017 and November 2018, with some 600,000 visitors in one form or another. You can be impressed; that I did that with my nickel and dime operation speaks to how desperate wine drinkers are for intelligent, well-written, and unbiased information in the post-modern wine world. Of which you can read more on Thursday in my annual state of the wine industry rant and essay.

The key here is “in one form or another.” Some two-thirds of blog readers never visit the blog anymore, but access it through the daily email or an RSS feed. This is a tremendous change. As recently as a couple of years ago, those figures were reversed. This skewed some of the top post numbers in 2018, since people who don’t come to the blog aren’t counted in the same way as people who do. Internet analytics are even murkier than the three-tier system.

Nevertheless, if the way people use the Internet changes, the blog will change with them.

What else happened between 2017 and 2018?

• Blog readers continue to get younger (maybe half younger than 40) and the number of women continues to increase (perhaps as many as 2 1/2 out of five). Again, murky counting.

• The Barefoot wine value post, written in 2009, was No. 1 for the fourth consecutive year. And it wasn’t even close, with almost one-third more hits than the No. 2 post. I have accepted this as the blog’s fate, and will just update the top of  the post with links to more current Barefoot reviews.

• More than three-quarters of the blog’s actual visitors arrived via searching, the highest ever. The most common search term? Barefoot wine, of course.

The most popular posts from 2018 — as well as a couple of other highlights — are 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

Wine prices: What do wine drinkers pay for wine?

wine pricesMost of us spend less than $15 a bottle, which isn’t that much different from what we’ve been paying for the past 30 years

•  “What do wine drinkers want?”

What do wine drinkers pay for wine? Not what the wine business wants us to pay:

• About eight in 10 of us spend less than $15 on a bottle of wine.

• Only six percent of us spend more than $21 a bottle.

• The $8 to $12 range remains the most popular.

That’s the stunning summary from a 2018 study by Morning Consult (via Wine Industry Insight). Why stunning? Because the wine business has been feeding us premiumization – the idea that more of us are going to spend more money for a bottle of wine for no particular reason – since the end of the recession. Since then, it seems like every wine study, consultant, and industry wise guy has been insisting that premiumization is the future of the wine business. To listen to them, we’ll soon spend $20 a bottle and be grateful for the opportunity.

Which this chart says isn’t true (click on it for a bigger version). Its numbers aren’t that much different from the last significant pricing study, conducted in 2014 by the Wine Market Council. In that report, the council identified $20 as the cutoff for expensive wine in the U.S. and found that just five percent of us ever buy wine costing more than $20.

In other words, I haven’t been wasting my time for the past decade.

So why they hype and blather over premiumization? Because the wine business thrives on hype and blather. Yes, there have been changes in what we’ll pay for wine, with more wine being sold between $10 and $15 since the end of the recession and sales of wine costing less than $5 decreasing during that period.

But I’m convinced this is more about demographics, as older wine drinkers – who bought the least expensive wines – drink less and younger wine drinkers enter the market at $8 and $10 instead of $5 and $8.

And that’s more or less what this chart demonstrates.

More about premiumization and wine prices:
• “Reasonably priced at $40:_ Wine premiumization is out of control
Expensive wine prices in the real world
Another study agrees: We buy wine on price

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.