Category:Wine trends

Yes, alcohol makes a difference

imageHad crab cakes — special crab cakes, made with fresh blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico from an old friend of the family — on Saturday night, so I opened a bottle of Shannon Ridge sauvignon blanc ($16). Drank one glass, and opened something else.

This is not my annual plea for winemakers to cut back on alcohol content (I’ll save that for the spring). Rather, it’s an example of why I need to make that plea. This wine is 14.1 percent alcohol — 1.1 points higher than Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, 1.3 points higher than Bogle sauvignon blanc, and 2.1 points higher than Chateau Bonnet blanc. And that’s almost three times the alcohol content in a similar serving of beer.

The Shannon was not fresh or vibrant or lively, all trademarks of sauvignon blanc. It was not food friendly, and if we had sipped it with the crab cakes, we never would have tasted the crab.

It did not taste like sauvignon blanc. There was almost no fruit and very little acidity — just an overwhelming heaviness that made me think the wine was spoiled or that it had been aged in oak for 24 months. But it was not spoiled and it was aged six months in stainless steel. The only explanation was the high alcohol, which robbed the wine of of its character.

Why make sauvignon blanc that doesn’t taste like sauvignon blanc?

How much does a reasonable wine cost?

image I got a news release from a California winery the other day, touting a new wine. “It ?s a very nice red blend for an extremely reasonable price,” said the release.

The wine costs $17.

Reasonable, of course, is relative. A 1961 Bordeaux for $17? More than reasonable. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc? Certainly reasonable. But California wine from the current vintage, from somewhere other than Napa or Sonoma? Very unlikely.

Let me add that I have not tasted this wine, which is why I’m not naming it. But it is indicative of a trend, pioneered by the largest multi-national wine companies, to make wine based on price. The companies see a figure — and the $15-$20 range is currently very popular — and then produce wine to fit that price. I get a dozen samples a month of wine made that way. I drink a couple of glasses, shake my head, and reach for one of my trusty $10 wines.

This is quite different from the old method, where companies figured out how much it cost to produce the wine and added their profit margin to calculate a price.

The reason Two Buck Chuck is so popular is not because it’s great wine. It’s because it’s a great value. But too many wineries (and especially some of the multi-nationals) refuse to accept the price-value argument. They figure they can throw a cute label on the bottle, get a good score from the Wine Magazines, or pull some other rabbit out of their marketing hat and sell a $10 bottle wine for $17.

That may be great for the company, but it doesn’t do anything for the consumer or for the long-term health of the wine business.

Lots more wine on the shelf

Thought you saw a lot of new wines on store shelves this year? You weren ?t seeing things. Wine companies launched 423 brands in 2006, with more expected this year, according to a report from the Nielsen Co.

What ?s the reason for all of these new labels? Cheap grapes, especially in California, said the report, as well as marketers trying to cash in on wine ?s health benefits ? perceived or otherwise. Perhaps the most significant finding is that grocery store wine sales showed strong growth, doubling the increase in liquor store sales.

The study also found that:

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White zinfandel and high-end cabernet

A fellow walked into a wine shop the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and asked if they had any Silver Oak, a big-time Napa wine that leaves wine snobs weak in the knees. Nope, all gone, said the employee. Well, then how about B.R. Cohn (another pricey cab)? Nope, but I do have Andrew Geoffrey, said the employee (yet another $100 Napa cab).

The customer looked askance at her, shook his head no, and walked out. Which led me to wonder: What’s the difference between that customer, whose palate is restricted to not just $100 wines, but specific $100 wines, and the white zinfandel drinker, who won’t touch anything else?

None at all.

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