Category:Wine trends

San Diego International wine competition highlights

A few thoughts after tasting 250 wines in two days as one of the 36 judges:

? Regional wine scored big. The best of show white wine was Dr. Konstantin Frank ?s semi-dry riesling and the dessert wine winner was from Wolffler Estate Vineyards, both from New York state. Both were stunning wines (and, as ice wines go, the Wolffler wasn ?t ridiculously expensive at $37). Missouri did well, including a gold medal for St. James ? very interesting strawberry wine. I was also impressed with Texas ? efforts. Llano Estacado won a gold (its riesling dessert wine) and silver (its Viviano Italian-style blend) and Stone House in the Hill Country won a silver for its norton.

? And yes, I was surprised by the success of regional wine. Call me a reverse snob, but I didn ?t expect a competition with mostly California judges to see the merits of regional wine. Shows how much I know.

? Biggest surprise?  The best champagne/sparkling wine was Pink from Australia ?s Yellowglen. The $12 bubbly beat several much more expensive and better known wines, demonstrating the advantages of blind tasting. I actually voted for another wine in the sweepstakes balloting. I didn ?t think the Pink was fruity enough.

? High alcohol hasn ?t left us yet. Many of the gold-medal red wines were higher than 14.5 percent, and quite a few were higher than 15 percent. I think this is one area that shows  the influence of California judges, and especially winemakers as judges. They aren ?t bothered by high alcohol the way many of the rest of us are.

? Complete results are here. Thanks to Robert Whitely for asking me to judge and to Richard Carey of Vitis Research and Kimberly Charles of Charles Communications, who were the other two judges at my table.

Lowering the drinking age to 18

Will lowering the drinking age to 18 cut drinking related problems among young people? This is, oddly enough, one of the newest and most interesting approaches to fighting alcoholism. The theory, as propounded by a surprising number of experts, including some police as well as university presidents who are part of the Amethyst Initiative, says it may be the best way to fight an unprecedented wave of binge drinking and similar problems among college students. Take away the legal barrier, and you ?ll take away a lot of the thrill and the incentive.

Or, as the police chief in Boulder, Colo., home to the hard-partying University of Colorado, told 60 Minutes: ?The abuse of alcohol and the over-consumption of alcohol and DUI driving…are the areas we’ve got to focus our efforts. Not on chasing kids around trying to give them a ticket for having a cup of beer in their hand."

After the jump, a few thoughts about lowering the drinking age and why I ?m writing about it.

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Dale Robertson’s 30-point scoring system

The Wine Curmudgeon does not believe in wine scores and he doesn ?t use them. Regular visitors here know how I feel. The only score that matters is whether you like the wine or not.

But Dale Robertson, who does the wine writing for the Chronicle newspaper in Houston, has a system that is worth looking at, even for those of us who think scores are silly. Rice ?s system, which uses a 10-person tasting panel, takes into account two of the biggest problems with scores: personal opinion and availability. By averaging 10 scores, Robertson can work around the fact that someone who doesn ?t like merlot is probably going to score merlot lower.

The most interesting part, though, and why I ?m writing about it, is that one-third of each wine ?s score depends on whether it ?s available in the Houston area. The more it ?s available, the more points it gets.

How the system works after the jump:

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Wine availability, and why it matters to you

The bane of the Wine Curmudgeon ?s existence is availability. Why are so many wines that I like not in stores for you to buy? In fact, get a group of wine writers together, and one of the topics that always comes up is availability. It drives us crazy. There is a bunch of great wine that you ?ll never taste because retailers, for whatever reason, don ?t want to carry it.

This week, I ?m going to look at availability. I ?ll review several wines that should be in more stores as well as discuss a rating system that takes availability into account. Is that one possible solution to this problem?

Today, after the jump, a look at what retailers buy, why they buy it, and what you can do about it.

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Wine trends 2009: “$10 wine is the next $100 wine,” part II

2009 wine trends This is the second of two parts looking at wine prices and consumption this year, and how they will affect those of us who drink cheap wine. Part I is here.

Talk to the experts and parse the numbers, and it doesn ?t look like wine will suffer during the current recession. Some high-end wineries may fail, some cute label imports may go away, and prices may drop a little, but otherwise, all will be well. Consumption remains at an all-time high, Americans are more knowledgeable about wine than ever before, and the industry has done an excellent job of marketing its product. Wine isn ?t seen as nearly the luxury that it used to be.

And maybe this is all true, and wine will ride out the recession with, at worst, minor losses. But this is what makes me wary. U.S. wine consumption has increased every year since 1994, topping out at around 3 gallons per adult last year. Not coincidentally, we ?ve only had one recession since then — the short, sharp slump around Sept. 11. And this period of almost unparalleled economic growth may be skewing a lot perceptions.

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Wine trends 2009: “$10 wine is the new $100 wine”

This is the first of two parts looking at wine prices and consumption this year, and how they will affect those of us who drink cheap wine. Part II, which with my take on the situation, is here.

It isn ?t very surprising, given the economic doom and gloom around us, that wine prices and consumption will shrink this year. What is surprising is that most of the people I talked to don ?t expect wine to suffer as badly as housing, the stock market or any of the other parts of the economy that have collapsed since last summer.

Their thoughts: First, that we ?ll will drink less expensive wine, but not appreciably less expensive. This is what the business calls trading down. Second, consumption probably won ?t decrease, although sales might ? since we ?re drinking less expensive wine. Third, prices for imported wine, and especially French wine, will decrease slightly, and we should see that by the second half of the year. Fourth, there will be a shakeout among producers, mostly but not limited to Australia and California. Low-end wineries will go out of business Down Under, while we ?ll see California wineries making $35 and up wine close.

In this, so far, the numbers bear out their predictions. The Wine Market Council, an industry trade group, says sales gained 1.5 percent in 2008, compared to an earlier projection of 2.1 percent. Not bad, certainly, but is it the entire picture? Maybe, maybe not.

Consumption matters because it affects prices. If consumption drops, so will prices, as supply and demand work its magic. Consumption could drop because we ?re switching to beer, which is less expensive. It could drop because we order a glass instead of a bottle at a restaurant. Or we could eat at home more often, where many of us don ?t drink wine, instead of going out, where we do. And we could just cut back because we can ?t afford wine.

?There is not going to be a huge drop in consumption, ? says Robert Smiley, professor and director of wine studies in the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, who probably knows as much about this stuff as anyone. ?I think the $12 and up category is going to hurt a little more, because people are going to trade down and they ?re going to eat out less. But unless the economy really goes into a tailspin, there won ?t be a big drop. ?

The first casualty will be wine around $15, which has been the fastest growing price category over the past several years. We ?re already seeing anecdotal evidence of this, as my pal Alfonso Cevola has noted: ?They wanted to send palate after palate of overpriced wine into already bulging warehouses. As if they have been taking a siesta these last six months and think things are just as they have been. Business as usual. What a rude awakening they are in for. ?

And the numbers are starting to look that way, too. In December, wines priced above $11 lost dollar share, and wines priced $5-$7.99 also lost share. Boxed wine gained share along with wines priced below $5 and wines priced between $8 and $10.99. Or, as one headline put it: ?$10 wine is the new $100 wine. ?

The key for producers, says Bill Terlato, the president and CEO of Terlato Wine Group and Terlato Wines International, is not to panic. He says some cult wines, which never had a reason to exist other to get high scores, will disappear. They ?ll be victims of consumers trading down and their own finances, which were based on getting $100 a bottle for their product.

Terlato says he is already seeing some high-end producers dumping their product to generate cash. And some analysts are warning high-end producers and growers to prepare for up to 18 months of bad times, with fewer lenders lenders willing to finance cult efforts.

Two other points for those of us who care about cheap wine: First, Terlato says we will see better prices for imports, and especially French wine, later this year. It will take about six months to work through the inventory that was bought with weaker dollars. Second, Smiley says to expect dull, unimaginative wine lists as long as the recession lasts. Restaurateurs, facing a cutback in wine consumption and traffic, will stick with wines they know people will buy and won ?t take any chances.

Part II: Is this all, or will there be more serious ramifications?

Wine and food pairings: Do they matter?

Wine and food pairings: Do they matter?A big-deal wine guy has come up with a new system to pair food and wine, based on the theory that the old way of doing things is kind of silly.

The Wine Curmudgeon doesn ?t necessarily disagree with this. When I do wine classes, the first thing I say is that there is only one wine rule anymore: Drink what you like, but be willing to try different kinds of wine. If you want to drink white zinfandel with prime rib or Napa cabernet sauvignon with Dover sole, go ahead. That ?s not what I would do, but you ?re not me.

In fact, this seems to be a trend gathering momentum in the wine world. The great Jacques Pepin long ago gave up pairing wine and food, and radio wine guru Scott Carpenter, who has interviewed the Wine Curmudgeon, has embraced it as well.

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