This is the first of a three-part series about wine consumption in the United States. The second part is here; the third part is here.
The good news: Americans are drinking more and different kinds of wine. The bad news? We still drink too much marketing-driven wine, and I can’t decide if the increase in sales of more expensive wines is caused by better educated consumers trading up or wine snobs buying on price.
Overall, though, the results from the 2007 Nielsen Beverage Alcohol Overview are encouraging. We bought $9.2 billion worth of wine in 2007, and wine has increased from 14.1 percent of U.S. alcohol purchases in 1990 to 20.7 percent today.
But it’s not so much that wine sales are up. What’s worth noting is that Americans seem to be understanding this wine thing in a way they haven’t before. That is, we’re buying on quality, value and even how wine goes with food.
Talk to people in the business, and almost all are tip-toeing around the U.S. economic slowdown, whether it’s a recession, a reduction in growth or whatever term seems to be the most popular.
As one executive told me, literally with fingers crossed: “The numbers I’ve seen say it’s not too bad yet.”
The wine business, and the U.S. part of it in particular, is especially concerned about a recession because they are very much not prepared for it. The last decade has seen almost unprecedented growth, with more wine sold than ever before. Until last fall, most producers were trying expand their business, not preparing for a slump.
So what happens if there is a recession? What will consumers do? What will producers do?
This is the third of a three-part question and answer series about wine basics. To see part I, go here; part II, here.
Everything you have said so far sounds good. But how do I find out what I like to drink? Drink a glass, of course. If you like it, then buy something similar. If you don ?t like it, pour it down the drain and try something else. Wine is not rocket science. You don ?t have to go to school to learn how to like it. If it tastes good to you, that ?s enough.
Start with inexpensive wines, and work your way up. And don ?t be afraid to try different wines. Just because you like white zinfandel doesn ?t mean that ?s the only wine you can drink. Try a rose or a German riesling. They are similar to white zinfandel, but more sophisticated.
Well, I suppose. But there are so many wines to choose from. How do I get started? Walk into a wine store, or a grocery store with a good wine department, and ask for help. Do you want to learn about reds? Whites? About a region? About wine for picnics? About inexpensive wines? Don ?t try to learn everything in one day. It can ?t be done, for one thing, and it ?s not any fun either.
Tell the staff how much you want to spend, if you have any preferences (dry vs. sweet, red vs. white, and the like), and ask them to recommend something. In addition, ask if they offer classes or tastings. These days, as wine becomes more popular, more and more stores do those things. They ?re cheap and easy ways to taste even more wine.
How can you tell I tell if the retailer is any good? If they don ?t tell you what wine you should drink, but ask you what you want to drink. It ?s your money ? don ?t let a snooty retailer with inventory to move make you buy something you don ?t want to buy. And if you buy something you don ?t like on a retailer ?s recommendation, it ?s perfectly acceptable to tell them the next time you ?re in the store.
That makes sense. But aren ?t there some simple rules of thumb, just to start with? Sure. Remember these, and you ?ll always be able to come up with a decent bottle in a pinch. First, all wine doesn ?t have to be a varietal like chardonnay or cabernet. The best values, especially for inexpensive wine, will be blended from several different grapes. It ?s very difficult to find a terrific cabernet for less than $10, but there are a dozen red blends that will do the same thing the cabernet does for one-third less.
Second, younger is better, since less expensive wines were not made to last as long as their more expensive cousins. Stay away from red wines older than 3 and white wines older than 2. It ?s better to have a wine that ?s a little too young than a little too old.
That should you get you started. The rest is up to you. The most fun part about wine is the journey ? so much wine to taste, and so little time to do it.
Last week's post about how much I appreciate screw tops did me no good with a variety of wine drinkers. One friend of mine, after he read it, said: "I'm only going to say one thing. If the cork goes, it's the end of Western Civilization."
This is the first of a three-part question and answer series about wine basics. The second part will run June 6 and the third part on June 13.
It's summer. It's warm. You want a glass of wine. But you don't know a chardonnay from a cabernet. What's an aspiring wine drinker to do?
Have no fear. The Wine Curmudgeon is here. In fact, The first question people always ask me about wine is how to get started drinking it. For some reason, Americans are convinced that wine is not something to drink with dinner, but a secret holy society that requires rituals and initiations to understand.
This is silly, and I ?m proof of that. Today, I ?m a wine writer and educator who travels throughout the wine world. But 20 years ago, I was a sportswriter who drank Miller Lite and thought wine was something that only snooty people did. If I can learn about wine, anyone can. My biggest regret is that I didn ?t start sooner. I missed drinking a lot of good wine.
Hence this Q and A, which is enough to get almost anyone ready to look at their glass, take a sip, and sigh.
The Wine Curmudgeon loves screw caps. And screw tops. And Stelvin closures. Call it whatever you want — just don't call it a cork.
I mention this not because screw caps are embattled, because they're not. The closures are accepted today as never before, whether it's a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a white Burgundy, or even a high-end Napa cabernet sauvignon. And almost every winemaker I interview who doesn't use screw caps wants to, citing their efficiency and reliability.