Mini-reviews 135: Bonny Doon, Bota Box, Wente, Cameron Hughes

Bonny DoonReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month; four California wines for July.

Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2019 ($15, sample, 13.5%): Something is missing in this rose, released after Randall Grahm sold his legendary company in January. It’s not bad – some watermelon fruit, some minerality – but it’s not the top-notch rose of vintages past.

Bota Box Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($18/3-liter box, sample, 12.5%): Decent California white that works out to less than $5 a bottle, though it’s nothing more than that. Not sweet but not especially tart, either, with a bit of green herb and citrus. There’s an odd grapiness in the back that makes me think it was blended with something like French colombard to stretch the sauvingon blanc.

Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills 2018 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): Ordinary (if well-made) supermarket-style California red from a quality producer. Not much in the way of tannins or acidity — just lots of very ripe black fruit, lots of oak, and that sort of smooth finish that focus groups prefer.

Cameron Hughes Lot 676 2016 ($14, sample, 14.3%): Heavy, rich, hot, and full California white blend, made in the classic “Trying to get 94 points” style. There’s some fruit (stone, lime?), and a surprising amount of oak. Given its age, the style, and that Hughes buys what other producers can’t move, this may well be a pricey bottle that was sitting in a tank somewhere, unloved and unsold.

Photo: “Summer Hols Day 3 – Rain and Wine” by Ian Livesey is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

Geyser Peak gets a new owner – can that save the brand?

geyser peak

“Seriously — someone put riesling in this?”

Geyser Peak, once a great cheap wine brand, has seen sales fall by one-half and quality sink perhaps even more

Dear Robert Pepi Jr.:

I see you are the consultant for the new owners of Geyser Peak, once one of California’s great cheap wine brands. This is welcome news, given your family’s long tradition with sauvignon blanc, the varietal that made Geyser Peak one of California’s great cheap brands. Is it possible that you can convince the wine’s new owners to restore its $10 sauvignon blanc to greatness?

I ask this because American wine drinkers are eager for a $10 California label that offers consistency, quality, and value. Because, as we have too often noted on the blog, that’s almost impossible to find anymore. Geyser Peak was once once of those wines and a member of the $10 Hall of during the blog’s early days. In fact, the Big Guy used to joke that he knew it was summer in Texas when he started drinking Geyser sauvignon blanc.

But that hasn’t been the case for a long time. Your new bosses are at least the brand’s fifth owners since 2007, and the last owner drove sales from around 300,000 cases a year to half that. And no wonder. The last couple of times I tasted the wine it was, to be polite, crummy. Who mixes riesling with sauvignon blanc unless there is an ulterior motive?

Plus, the quotes I read from the new bosses didn’t fill me with confidence: “500,000 cases. … growth potential. … expanded sales force. … honing our focus.” Shudder – nothing about making quality wine in any of that, is there?

Earlier this year, a leading wine industry analyst said California desperately needs “sexy brands at $7 or $8 per bottle. …” Which you and the new owner have the chance to do with Gesyer Peak (and a $10 price would be fine, too). Grape prices have declined, so it will be possible to buy better quality grapes to put in the wine. The brand has a long history of quality – how more reassuring than marketing it as, “Great Geyser Peak wine is back, baby!”? And maybe you can even convince the new owner that this would be the perfect way to bring younger consumers to wine – cheap, fruit forward, and a product that tastes like wine.

As always, I am ready to help in any way I can.

Yours in quality cheap wine,

The Wine Curmudgeon

Photo: Librestock, using a Creative Commons license

Wine of the week: Azul y Garanza Tempranillo 2019

azul y garanzaThis vintage of the Spanish Azul y Garanza tempranillo isn’t as interesting as the past couple, but still delivers quality and value

This is the fourth vintage I’ve tasted of the Azul y Garanaza tempranillo, a Spanish red. And each year has been different from the others. That’s incredibly refreshing in our post-modern, all wine must taste alike world.

This time, the Azul y Garanza tempranillo ($13/1 liter, purchased, 14.1%) is a little more rustic and tannic than past vintages, with less cherry fruit. In this, it’s about the opposite of the first vintage I tasted, the 2016, which was softer and fruitier than I normally like. The Azul probably isn’t Hall of Fame quality this time, like the 2017 and 2018. But, like the 2016, it is perfectly enjoyable to drink.

And it remains a fine value, and not just because it’s a liter, with the extra glass and a half of wine. (And, in four vintages, this is the fourth different price I’ve paid – all bought from stores in Texas).

One other thing: Don’t worry about the 14.1 percent alcohol, which is likely a little sleight of hand to get around the 25 percent Trump wine tariff, which applies to Spanish and French wines less than 14 percent. This “adjustment” is happening quite a bit, and it really doesn’t affect the quality of the wine.

Imported by Valkyrie Selections

Winebits 655: Winespeak, wine real estate, Lidl

winespeak

“So tell me — what kind of customer input do you get on these volumetric brands?”

This week’s wine news: Importer Frederick Wildman invents perhaps the greatest winespeak term ever, plus wine country real estate is “sluggish” and discount grocer Lidl’s effect on pricing

Bring on the winespeak! Frederick Wildman & Sons, in a news release of little interest to most of us, used the term “volumetric wine brands” to describe the cheap wine it sells, including Ruinite and Bolla. The Wine Curmudgeon read this and knew he had struck winespeak gold. “Volumetric wine brands” is the perfect winespeak term – confusing, completely made up, and having no real relationship to English as we know it. I understand that the company doesn’t want to call the wines cheap or supermarket or mass market, but volumetric? Why not just volume, to signify that it sells a lot of those wines? Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

“Sluggish” real estate? Has the pandemic done what no other economic force has been able to do – depress the price of California wine real estate? That may be the case, according to Decanter. A northern California Realtor told the magazine that the vineyard market was “a bit sluggish” overall. If true, this is groundbreaking, since prices have been going up for 20 years despite the dot.com bubble and the 2008 recession. Still, there is plenty of pricey land for those interested. Decanter lists three properties, and all appear to cost at least seven figures.

Lidl and wine prices: Does discount grocery Lidl influence wine prices? Perhaps, if one can believe this study from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. It found that grocery retailers located near Lidl stores set their prices for key staple products up to 55 percent lower compared to their stores in markets where Lidl is not present. The study doesn’t mention wine specifically, but Lidl is famous for its cheap, quality wine in Europe. That’s why it has appeared frequently on the blog since it announced its U.S. expansion several years ago. But the company hasn’t been able to repeat that success here and has cut its growth plans; it recently listed much of its north Texas real estate for sale.

Photo: “Rose wine is really hot in Istanbul” by leyla.a is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A tale of two Italian wines: Boffa Carlo Arneis and Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze 

Italian wineThe former is a lovely $15 wine, while the latter is a $40 Prosecco. How can Italy be going in two completely different directions?

Premiumization has done horrible things to the wine business, so horrible that they go beyond cutting sales and alienating younger consumers. Thanks to premiumization, wine is becoming something not to drink and enjoy, but for collecting and for showing off. Case in point: these two Italian wines.

The Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%) is a beautiful, almost elegant white wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a tremendous value for arneis, a lesser-known grape where prices can top out at $30.

The Mionetto is a $40 Prosecco (sample, 11%). It’s a well-made and enjoyable sparkling wine, but in the end, it’s a $40 Prosecco, not all that different or better than the legions of $12 Proseccos cluttering supermarket aisles.

So how did Italy, a country with thousands of years of winemaking chops, go from the more or less traditional approach that gave us the arneis to one based on premiumization and a $40 Prosecco? Because decisions are increasingly made based on marketing and category management, and not on wine.

My guess? Someone, somewhere decided Mionetto needed a product to compete with Champagne and high-end California sparkling wine. So we got a $40 Prosecco – not because the world was demanding a $40 Prosecco or because the grapes were of such high quality that they would produce a wine worth $40. We got it so an Italian wine would be able to sit on a store shelf next to Champagne and grab some of that market share. Because if a wine costs $40, it must be worth it, right?

The same thing has happened with rose, where the marketplace has been flooded with $25 pink wine that is almost no different from $10 and $12 rose in anything other than retail price. The reason? Because people who buy $25 red and white wines have been taught that cheap wine is crap, so why not sell them $10 rose that costs $25? A rose producer I know can launch into a rant on that subject even more quickly than I can, which should tell you how widespread the practice is.

Finally, remember that this post is not about price, but about value, and that expensive wines can offer, value, too. That’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s mantra. The wine business will have you believe that value is no different from price, because that’s how it makes its money. Because, $40 Prosecco. But we know better, don’t we?

Photo: “Hanging Bottles” by garryknight is licensed under CC BY 2.0

TV wine ad update: Does Stella Rosa’s sweet fizzy red commercial do what Big Wine can’t?

Is this spot for Stella Rosa’s sweet fizzy red, Black Lux, more effective TV advertising than anything Big Wine has come up with? Sure seems like it

The blog regularly rants and raves about Big Wine’s pathetic efforts at TV advertising, and especially at its failure to reach younger wine consumers with epics like (shudder) the Roo.

So how did Stella Rosa, owned by a little known Los Angeles wine producer, get this ad right? Because, after all, the company isn’t a huge multi-national with a massive marketing budget and creative geniuses on the payroll.

The secret, to paraphrase the blog’s official wine marketing guru? Stella Rosa knows its audience. Watch this commercial for its Black Lux, a pricey, sweet fizzy Italian red, and you’ll want to buy the wine and make the recipe — even if you don’t like pricey, sweet fizzy Italian reds. The commercial is fun and accessible; who else has paired tomato soup and wine? And it doesn’t hurt that the spot “borrows” its overhead, cooking hands format from popular Millennial cooking shows like Tastemade.

Best yet, the ad is not about making fun of wine snobs or showing impossibly beautiful people drinking wine that they wouldn’t touch unless they were being paid to do it. Because we know how little that has worked — and why we shouldn’t be surprised that Stella Rose sells more than 2 million cases of wine a year.

Video courtesy of Stella Rosa via YouTube

Winecast 48: 1 Wine Dude Joe Roberts and the Wine Taster’s Guide

joe roberts

Joe Roberts, 1 Wine Dude

1 Wine Dude Joe Roberts and his new book, the “Wine Tasters Guide”

Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude was of the first wine bloggers, and remains among the best-known and most successful. And why not? As he told me last week when we recorded the podcast, “If a wine doesn’t give you pleasure, what’s the point of drinking it, regardless of what I think about the wine?”

Hence his new book — and his first, the “Wine Taster’s Guide: Drink and Learn with 30 Wine Tastings ($14.99, Rockridge Press).” There is also a companion tasting journal ($10.99).

Joe’s goal? To make wine fun again by tasting it, and without the foolishness that passes for so much wine writing today. Joe is passionate about the failings of post-modern wine writing, and especially that we spend too much money on wine we may not like because we are too intimidated by the process.

We talked about how the book works, why Joe wrote it (given that he didn’t think the world needed another wine book), and how many times one checks the Amazon best-sellers page to see one’s book’s ranking. Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 15 minutes long and takes up 5 megabytes. Quality is good to very good (save for a few seconds at the beginning).