Winebits 686: Orson Welles, 7-Eleven, Treasury

orson welles
“”Well, yes, eventually I’ll make a wine commercial that will become infamous.”

This week’s wine news: Orson Welles’ infamous history as a TV wine pitchman, plus Canadian 7-Elevens want to sell wine and turmoil at Big Wine’s Treasury

An anniversary: Blame it on the pandemic, but the blog missed the 40th anniversary of Orson Welles’ infamous Paul Masson wine commercial. Given the WC’s critical eye for the subject, that’s more than surprising. Fortunately, Inside Hook’s Aaron Goldfarb has all the details — including that Welles had done ads for a variety of other booze companies before Masson. The piece is well worth reading, not only for the details of Welles’ behavior, but because, as Goldfarb notes, Welles’ “work with alcohol brands that endures as part of his towering legacy to this day.” And why not? Masson’s sales increased 30 percent during the Welles campaign.

No wine here: A Canadian 7-Eleven wants to sell wine to drink in the store, and its neighbors aren’t happy about it. The CBC reports that neighboring bars and restaurants aren’t happy with the plan, which they fear will cut into their pandemic-bruised sales. Note, too, that “corner store” alcohol sales remain prohibited in the province of Ontario, where the 61 stores are located. This, of course, makes the WC smile — a 7-Eleven in Canada can sell beer and wine to drink in the store, but not to go? And we thought U.S. liquor laws were odd. The company. meanwhile, says the wine and beer service will “complement our fresh food and hot food programs.” So what goes with a plastic wrapped salad?

Treasury woes: Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates, one of the biggest wine companies in the world, may get rid of some its U.S. brands in response to a horrific sales slump thanks to Chinese tariffs. The Aussie business press has been reporting about possible Treasury moves for a couple of weeks as it tries to cope with the Chinese duties. One of the latest plans calls for selling $300 million of U.S. “assets” (though without mentioning band names) and to make more upscale wines in the U.S. ass part of premiumization. Among the company’s California labels are Blossom Hill, Chateau St. Jean, Beringer, and Provenance.

Photo: “03-08-1952_10329A Orson Welles” by IISG is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Supermarket wine sales during the pandemic

supermarket wine
I need more Barefoot, Josh Cellars, Bota Box, and Stella Rosa!

We’re probably buying more supermarket wine during the pandemic, though we have less to choose from – and we’re likely drinking it with a home-cooked dinner

Supermarket wine seems to be thriving during the pandemic, as we make fewer trips and buy more items – including wine – at one store instead of splitting the trip into two or three stops.

Why seems? Because, as with so many things wine, there are few reliable statistics. As one of the country’s leading supermarket analysts told me, “I’ve heard that’s true, and a lot of people are talking about it, but I haven’t actually seen any numbers about it.”

So what do we know?

• Sales appear to increasing. Kroger reported in December that sauvignon blanc was its fourth most popular purchase in 2020, ahead of bags of chocolate candies and burger patties. In addition, noted the annual Wine Business Monthly study, four supermarket brands — Josh Cellars, Barefoot, Stella Rosa, and Bota — grew significantly in 2020. Stella Rosa, a sweet red, was up almost 108 percent.

• We could buying more private label supermarket wine, according to  the Wine Business Monthly study. This ties into a 2020 food industry report that “three in 10 shoppers said they were buying more store brands than before the pandemic,” and while the report doesn’t mention wine, it does talk about increased demand for all private label products.

• Because price still matters, despite premiumization. The New York Times reported in September that “shoppers are being more economical,” and if it’s true for beans and laundry detergent, it may well be true for wine. That’s my sense, anyway, and especially as I struggle to find cheap wine regularly stocked on store shelves. My Aldi, for example, is regularly sold out of my favorite cheap wines.

• We’re cooking more at home, and it looks like this will continue after the pandemic winds down. And that almost certainly means more supermarket wine sales, as shoppers pick up wine to go with dinner. I was skeptical when I saw this report about home cooking this fall, but more analysts say it looks to be the case. Kroger’s chairman told the Times: “People are moving on to more complex cooking, and we don’t see that going away.”

• Fewer wines to choose from when we do buy in a supermarket, by almost five percent, according to Nielsen. This is part of a larger trend, as retailers cut back on inventory in all departments. Interestingly, that five percent was one of the smallest decreases among the 13 categories in the survey. Is this is another hint at wine’s importance to supermarkets during the pandemic?

• More on-line wine sales. Combine better supermarket technology with relaxed state laws, and supermarket on-line sales probably increased, too. I can buy via Instacart or directly from the retailer’s at half a dozen Dallas grocers. In 2019, there were maybe a couple.

Wine to drink during rolling power blackouts

power blackouts
The idea is to have cheap wine in the house so you don’t have to drive in this mess to buy cheap wine to drink during rolling power blackouts.

Three wines to drink during Texas’ rolling power blackouts — because that’s when you really need quality cheap wine

The weather in Dallas for the past 10 days has been exceptional – record, almost sub-zero cold and more snow in a couple of days than we usually get in a couple of years. As such, we’ve had rolling power blackouts thanks to the unprecedented electrical demand. Here at Wine Curmudgeon World Headquarters in Dallas, the power went off eight times between Sunday and Wednesday — and I was luckier than most, who didn’t have any power at all. And a friend in suburban Arlington lost water, and had to use snow to flush the toilet.

Fortunately, I have lots of sweaters, as well as flashlights positioned around the house. Churro, the blog’s associate editor, showed grace under pressure — he barely objected when I wiped his feet off after a trip outside.

The situation raises two questions: First, how did the state’s grid operator get in this mess, which isn’t really in the purview of the blog (though I have had long experience with Texas’ electricity ineptness). Second, what wine to drink during rolling power blackouts?

Fortunately, the WC has the second one covered:

Grunhaus Maximin Riesling 2017 ($15, purchased, 11%): One more very pleasant German riesling surprise – sort of sweet, lemony, almost sparkly. It’s not complicated, but it is German in style. Highly recommended. Imported by Loosen Bros. USA

Fantini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2018 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): This vintage of an always dependable Italian red blend is a touch more interesting – a little earthier, more intriguing cherry fruit, and a little more complex. Just the thing for my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs, and especially when it’s snowing outside. Imported by Empson USA

Marquis de la Tour Brut NV ($10, purchased, 11%): This French bubbly from the Loire, made in the charmat style, is soft, a little sweet (honey?), with tight bubbles and lemon and apple fruit. Very nicely done, and especially for the price. Imported by Palm Bay International

More about wine and weather:
Porch wine for the long, hot summer
Wine to drink when the electricity goes out – yet again
Wine to drink when the air conditioner is replaced

Photo courtesy of Dallas Morning News

Taking wine pairings in a more appropriate direction

Wine pairings: What goes with crying alone to Netflix?


The wine world spends entirely too much time on wine pairings, and even the Wine Curmudgeon is sometimes guilty of this. Hence, I was pleased to see this much more realistic – because it’s not about food – take on wine pairings, courtesy of the CBC’s Baroness Von Sketch show.

The bit is a trifle long, but it makes its point with a smile and a giggle – and in the finest tradition of Canadian sketch comedy, dating to SCTV (where the great Eugene Levy made his bones).

Because who ever considered pairing wine with crying alone to Netflix? Or something for a long, meandering fight with a boyfriend? Or box wines for making a reckless on-line purchase?

Video courtesy of CBC Comedy via YouTube


Wine of the week: Herdade do Esporao Monte Velho Branco 2019

Monte Velho BrancoThe Monte Velho Branco is another Portuguese white blend that does $10 wine proud

Portuguese wine has been one of the great cheap wine surprises of the past several years. Quality – and availability – has continued to improve, but prices have remained around $10. Maybe the Portuguese know something the rest of the world doesn’t?

Consider the Herdade do Esporao Monte Velho Branco 2019 ($10, purchased, 14%). Like the Alandra Branco, a white from the same producer and a long-time blog favorite, the Monte Velho is modern in style but Portuguese in temperament. That means traditional grapes (no chardonnay!) that most of us have never heard of, including antao vaz, perrum, and roupeiro. The first is common in the Alentejo region, and gives the wine its distinctive stone fruit flavors.

Look for almost floral aromas and a little spice and brightness to offset the stone fruits. This is not a complicated wine, but it’s hardly simple, either. Pair it with it grilled vegetables or chickpea and sausage stew. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2022 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Now Imports

Winebits 685: Jerry Jones, grape prices, Vivino

jerry jones
“Quick — see if you can get a shot of the wine Jerry is buying at the 7-Eleven.”

This week’s wine news: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stocks up on wine at 7-Eleven, plus a decade-low for grape prices and wine app Vivino raises $155 million

Not high-end Napa: How bad is the winter weather in Dallas this week? So bad that well-known oenophile, the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, bought wine at an area 7-Eleven. Jones is known for spending $200 or so for a bottle of Caymus Special Selection, a high-end Napa cult wine. So what was he buying at a convenience store? Can’’t tell from the picture in the link (though likely not a $6 bottle). But regular visitors here know that the convenience store wine selection is much better than it used to be and is one of the few bright spots in wine sales over the past couple of years. And, as always, I am happy to offer my services to Jones if he needs advice buying cheap wine, even at the 7-Eleven.

Low prices: California grape prices fell below $700 a ton in 2020, the lowest mark in almost 10 years. The USDA report noted near-decades low prices for almost all kinds of wine grapes – one more indication of the California grape glut. When will this translate into lower wine prices? Your guess is as good as mine, given the Big Wine oligopoly that controls pricing in the U.S.

Cash for Vivino: Vivino, the on-line wine app that lets users rate wine and also sell it to them, has raised $155 million in new funding. This is just another sign that Internet wine – despite the legal obstacles – is becoming more mainstream. It follows on the news last week that Uber bought wine delivery app Drizly for more than $1 billion.

Photo: “ESPN Camera Guy getting everyone ready to bring out Jerry Jones” by {algo+rhythm} | Labs is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

TV wine ads: Deciphering the Menage a Trois holiday ad

Is the Menage a Trois ad really clever or sort of soft core porn?

The blog has been parsing TV wine ads for more than five years, but I’ve never come across anything like this Menage a Trois ad, released for the holidays last year. Is it so well done that I don’t understand it at all, or is it just a soft core porn variation of the usual silliness?

Because it does seem to do what it should do to sell this line of supermarket wines, which are simple, sort of sweet, and play off the double entendre in the brand’s name. The dancing figures on the front label are intriguing but not completely tasteless, and the corny soundtrack isn’t completely corny.

On the other hand, I can’t shake the feeling that the ad is an agency wise guy’s snicker and giggle, a wink and a nod at something like “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Because what does the ad have to do with the wine, other than to tart it up? Are sales actually going to increase because of it? Will consumers actually like it more or remember it the next time they’re standing in from of the supermarket Great Wall of wine?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Still, it’s probably a step up from most of the TV wine ads surveyed over the years, and I know it didn’t make my brain hurt the the way the Roo did. Which is something, I suppose.

More about TV wine ads:
TV wine ads: Does Stella Rosa’s sweet fizzy red commercial do what Big Wine can’t?
TV wine ads: Mateus rose — “it’s like a trip to Portugal”
Wine business: Watch this beer spot to see how TV wine ads should be done

Video courtesy of Menage a Trois Wines via YouTube