Wine of the week: Banfi Principessa Gavia 2018

Principessa GaviaThe Principessa Gavia is a white Italian wine that’s just the thing for Thanksgiving

Big Wine doesn’t always fare well on the blog, and neither does Italy’s cortese grape. The latter shows up in lots and lots of equally lackluster white wine from the Gavi region, which is why a Gavi has been the wine of the week just three times in 12 years. And the former makes lots and lots of lackluster wine to sell on supermarket shelves

Neither of which is the case with Banfi’s Principessa Gavia ($15, purchased, 12.5%). Banfi isn’t quite as big as it used to be, but it has always delivered top-notch Italian wine at a more than fair price, whether $10 or $50. And this Gavi puts most others at this price to shame.

First and foremost, it’s Italian in style, and not wine made to please American wine drinkers. In this, it shows off the cortese grape without dumbing it down. That means stone fruit, floral aromas, and an almost fruity yet clean finish. That combination is not easy to pull off. Perhaps most impressive, it has an almost hidden acidity – you notice it, but then it’s gone, and doesn’t cover up the rest of the wine.

Highly recommended, and just the thing for Thanksgiving.

Imported by Banfi Vintners

Winebits 621: 1 Wine Dude rant, grape glut, Robert Parker

1 wine dude

Joe Roberts: “Some of us have been sounding warnings for almost an entire decade.”

This week’s wine news: 1 Wine Dude’s Joe Roberts takes on premiumization, plus the grape glut worsens and the Wine Advocate is sold

• “Impending hangover?” Joe Roberts, who writes the 1 Dude Blog, doesn’t mince words: “It seems that, in focusing on selling higher and higher priced wine to a dwindling set of older consumers, the U.S. wine business has painted [itself] into a corner. …” I asked Joe about the piece, which rips the wine business as few others have, and he pointed out he has been warning the wine business about its follies for as long as I have. Maybe we can beat this premiumization thing after all.

• “A steep decline?” California’s grape glut continues to get, well, gluttier. The Napa Valley Register, the industry’s hometown newspaper, reports that “2019 has been a year where it’s tough to sell grapes and bulk wine.” In fact, even Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon – the epicenter of premiumization – has plummeted in price. Quality cabernet, says one broker, has been selling for one-quarter to one-third the price of past years. This almost certainly points to lower wine California wine prices – if not in the next six to eight months, then by the end of next year.

So much for that strategy: In 2012, Robert Parker sold the Wine Advocate to a group of Singapore inventors. The goal, the company said at the time, was to expand the reach of perhaps the most influential magazine in the history of wine to China. So the news that France’s Michelin Guide has bought the 60 percent that it didn’t buy in 2017 probably speaks to the end of the strategy. The story in the link is mostly a puff piece that really doesn’t explain what’s going on, but there’s a sense that Michelin’s need to expand its food and wine review business trumped whatever plans an independent Advocate had or could afford.

Expensive wine 126: Patricia Green Pinot Noir Reserve 2017

The Patricia Green PiPatricia Green Pinot Noir Reservenot Noir Reserve offers value and quality just in time for Thanksgiving

Oregon pinot noir has long enjoyed a reputation for value and quality, and little has changed about that despite all of the other changes in wine since the end of the recession. Case in point: the Patricia Green Pinot Noir Reserve.

The Patricia Green Pinot Noir Reserve ($24, purchased, 13.7%) is one of the best values in wine today – a top-notch red made with quality fruit that speaks to the region’s terroir and the pinot noir grape. In this, it offers a standard that others need to pay attention to (and probably explains why the Wine Spectator likes it as much as I do).

The best part about this wine may well be that it’s still young, and will need a couple of years to show off its best qualities. Because there are plenty of those. It’s a subtle wine, much closer to Burgundy than California, but still very Oregon in style. That means earth and the tannins found only in quality pinot noir. There is brambly black fruit, but it’s more zesty and less pronounced than elsewhere in the state.

Highly recommended, and just the wine for Thanksgiving. Or, frankly, when you want to enjoy quality at an unbelievable price.

Holiday wine tips: The WC makes his Internet video debut

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s — the Wine Curmudgeon talks holiday wine tips

Which deserves a special Sunday post.

My effort is part of the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association Store Brands USA series. Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the private label group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their store brand wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

The host is the eminently talented Michael Sansolo; his show is “Shopping with Michael.” And how is that for opening a bottle of sparkling wine with nary a miscue — and in just one take.

This looks like the format we’ll use for future wine efforts — the give and take with Michael works much better than the usual, sleep-inducing wine lecture video.

Thanksgiving wine 2019

thanksgiving wine 2019Four Thanksgiving wine 2019 suggestions

Thanksgiving is the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite holiday. When else do we get to get to share lots of wine and good food for no other reason than wine and good food? Plus, there is cooking, and it doesn’t get much better than the way a roasting turkey in the oven makes the house feel. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.

These Thanksgiving wine 2019 suggestions should get you started:

Maison Albert Bichot Chablis 2016 ($20, purchased, 12.5%): This French white wine, made with chardonnay, gets surprisingly low marks on CellarTracker, the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software. Which is just one example of how useless scores are. This is delicious white Burgundy at a price I can’t imagine, crisp and lemony and minerally. Highly recommended. Imported by European Wine Imports

Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum Rose 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This French pink from the always dependable Georges Vigouroux uses malbec to its best advantage, with not too much dark fruit and a clean and fresh wine. It’s a nice change from everyone making Provencal-style roses. Imported by AP Wine Imports

Azienda Vitivinicola Tonnino Nero d’Avola 2017 ($14, purchased, 13%): Interesting Sicilian red that more resembles Oregon pinot noir than it does Sicilian nero. It’s more brambly, like berries, than the usual plummy fruit. It’s less earthy, and the acidity is more noticeable. Imported Bacco Wine & Spirits/em>

Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV ($20, sample, 12%): California sparkling that tastes like it’s supposed to at a fair value — creamy, yeasty, apple fruit, not too tart, and soft but persistent bubbles. In this, it’s a tremendous value.

More about Thanksgiving wine:
Thanksgiving wine 2018
Thanksgiving wine 2017
Thanksgiving wine 2016
Wine of the week: Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! 2017
Expensive wine 123: Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2016

Friday Birthday Week 2019 giveaway: 3 cheap wine books

cheap wine book

Yes, three autographed copies just for you.

Win three cheap wine books in the Friday Birthday week 2019 giveaway

The winner is Susie Jo, who picked 123. The winning number is 122 (screenshot to the left). Thanks to all for another outstanding birthday week. And an especial thanks to everyone who left such kind comments about my work here.


Today, to celebrate the blog’s 12th anniversary, we’re giving away three autographed copies of the cheap wine book. This is the final  giveaway for Birthday Week 2019.

Complete contest rules are here. Pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and leave it in the comment section of this post. You can’t pick a number someone else has picked, and you need to leave your guess in the comments section of this post — no email entries or entries on other posts. Unless the number is in the comments section of this post, the entry won’t count.

If you get the blog via email or RSS, you need to go to this exact post on the website to enter (click the link to get there). At about 5 p.m. central today, I’ll go to random.org and generate the winning number. The person whose entry is closest to that number gets the books.

How do you write about quality cheap wine when the system is rigged against it?

Look out! They’re shelling us with premiumization and the wine tariff!

You keep a stiff upper lip, try to ignore the frustrations and complications, and soldier on – because quality cheap wine is worth it

How do you write about quality cheap wine when the wine industry and the federal government have gone out of their way to make quality cheap wine an anachronism?

Because, as we celebrate the blog’s 12th birthday, that’s the situation I find myself in. Premiumization and the 25 percent European wine tariff have made it all but impossible to find the kind of $10 and $12 wine that’s worth writing about. I feel like a character in one of those British Raj movies where the garrison is stranded in a fort on a remote hilltop and we’re being picked off one by one and we know the relief column isn’t going to arrive in time.

Yes, there is still plenty of cheap wine on store shelves, but just because a wine is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking.

So what’s the Wine Curmudgeon to do? Carry on, of course. What else is a stiff upper lip for?

The irony here is that I seriously considered ending the blog after this final birthday week post (with a Hall of Fame wrap-up in January). And if I had known about the wine tariff when I was pondering the blog’s fate this summer, it would have been that much easier to close it after 12 years.

Changing my mind

But two things happened to make me change my mind: First, and most practically, the site’s hosting company charged me for another year in August. So, if I closed the blog with this post, I would have been stuck paying for nine months of service I didn’t use. Second, four people whose opinions I admire and respect pointed out that if I didn’t keep doing this, who would? And that despite my frustration with the blog, there is and will be a need for it.

For the frustrations have been endless. These days, it’s not just about paying homage to our overlords at Google or dealing with out-of-touch producers and distributors and too many incompetent marketers. Or fending off the sponsored content and the fluff pieces that so many others in the wine writing business have turned to in an attempt to make money at something where there is little money to be made.

These days, it’s about making sense of a business that is divorced from reality. Which, frankly, makes me feel like I’m using a croquet mallet to comb my hair.

Consider just these two items: A group of Washington state wine producers, faced with declining sales, say they aren’t worried since the wine they are selling is more expensive. Meanwhile, Italian pinot grigio producers, also faced with declining sales, want to know how to sell more expensive wine to make up the difference.

Making money the hard way

Am I missing something here? Aren’t declining sales a bad thing? Shouldn’t an industry do something to reverse the decline, instead of furthering it by raising prices?

But not, apparently, if it’s the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century. Because, of course, premiumization. I’ve probably written entirely too much about the subject, but mostly because I can’t believe anyone in wine still takes it seriously. Though, and this is welcome news, there are others who are beginning to question its validity. Damien Wilson, PhD, who chairs the wine business program at Sonoma State University, is blunt: Premiumization can be a path to ruin, since sales decline and higher prices scare off new wine drinkers.

The less said about the tariff the better. It’s as counterproductive as premiumization, and its adherents are blinded by politics to economic reality. That the tariff could forever wreak havoc on U.S. wine consumption is beyond their comprehension.

So let me shepherd my ammunition, keep my head low, and hope against hope that the relief column gets through. And keep a very stiff upper lip.

More Birthday Week perspective on the wine business:
Have we reached the end of wine criticism?
• 10 years writing about cheap wine on the Internet
• Premiumization, crappy wine, and what we drink