Wine of the week: Alain Brumont Tannat-Merlot 2015

Brumont tannat-merlotThe Brumont tannat-merlot shows the tannat grape to its best advantage in a delicious $10 wine

During a recent Skype tasting for the American Wine Society, someone asked me about tannat. It’s a red grape, very geeky, best known in South America. When it’s made as a varietal wine, the result is often hard, tannic, and not all that enjoyable. But when it’s blended, like the Brumont tannat-merlot from Gascony in France, it can be a wine of the week.

I’ve tasted three bottles of this vintage of the Brumont Tannat-Merlot ($10, purchased, 13.5%) over the past three years, and each one has been different. Who knew there would be such a variation in bottle age for a $10 wine?

But that’s the tannat at work, and it’s also worth noting that the 2015 is the vintage in most stores. As such, the third  tasting was a delight – some of the tannat’s heartiness was still there, but the rough edges were gone, softened by the merlot. But this is not a soft wine – there’s not any hint of sweetness or too ripe black fruit (blackberry?), and the tannins and acidity remain part of the wine’s still complete structure. Hence, a food wine, and ideal for summer barbecue, burgers, and especially bratwurst.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Kindred Vines

Winebits 596: Tariffs, wine writing, wine prices

Wine pricingThis week’s wine news: The booze business has discovered it doesn’t want tariffs, either, plus wine writing’s unique demographics and expensive wine doesn’t guarantee quality

No tariffs, please: The Wine Curmudgeon is not the only one who understands that tariffs are a mug’s game. Most of the booze business’ leading trade groups, including the Wine Institute, have asked the federal government to drop plans to tax European Union products. The story, from Shanken News Daily, is a bit convoluted, but the gist is that even people who never agree about anything else agree about this: “Entry level, everyday products are going to be affected just as much as high-end imported products,” said the CEO of the group that represents wine and spirits wholesalers.

An exclusive club: Tom Natan, writing on the First Vine blog, discovers one of the wine business’ underlying truths, “the uniform racial makeup of the wine writing world. … at least the part I experience at meetings and conferences — seems to be populated almost exclusively by White people like me.” He parses some intriguing numbers, including that almost one-quarter of U.S. business owners and bosses are women, but that only 4 percent of wine and spirits businesses are owned or run by women. And only one-fifth of those 4 percent are women of color. This is in marked contrast to food writing, he writes, which is much more diverse. Natan looks for reasons why this is true, but misses something else: Does this lack of diversity explain why the wine business is so obsessed with expensive wines – the kind that are preferred by its older, wealthier demographics?

Not so fast, expensive wine: Dan Berger, writing in the Santa Rosa Pres-Democrat (in the heart of wine country, no less), warns us that “wine buyers willingly accept being fed a diet of misinformation — or no information at all. They continue to buy wines based on marketers’ fictions, accepting lies or faux facts, and believing high prices indicate high quality.” And, just to be sure we understand, Berger asks: “Can you imagine buying a car without first gaining specific details about its specifications, and without taking a test-drive? How about buying furniture off the web that doesn’t give measurements or the material from which it was made?” But, and as been mentioned here many times, wine drinkers do that regularly, because we assume that wine is different than cars or furniture.

Are the neo-Prohibitionists winning the debate about drinking?

neo-ProhibitionistsNew data shows neo-Prohibitionists campaign against drinking may be making headway

Are the neo-Prohibitionists winning the debate about drinking? New data, including a study about world alcohol consumption, shows fewer of us are drinking. Does this mean more people believe their argument that all booze is evil?

Worldwide alcohol consumption declined 1.6 percent in 2018, according to a report from IWSR, a London consultancy. And wine, which had increased in consumption globally the past several years, also declined 1.6 percent in 2018. That included leading markets like China, Italy, France, Germany and Spain; the U.S. market was flat.

In addition, reported IWSR, “Low- and no-alcohol brands are showing significant growth in key markets as consumers increasingly seek better-for-you products, and explore ways to reduce their alcohol intake.” Growth of no-alcohol wine is forecast at 13.5 percent, with low-alcohol wine at 5.6 percent. Those are impressive numbers to begin with, even acknowledging the small base, and it’s even more impressive given how few no- and low-alcohol wine products exist today.

Meanwhile, Australians – usually regarded as some of the world’s great drinkers – have cut their alcohol consumption significantly since 2014. No one was more surprised than the CEO of the research institute that did the study, who noted that booze is seen as having “a central role” in Australian life. But no more?

What’s going on here? Know that the IWSR study includes a variety of caveats about why consumption declined, and that it expects drinking to return to growth over the next several years. But when the study identifies Ethiopia as one of the top 10 growth markets in the world, something is much different than we’re used to.

In this, it’s almost certainly the idea that any kind of drinking is bad for us. The IWSR study hints at this, with the growth in no- and low-alcohol products, but so does something else. In the U.S. we’ve always faced a religious backlash against drinking, and it’s the main reason why so much of the country was dry until the 1990s.

But that backlash seems to have ended. A May 2019 Gallup poll found that 79 percent of Americans found drinking morally acceptable; only 19 percent said it was a sin. That makes booze as acceptable as divorce and more acceptable than non-marital sex, says Gallup.

So if more of us are drinking less, and that seems to be the case, then the neo-Prohibitionists’ scare tactics seem to be working. Hopefully, the wine business will eventually take notice and offer a compelling argument in favor of moderation. Its current hear no evil, see no evil, premiumization is the answer to everything policy might work in the short run, but doesn’t offer much for the future of wine drinking in the U.S.

More about the neo-Prohibitionists and drinking:
Health alert: Does the CDC know how dangerous Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is?
Cigarettes, wine, and cancer
The federal government’s three drink limit

Nutrition labels: What wine can learn from two packages of frozen onion rings

nutrition labelsIf wine doesn’t have nutrition labels, how will younger consumers know it’s not going to kill them?

Every time the Wine Curmudgeon writes about wine nutrition and ingredient labels, people cancel their email subscriptions to the blog. So get ready to press the cancel button, because you’re really not going to like this post: How nutrition and ingredient labels save us from making stupid food decisions, and what wine can learn from a package of onion rings.

Consider two packages of frozen onion rings – one traditional and one made with onions, cauliflower, and beans. Which do you think is the healthiest choice?

And you’d be wrong.

In fact, the faux rings, Farmrise veggie rings, have 220 calories per serving, with 15 percent of the USDA daily allowance of fat and 8 percent of the allowance of sodium. The onion rings, the Kroger house brand, have 180 calories, 10 percent of fat, and 7 percent of sodium. Plus, the real onion rings are about half the price. Click on each link and you’ll see the nutrition label for each product.

The difference in nutrition? The faux rings need the extra fat and salt because cauliflower has no flavor; the fat and salt goose up the Farmrise so it won’t taste like industrially steamed cauliflower. And the difference in price? That’s the healthy option premium, in which we’re supposed to pay more for stuff that’s better for us, even when it isn’t. Check out a can of so-called “healthy” soup, and the only difference between it and Campbell’s may be the price – each has massive amounts of sodium.

What does this have to do with wine? Wine refuses to join the 21st century by making this nutrition information easily available; it has been fighting labels with down to the last bullet determination for more than a decade. But that also means that the same younger consumers who would spot the onion ring contradiction in a second will continue to think wine has something to hide. This is opposed to their parents and grandparents, wine drinkers all, who trust in cauliflower and Big Food.

Because, to the younger consumer’s post-modern way of thinking, wine would have these labels unless there was something fishy going on (or eggy or sugary or industrial adhesive-y or any of the other 60-some ingredients legally allowed in wine that aren’t grapes).

And, as we are reminded here and elsewhere, and reminded over and over, younger consumers aren’t drinking wine the way their parents and grandparents did. Maybe this could be one of the reasons?

More about wine nutrition labels:
The final “nutrition and ingredient labels for wine are a good thing” post
Are we making progress in adding ingredient labels to wine?
Nutritional labels for booze

Asimov on Texas wine: Not quite right

asimov texas wineAsimov gives N.Y. Times readers skewed picture of Texas wine

Eric Asimov of the New York Times is probably the best wine writer in the United States, offering what a friend of mine calls a “thoughtful, balanced but personal approach to wine drinking.” He shows his passion and his joy for wine, he writes clearly and directly, and he doesn’t talk down to his readers. Would that more of my colleagues did that.

That’s why I was so disappointed by Asimov’s recent article about Texas wine — or, more specifically, about a Long Island winemaking couple, Regan and Carey Meador, who moved their Southold winery to the Hill Country. In the process, the story implied, they were bringing civilization and much needed progress to Texas winemaking. The article, displayed prominently on the cover of the paper’s Dining section, was everything that has always been wrong with regional wine reporting – not just condescending, but reinforcing the stereotype that those of us in the provinces can’t succeed without help from our betters.

It was the last thing that I expected from Asimov, and I do not write this lightly. In fact, it took me almost two weeks to decide to write anything. Who wants to be called petty and provincial?

Besides, I respect Asimov immensely (though we have never met) and have written very nice things about him on the blog and in the cheap wine book. And he has been a tremendous supporter of regional wine, helping to give New York the due it deserves. So the last thing I want to do is to get into a cyber-spat with someone who does what Asimov does as well as he does it. And this is not about the Meadors; people who want to make quality wine are always welcome.

Rather, it’s Asimov’s characterization of Texas winemaking that deserves to be called out. It was what those of us who have done journalism call “parachute reporting” – you parachute into a place with little knowledge beyond general stereotypes, do a little reporting and get airlifted out, stereotypes intact, and knowing almost nothing more about the subject than you did beforehand.

So, given what I do here and the blog’s reason for being, as well as my work over the past decade with Drink Local Wine and the regional wine movement, know this about Asimov’s Texas wine story:

• Yes, as Asimov writes, Texas produces lots of middling, mass market supermarket wine (and I’ve criticized the industry for this and taken my lumps). But so do California, France, and almost every other wine region in the world, including New York. I’m sure Asimov has run across Red Cat a time or two.

• Asimov writes that Texas’ move toward varietals more suited to its terroir, as well as the presence of more open and free-thinking winemakers like the Meadors, is a new development. This is untrue; those movements were underway at least a decade ago. We showcased both at our first Drink Local Wine conference in 2009 in Dallas. I wrote about the same subject in 2016, “The Texas Wine Revolution,” for Texas Journey magazine. If I may quote myself: “What is a new, especially in the past 10 years, is the acceptance that Texas wine is not California wine or French wine or Italian wine. It is Texas wine.”

• Hence, it was especially annoying to read that a New York winemaker had to come here to save the Texas wine business from itself.

• The Hill Country, which Asimov visited, is not the most important place in the Texas wine world. It gets the most tourists (think Red Cat again), but the High Plains near Lubbock produces 80 percent of the grapes and most of the best grapes. Because, among other reasons, Pierce’s Disease in the Hill Country — the grapevine version of the Black Death. So judging Texas wine off a visit to Fredericksburg is hardly the entire picture. And by the way, it’s not Hill Country, as the story referred to it, but the Hill Country, in the same way it’s Queens, and not the Queens.

• And since the Hill Country is not the center of the Texas wine business, Asimov apparently didn’t taste Brennan Vineyards’ viognier, always among the best in the country; McPherson Cellars’ Tre Colore, a red Rhone blend that speaks to terroir; and Haak Cellars’ amazing Madeira-style wine made with blanc du bois. None have anything to do with Fredericksburg. And it also seems that he missed Perdernales Cellars outside of Fredericksburg, with its terrific tempranillos.

So that’s a more complete picture, and one I wish Asimov had seen. He could have called Russ Kane, who probably knows more about this stuff than anyone, or Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy. Either could have recommended Texas wine producers who would have been able to offer more perspective.

The old saying that any publicity is good publicity still rings true, but accurate publicity is even better.

Wine of the week: Chateau Bonnet Blanc 2016

chateau bonnet blancThe Chateau Bonnet Blanc reminds us of the greatness inherent in cheap when the producer truly cares

The greatest testament to Chateau Bonnet’s wines and founder Andre Lurton’s vision is that this bottle of  Chateau Bonnet Blanc was three years old, but still tasted fresh — and may even more interesting than it was when it was released. How often does that happen with $10 wine?

There is a 2018 version, apparently, though it and the 2017 have not made it to Dallas yet. In fact, I’ve resisted buying this vintage for just that reason. How could any $10 wine, even one as well made as the Chateau Bonnet Blanc ($10, purchased, 12.5%) hold up this long?

Oh Wine Curmudgeon of little faith.

Know that this wine is structured, impeccably made, and will pair with anything from greasy takeout to one of those perfectly roasted chickens that the French pride themselves on. Look for some stone fruit backed with a not so tart kind of lemon, and the richness that adding semillon to the blend (55 percent sauvignon blanc) provides.

Highly recommended, and I’m sure – even without tasting them – that the 2017 and 2108 are just as delicious. And toast Andre Lurton, who died this month at the age of 94, for advancing the cause of well-made wine that anyone can afford to buy.

Winebits 595: Andre Lurton, ancient yeast, Grocery Outlet

Andre Lurton

Andre Lurton

This week’s wine news: Andre Lurton, one of the leaders in great cheap wine, has died, plus an ancient yeast discovery and wine discounter Grocery Outlet may expand

Andre Lurton: Andre Lurton, whose skill and foresight gave us Chateau Bonnet, one of the world’s greatest cheap wines, has died at 94. The Lurton family are Bordeaux royalty, and their holdings include Cheval Blanc, one of the world’s great estates. But Andre Lurton “specialized in buying properties at their lowest value and nurturing them into valuable wine estates,” starting with the family’s Château Bonnet in 1953. It was in Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers region, then and now known for mostly poorly made supermarket wine. But Lurton understood how to improve wine quality and maintain the price, and today Chateau Bonnet produces $10 wine that shames almost all the other cheap wine in the world. As one French journalist wrote: “Andre defines himself as a peasant. He loves to count the hours he spent driving a tractor more than he loves to count the chateaus he owns.” What better epitaph could Lurton have?

5,000-year-old yeast: Israeli researchers have made beer using yeast extracted from 5,000-year-old Egyptian clay pots. Key to their work was Israel’s Kadma Winery, which makes wine in clay pots. Said one expert: “We are talking about a real breakthrough here. This is the first time we succeeded in producing ancient alcohol from ancient yeast. In other words, from the original substances from which alcohol was produced. This has never been done before.” And, reportedly, the beer wasn’t bad, either.

More Grocery Outlets? Good news for cheap wine drinkers – Grocery Outlet, the west coast cult discounter, wants to expand to other parts of the U.S. Supermarket News reports that the company wants to raise $100 million through a stock offering to open hundreds of stores adjacent to its locations in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington (it also has stores in Pennsylvania, which has limited supermarket wine sales). Company officials say it could eventually reach 4,800 stores across the country. Grocery Outlet is famous for buying surplus products from wholesalers and manufacturers, including and especially wine, marking it down by as much as 40 to 70 percent.