Consolidation in the wine business

This is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite topics, but it’s difficult to get people to pay attention. Too many consumers don’t understand that increased consolidation may well reduce their choices and raise the prices they pay.

The latest news? Constellation Brands, a $5.2 billion company, paid $885 million for the wine subsidiary of the company that makes Jim Beam. Constellation will get Clos du Bois, Geyser Peak, Wild Horse, Buena Vista Carneros and Gary Farrell. Constellation, incidentally, is a bigger company than PetSmart and Pizza Hut.

The always erudite Dan Berger has the best take on this: Consolidation will hurt the quality of the wine, unless everyone is paying very close attention.

Wine review: Argyle Pinot Noir Nuthouse 2004

Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir 2004Argyle Winery’s efforts are not only well-made, but they’re almost always good values. The sparkling wine, at $25, puts many $40 French bottles to shame.

So what do we do with the $45 Nuthouse pinot? It’s certainly a quality wine, with wonderful earthy Burgundian overtones and trademark Oregon fruit. I liked it a lot. But $40? You can buy two nice bottles of $20 wine and you won’t be any worse off.

The problem is twofold: First, pinot noir is pricey because it’s not easy to make well. Save for some French vin ordinaire like Red Bicyclette. Lulu B., and French Rabbit, it’s almost impossible to find a decent bottle for less than $20. Second, wineries charge a lot because they can. Consumers are caught up in pinot’s media hype, which extends far beyond Sideways to the Wine Magazines, and they pay those prices because they think they’re supposed to. High-end pinot drinkers are some of the biggest wine snobs I’ve met.

As to the Nuthouse: If someone else is paying, enjoy it. If you’re paying, go buy two bottles of Newton Claret or Ridge Three Valleys.

Peter Mondavi’s perspective

Peter Mondavi Jr. Peter Mondavi Jr., regardless of anything else (and there are a lot of anything elses with the Mondavi family), knows wine. He is the son of Peter and the nephew of Robert, two men who are among the handful who have helped California wine become some of the best in the world.

So when Peter Jr. offers his perspective on the state of the wine business, as he did during a recent visit to Fort Worth, it ?s worth paying attention. Today, Peter runs the Charles Krug Winery in Napa Valley, which one part or another of the Mondavi family has owned since 1943. One of his goals? To make wine drinkers once again associate the family name with quality wine. This is something that hasn ?t happened much given the focus on the Mondavis ? various personal and financial woes ? mostly on uncle Robert ?s side of the family — over the past decade.

?It ?s incumbent upon our half of the family to show the Mondavis in as different a light as possible, ? he says. ?We want to continue the family name and heritage. ?

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Wine review: Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2007

32481 The Wine Curmudgeon likes Beaujolais nouveau. It’s cheap and food friendly, which covers a lot of territory.

But, over the last four years, it has been sadly inconsistent: Crummy vintages in 2004 and 2005, a good vintage in 2006, and now this mediocre 2007 entry from the Emperor of Nouveau, Georges Deboeuf ($10).

Nouveau should smell almost like grape juice, and taste fruity and refreshing without any tannins at all — all without being sweet. This Deboeuf smells grapey enough, but it tastes thin, with very little fruitiness. It’s as if the grapes were picked too soon, before the flavors had developed.

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Dessert wines

Yes, winemakers really do let the grapes freeze to make icewine. The Wine Curmudgeon has a deep, dark guilty  secret. It ?s dessert wine ? sweet, rich, luscious, and often pricey dessert wine.

In those respects, it is frequently everything that drives me crazy about the wine business. But dessert wine almost always gets the benefit of my doubt, because it is that much fun to drink. Pour a glass after a dinner, sniff it, swirl it around in the glass, and sip it. More often than not, it caps off the evening without recourse to over-chocolated desserts, the current chef-fusion-fruit concoction or whatever form of cheesecake is making the rounds.

Dessert wines come in a variety of flavors and styles. Some are made with fruit other than grapes, some are sparkling, and some use grapes that have frozen on the vines. (There are also cognacs, ports, sherries and Madeiras, but we’ll worry about those some other time.)

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Cheap wine and the weak U.S. dollar

$1 Ask foreign winemakers what their biggest problem is, and the answer is almost always the same: the historically weak U.S. dollar. ?We ?re getting absolutely slagged, ? says Hugh Hamilton, an Australian whose brands include Hugh Hamilton and Jim Jim.

How bad is it? The Australian dollar was worth more than 90 cents U.S. in November, its highest level since 1984. The euro, which French, Spanish, and Italian winemakers use, is at a record high of almost $1.50. It was worth $1.17 at the beginning of 2006. Even the Chilean wine industry is noticing the difference, as the peso continues to appreciate against the dollar. It is at levels it hasn ?t seen since 1999.

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All about the Wine Curmudgeon

Zix24cawx9p3zcae2p2iwcalz0v5ocatdt0Welcome to the Wine Curmudgeon, overseen by Jeff Siegel. I’m a nationally known wine writer whose work has appeared in a variety of newspapers and regional and national magazines. In everything I write, my philosophy is the same: The wine industry tries to intimidate consumers instead of educating them — and nuts to that.

Q. What does that mean?

A. You won’t see wine speak here, wine scores and ratings, or hoity-toity writing that implies that I’m better or cooler or neater than you are. Because I’m not. I just drink more wine.

Q. So what will you write?

A. Common sense articles about wine, written to help you understand what’s available and what it tastes like, as well as tips and advice about buying and drinking wine. My goal? Offer the information, and let you make the decision.

Q. Which means?

A. Reviews, national and Dallas-Fort Worth area news, a discussion of trends like cute labels and high alcohol levels, the occasional metaphysical speculation about wine (is $100 wine 10 times better than $10 wine?), and an eclectic assortment of tidbits, odds and ends, and miscellanea.

Q. Where can I find the wine you write about?

A. Most of it is generally available; check with your local liquor or wine store. If it isn’t, I’ll make sure to mention it.

Q. What if I disagree with you?

A. Then let me know. Your opinions are always welcome — either by commenting on a post by clicking the comments link at the bottom of the article or by sending me an email. Just keep in mind that the atmosphere here is cordial, which means we don’t use any of George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words. It’s not only OK to disagree — agreeing to disagree is encouraged.