This week’s wine news: Do GOP tax cuts mean more alcohol in wine? Plus, restaurant will cut menu prices, but not wine prices, and a new Lidl means lower grocery costs
• Higher alcohol levels? The GOP tax plan changed the way the federal government taxes wine, and Blake Gray reports on Wine-searcher.com that the changes could lead to higher alcohol levels. The explanation is incredibly convoluted, taking into account that wines up to 16 percent alcohol will be taxed at a lower rate, about the same as 14 percent wines had been taxed at. The result, writes Gray, is that “your certainty of getting a lower-alcohol wine might be about to go away” since producers won’t make wines at a lower alcohol level just to qualify for the lower tax rate.
• Not with my list, you don’t: Buried at the bottom of this Bloomberg story, which heralds a potentially revolutionary restaurant pricing model aimed at the decline in people eating out, is this: “Sadly, [there are] no immediate plans to introduce flexible pricing on the wine list.” Which just goes to show, no matter how many times we complain about it, the restaurant business doesn’t understand wine, doesn’t care to understand wine, and won’t do anything about ridiculously high prices.
• Lower wine prices? Retailers near one of the new Lidl grocery stores on the East Coast set prices for key staples up to 55 percent less than in markets without the discount retailer, according to a study by the University of North Carolina. The numbers are astonishing, with Lidl’s prices 25 percent lower on average than traditional supermarkets. The study did not include wine in its results, but we can only hope that the same effect exists, given Lidl’s emphasis on including wine in its cost-cutting efforts. Because I’m tired of fake grocery store wine pricing.
This week’s wine news: Wine recommendations most of us can’t afford, plus the feds help with alcohol levels and the market for natural wine
• Pricey, pricey, pricey: How about a list of fall and winter wine recommendations where all but four of 20 wines cost more than $20? Sadly, that’s what happens when you ask restaurant wine types for wine advice. It’s not that there aren’t some excellent wines in the post from Bloomberg News (the $22 Domain Berson Chablis, for one) and that these people don‘t know their business, but let’s be honest. I didn’t want to spend $145 for my once in a century wine if the Cubs win the World Series; who is going to do it because the weather is cooler? Making matters worse is the headline: “20 wines you need to drink this fall.” No I don’t. The only one who got the pricing right was Ryan Arnold of Lettuce Entertain You, a restaurant company in Chicago started by one of the world’s great restaurateurs, Rich Melman: a $16, a $17, and a $30 wine.
• More accurate: W. Blake Gray reports that a change in the way the federal government approves wine labels will mean more accurate alcohol percentages on the label, and perhaps the end of the ubiquitous 13.5 percent. “In many cases wineries have to submit the label for approval before the final blend of the wine has been decided,” he writes. “They have to guesstimate how much alcohol the actual wine will have. That means label approval has driven many winemaking decisions, which is bad for everybody.” Now, since they won’t have to list the alcohol percentage to get the label approved, they can make the wine and put the correct alcohol level on the label afterwards. That’s not only better for producers, but consumers as well. One reason we see 13.5 percent on so many labels, even if the wine isn’t really 13.5 percent, is that it’s easier to do that for a variety of complicated and legal reasons.
• Not too many people: The Wine Curmudgeon frequently laments the wine fads passed along as fact by the the Winestream Media, and it’s a pleasure to see a serious discussion about whether natural wine is anything more than one of those. “Are sales in this niche finally starting to have a global impact – or is it just a hipster bubble that could burst as fast as a poorly made pet-nat?” asks the Wine Business International trade magazine (full disclosure: I freelance regularly for the magazine). The conclusion: Assuming one can define a natural wine, since there is no accepted standard other than an organic wine isn’t natural enough, “market share in most countries has yet to reach even the first percentage point.” Case closed. Now we can go back to arguing about something important, like the efficacy of scores.