? The three-tier system strikes again: How minor a role do on-line sales play in the U.S. wine marketplace? Pretty minor, according to a new French study. One in four Chinese wine sales use the Internet, while as many as one in 10 in Europe are done on-line. In the U.S.? Just two percent, and in one of the more masterly of recent understatements, the study ?s author cited ?legislative constraints ? as the reason. In other words, it ?s mostly illegal in this country, thanks to three-tier and the system that has evolved in the U.S. since the end of Prohibition.
? The Federal Reserve and wine sales: This post, from Silicon Valley Bank ?s Rob McMillan, explains (in English, too!) what ?s going to happen to wine sales now that the Federal Reserve is going to do less to stimulate the economy. The technical term is quantitative easing, and since we ?re going to see less of it, McMillan predicts a stronger U.S. dollar and higher lending costs for wineries who want to expand or make acquisitions. The former is good news for the consumer, since it should lower the cost of imports and keep wine cheap. It may also be bad news for high-end producers, who have higher costs of production and need higher prices to stay in business. And that interest rates will go up probably isn ?t good news for them, either. This post shows why McMillan is one of the really smart people in the wine business, and he deserves to win the Wine Blogging Award for best industry/business blog next year.
? Beware the hype: Steve McIntosh at Winethropology warns us that many of the lower prices we ?re seeing these days have very little do with wine quality and a lot to do with retailers and distributors getting rid of wine that is ?occupying precious warehouse space ? not all of which is worth your hard-earned money – at any price. ? He says he fell for the hype and bought two bottles recently, One of which is nothing more than ?a watered down version of wine. ?
The most common question people ask the Wine Curmudgeon is, not surprisingly, “What’s your favorite wine?” My answer, also not surprisingly, usually disappoints them. I am, after all, the Wine Curmudgeon.
That’s because I don’t have a favorite. One of the tenets of the Wine Curmudgeon’s faith is that wine should not be about playing favorites, but about looking for new wine to enjoy. What’s the point of drinking the same wine over and over when there is so much still left to try?
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain wines that I like. White Burgundy is my guilty (and expensive) pleasure. Sparkling wine always makes me smile. Well-made regional wine, preferably with obscure grapes, is a huge treat. And, of course, any of my $10 wines — whether I’ve had it before or I’m tasting it for the first time — is a reason to open a bottle.
Which raises an important question that I’ve never really addressed in the blog’s three-year history: How do I decide which wines I like? What are my criteria? What makes a well-made wine? This is especially relevant given Monday’s release of the 2011 $10 Hall of Fame. It is, as always, an eclectic mix — grocery store wines, wines made with odd grapes, lots of rose, wines from small producers, and even chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. What qualities do I find that sets them apart?
The first thing to understand is that wine is subjective. Everyone’s palate is different. What I taste in a wine may not be what you taste. The second thing to understand is that there are no bad wines. If you like a wine, it’s good, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
That’s why I don’t use the words “good” and “bad” to describe wine. They’re empty adjectives and much too subjective — my interpretation of what wine should taste look, as if I was the wine tasting god and everyone had to obey my decisions. I’m also not a fan of descriptions like smooth; I’m not quite sure what that means. Water tastes “smooth,” but it’s not very wine-like. Smooth, I think, is an adjective people who drink a lot of poorly-made wine use when they find a wine that isn’t too tannic or too acidic. Too often, it’s a backhanded compliment.
Instead, I look for several other criteria:
• Is the wine flawed? It is corked or oxidized or dirty or out of balance, or any of the countless faults that can creep in?
• Is it varietally correct? If it’s chardonnay, does it taste like chardonnay? This is the most difficult criteria, oddly enough, since wine styles are ever changing. What was considered pinot noir 10 years ago is not necessarily considered pinot noir today, and I have to take that into account.
• Did the winemaker accomplish what he or she wanted to do? Does the wine taste like the winemaker wanted it to taste? This is not always as easy as it seems.
• Can I appreciate the wine even if I don’t like the style? I’ve noted many times how I feel about merlot, yet a merlot made the Hall of Fame in 2009 and 2010. I was able to put my prejudices aside and taste the wine for what it was, not what I thought it should be. (Note to wine snobs: Do this the next time you drink riesling.) This is the most difficult thing to do in wine, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been drinking wine as long as I have or if you’re just starting.
• Is the wine honest? Yes, this is probably subjective, but I think it’s crucial to determining quality. Think about how many $10 red wines, regardless of producer, taste more or less the same, full of fruit and without much acid or tannin, and the cabernet tastes like merlot and the merlot tastes like shiraz. In this, they’re made to appeal to a specific demographic, and the idea was not to make quality wine, but to make adequate wine. And who needs adequate wine? Adjectives like interesting or intriguing are hallmarks of honest wine, because honest wine offers some characteristic that adequate wine doesn’t.
Because, in the end, it’s about finding wine that I like — and, hopefully, that you will too.