Tag Archives: box wine

Winebits 531: Two wine rants and three-tier reform

three-tier reformThis week’s wine news: Two wine analysts may be even less optimistic about the future of wine than I am, plus Internet retailer Wine.com calls for three-tier system reform

Napa Valley worries: Author James Conaway, who has written three books about California’s most prestigious wine region, is “pessimistic and alarmed about the valley’s state and direction.” That’s the word from Mike Dunne in the Sacramento Bee. Conaway is afraid Napa will morph into a “viticultural Disneyland, vineyards as sideshows, wineries as thrill rides.” “I don’t see any hope,” he told Dunne. “It’s too late for it to become an agricultural Yosemite.” That’s as gloomy a view as I’ve heard, but not surprising given the news out of Napa in the past decade as the region tries to decide how to manage its unprecedented growth. When land costs as much as $1 million an acre, it’s difficult to sustain an agricultural vision.

Boxes, bulk wine, and blends: Or how about a wine business where what we drink is made like juice boxes, and varietal character is as quaint as the blacksmith? Elliott R. Morss, PhD, isn’t quite that alarming, but it’s not far from what he writes to that scenario: “The growth in blends is also notable. It means customers are focusing less on specific grapes and region and trusting more on the bottler. As the blend demand grows, so will the demand for bulk wines. …” The blog article is a little geeky, but the trends that Morss outlines apply to all of us who want our wine to taste like the grape and region it came from.

Three-tier Ecommerce? Wine.com, the largest Internet wine retailer in the U.S., wants to reform the three-tier system to make it 21st century e-commerce friendly. You won’t learn much more that that – if that much – from this very poorly written news release, which combines PR-, wine-, and supply chain-speak to create a language that even I had trouble understanding. The point, though, is that the retailer sees U.S. wine sales declining and wants to do something to make it easier for consumers to buy wine. Says one Wine.com official: “Limiting the market size of your own customers is not a recipe for growth.”

Mini-reviews 104: Maybe Christmas wine, maybe not

christmasReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: Maybe Christmas wine, maybe not

Le Petite Frog Picpoul 2016 ($30/3-liter box, purchased, 12.5%): I really wanted to like this French white, made with the picpoul grape. But all it did was make me appreciate the Rene Barbier white that much more. The La Petite Frog is pleasant enough, with soft lemon fruit, but could be fresher and more lively; at the equivalent of $7.50 a bottle, it’s not two bucks a bottle better than the Barbier. Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.

Norton Malbec Reserva 2014 ($16, sample, 13.5%): Premiumized grocery store red from Argentina that is about as boring as possible, and with entirely too much oak (even if I liked a lot of oak). It is focus group wine, made for the Cellar Tracker user who wrote: “Nice, smooth and very drinkable, especially at this price point.” Imported by Guarchi Wine Partners.

Seaglass Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This California grocery store pink was more than I expected, with barely ripe strawberry fruit and surprising freshness instead of the cloying, almost sweet quality, that some of these wines have. It’s a little thin on the back, and not quite up to a wine of the week, but you won’t be unhappy by buying it.

Tenuta Marsiliana Maremma Toscana 2012 ($32, sample, 14%): This Italian red, a Super Tuscan heavy on the cabernet sauvignon and merlot, is professionally made, but doesn’t suffer from being more New World than Old in an attempt to get 92 points. Look for more black fruit and less acidity than in a traditional Tuscan red, but it does have that earthy finish and elegant tannins. Highly recommended, but availability may be limited.

Wine of the week: Black Box Merlot 2014

black box merlotWhy spend $25 for California red wine when the Black Box merlot costs just $4?

It’s not so much that the Black Box merlot is the wine of the week; I’ve written about Black Box over the past nine years. What makes it newsworthy these days it that it’s not all that different from wines that cost five and six times as much.

How far has the wine business fallen?

The three-liter Black Box merlot ($16, purchased, 13.5%) is sitting on my kitchen counter next to a bottle of $25 Santa Barbara pinot noir. The wines are so much much alike that it’s terrifying – the same overdone chocolate oak, the same very berry fruit, and the same direct, simple structure. Yet, the pinot costs six times as much (since one Block Box is equal to four bottles). What’s even more terrifying is how they aren’t alike – the Black Box merlot has acidity and tannins, and tastes like California merlot. The pinot noir has almost no varietal character, and is another example of cynical, post-modern winemaking.

Know, too, that the Black Box merlot is as it has always been, competent cheap wine that probably isn’t worth writing about. But the discounting that is so common these days has turned it into a tremendous value. The suggested retail price is $25, which is $6 a bottle, but you can easily find it for as little as $15. At that price, it would be a serious contender for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame if not for the horrible oak, which tastes like not unlike those band candy chocolate bars.

So buy a box, have a glass when you want, and giggle at all those maroons who spent $25 to get what you got for $4.

Mini-reviews 71: Vin Vault, Rueda, Arido, Avalon

vin vaultReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

? Vin Vault Pinot Noir 2013 ($20 for 3-liter box, sample, 13%): This California red, part of E&J Gallo’s assault on the booming box wine business, offers much more than $5 a bottle worth of value (since a 3-liter box equals four bottles). Look for red fruit and soft tannins, though it tastes more like a red blend than pinot noir (and my guess is that it has been blended with lots of grenache or syrah). Still, it’s pleasant drinking and a huge step up from most $5 pinot noir.

? Marqu s de C ceres Rueda 2013 ($8, purchased, 12.5%): This version of the Spanish white from one of Spain’s biggest producers is made with the verdejo grape. It’s much more balanced than previous vintages — the lemon fruit is more rounded and it’s less harsh. A steal at this price, though it’s still a simple wine, and its tartness may put some people off.

? rido Malbec 2013 ($10, sample, 13.7%): Just another Argentine grocery store malbec with lots and lots of sweet red fruit, some tannins that don’t really fit with the sweet fruit, and not much else. It’s an example of why I liked this malbec so much.

? Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($10, sample, 13.9%): This California red is not the old $10 Napa Avalon cabernet, one of the great cheap wines of all time and which now costs as much as $18. But it’s professionally made, if hardly complex, and mostly a value with soft tannins, black fruit, a little mouth feel, and some acid to round it out. If you’re in a grocery store and need a red wine for dinner, this will be fine.

 

Winebits 378: Box wine, South African wine, nutrition labels

box wine ? Bring on the cartons: Box wine, since it’s too awkward for most store shelves and because consumers are confused about its quality, has been little more than a niche product in the U.S. But all that may be about to change with the news that E&J Gallo will sell a $20, 3-liter box called Vin Vault, which works out to $5 a bottle for something that will be the quality equivalent of $10 grocery store merlot. If Gallo — perhaps the best judge of consumer sentiment among Big Wine producers — figures the time is right for box wine, it probably is (witness the success of Barefoot and Apothic). Look for big-time promotions and price cutting for Vin Vault when it debuts next month, which should also spur price-cutting for Black Box and Bota Box, the brands that dominate the better-quality box wine market.

? Whatever happened to Sebeka? The $10 brand all but disappeared in the U.S. after Gallo gave up on it a couple of years ago, realizing how difficult it was to sell South African wine in the U.S. The wine itself was OK, but as the Wine Curmudgeon has noted many times, South African wines have many problems in this country that don’t include quality. But Sebeka’s new owner figures the time is right to try again, though I have my doubts given this assessment from a Sebeka official: “We don ?t know what will be the next big thing but hopefully it ?s chenin blanc or pinotage. It just needs that one breakthrough that everyone writes about.” I don’t know what the next thing will be either, though I do know it won’t be pinotage or that anyone in the Winestream Media will figure it out. They’re still unsure about sweet red wine.

? Ingredient labels: The recent arsenic scare is about more than contaminated wine; my take is that it’s just one part of the long battle over ingredient labels for wine. So the news last week — and before we found out we’d all been poisoned by cheap wine — that Big Wine producer Diageo would add calorie and nutritional information to its wine is worth mentioning. The company, whose brands include Chalone, Rosenblum, and Sterling, said it wants consumers to know what they’re drinking. In this, reports the Harpers trade magazine, Diageo is the first drinks company to offer the labels. Would that more producers, large and small, had that attitude.

Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine

wine questionsBecause the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. Ask me a wine-related question .

Wine Curmudgeon:
Are there any box wines that you would find acceptable for someone who can’t afford $15 or $20 for wine every night ? I have been buying several of the Almaden wines and find them quite good. Are they, or is it just my unsophisticated taste buds? Could I be getting a better taste for my buck?
Bottles aren’t necessary

Dear Bottles:
Box wine comes in varying degrees of quality, just like wine in bottles. Many are of higher quality than the Alamaden, though they won’t be as sweet. You can try Bota Box, Black Box, Bandit/Three Thieves, and Big House, for example. But realize you don’t have to spend $15 or $20 for a bottle; check out the $10 Hall of Fame or the $10 wine link at the top of the page.

?

Curmudgeonly one:
How do wineries get rid of excess inventory, if they make too much and have to sell it off? Can you find good deals on wine this way?
Looking for a bargain

Dear Looking:
It’s difficult to do thanks to our friend, three-tier. Can’t have a warehouse sale, since it’s illegal, and it’s rare to find a wine retailer that specializes in closeouts and discontinued items like Big Lots because the process is so difficult. Some retailers buy excess wine and discount it, but there isn’t much rhyme or reason to how they do it. You need to find a good retailer and ask them to let you know when they have that kind of sale. In fact, most excess wine sits in a distributor warehouse until it is sold, returned, or destroyed (which is what multi-national Treasury did in 2013).

?

Wine Curmudgeon:
How long will an open bottle of wine stay good? Is there anything I can do to make it last longer?
Can’t drink a bottle in one sitting

Dear Can’t drink:
The answer to this used to be simple — if you didn’t finish an open bottle within 24 hours, it oxidized and tasted like bad brandy. Hence, closures like the VacuVin. But improvements in winemaking have complicated the issue, and I’ve had wine, including cheap wine, that stayed drinkable for a couple of days after it had been opened. My suggestion? Put it in the refrigerator and hope for the best if it’s there longer than 36 hours.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
? Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, mold
? Ask the WC 3: Availability, prices, headaches
? Ask the WC 2: Health, food pairings, weddings

Winebits 235: Wine packaging

The glass bottle may not be endangered, but more producers are opting for different formats than ever before:

? Paper bottles: The world ?s first paper wine bottle will likely be on British supermarket shelves in the fall, reports the drinks business trade magazine.  GreenBottle, which makes the paper product, is finalizing negotiations with a top UK grocer to sell one or two wines in the new container later this year. The bottle has a plastic coating on the inside of the box, which gives it a 9- to 12-month shelf life. GreenBottle founder Martin Myerscough says he has seen ?huge interest ? from retailers in Australia, California and France, and plans to expand outside of Britain in 2013.

? Airline wine: Increasingly, those single-portion bottles served on airlines are made of plastic, says BeverageDaily.com. Cost-conscious U.S airlines are driving demand for the bottles, which are made from lighter, cheaper PET ? an oil-based plastic called polyethylene terephthalate. PET bottles not only cost less, but are 100 percent recyclable and easier to dispose of in a cramped airplane galley.

? Box wine growth: It ?s impressive, reports Shanken News Daily. Two of the biggest brands, Black Box and Bota Box, sold almost 4 million cases between them in 2011. And, though overall sales for boxed wine are still only 2 percent of the U.S. market, it ?s growing rapidly ? 27 percent in the 52 weeks through mid-March. What makes this even more impressive is that many retailers don ?t like to sell box wine, since it doesn ?t fit easily on their shelves, which are designed for bottles. That ?s why, in so many stores, the box wine is off in a corner.