Tag Archives: Champagne

Expensive wine 111: Pehu Simonet Champagne Face Nord Extra Brut NV

Pehu SimonetThe Pehu Simonet is quality Champagne, but not necessarily the kind of Champagne that you’re used to drinking

These days, when Champagne is sold in grocery stores and retailers like World Market, it’s often difficult to remember what all the fuss is supposed to about. Bubbly with toilet paper and rag rugs? Hardly the luxury profile that the Champagne business wants for its product. But that’s where something like the Pehu Simonet figures in.

The Pehu Simonet ($50, purchased, 12.5%) is a remarkable wine, a bubbly from a small family producer that shows off the region’s diversity and quality. In this, it demonstrates that not all Champagne has to taste like Veuve Clicquot.

Call it beguiling, but not for everyone; missing is the brioche and caramel of more commercial bottlings. But it also isn’t made in the fruit and acid-driven style driven style of something like Ruinart, which I enjoy every much. For one thing, the Pehu Simonet is drier than most bubbly (extra brut is more dry than brut, which is the usual designation for a dry sparkling wine). For another, to quote the importer’s tasting notes, the palate is “surprisingly rugged, kind of like skirt steak.”

I don’t know that I’d go quite that far, but you get the idea. There is green apple fruit, almost ripe, and it does eventually show through the wine’s impressive and almost unending minerality. This is Champagne to be considered as much as it is to be enjoyed, and I wasn’t prepared for that when I first tasted it. Halfway through the bottle, though, I was finally beginning to understand what was going on. And I was glad I made the effort.

Imported by Skurnik Wines

Winebits 550: Dennis Horton, legal weed, and controversy in Champagne

Dennis HortonThis week’s wine news: Remembering Virginia wine pioneer Dennis Horton, plus three-tier for legal weed and another Champagne controversy

Dennis Horton’s legacy: Virginia’s Dennis Horton, who died in June, was one of the most important winemakers and winery owners in the U.S. That most people have never heard of him speaks to the way the wine world works. Dennis was one of the two or three people, along with New York’s Konstantin Frank, who never gave up on the idea of Drink Local, and is one of the people who helped us get to where we have wine in every state. To quote Virginia wine writer Frank Morgan: “I had the pleasure of sharing a few glasses of wine with Dennis in the early days of my wine journey. I remember him for his unique personality, wit, humor and the viticulture insights he shared.” Dennis was also famous for his dislike of the three-tier system; once, when I asked him about direct shipping, he told me he would ship wine to anyone anywhere, and he dared the states’ various liquor cops to try and stop him.

Bring on the weed: The WSWA, the trade group that represents the wholesalers and distributors who make up the second tier of the three-tier system, will support marijuana legalization. The catch? That its members distribute legal weed, reports Shanken News Daily, and the “states agree to regulate cannabis as they do alcohol.” One has to admire the group’s consistency and its chutzpah, if nothing else. Much of the wine world is trying to get rid of three-tier for its antiquated inefficiencies, but that doesn’t bother the wholesalers in the least.

A tussle in Champagne: The Wine Curmudgeon has long enjoyed watching the Champagne business run around in circles, and this bit fits that description perfectly. It’s not easy to decipher what’s going on, but it involves sparkling wine sold in the U.S. that is labeled as “Champagne,” an important French producer, Big Wine, and a variety of Gallic name calling (including one side accusing the other of “mad arroigance” and the other responding that it did not like being called an imbecile).

Winebits 470: Wine writing, Prosecco, Italian wine

wine writingThis week’s wine news: Beware of sponsored content, plus big Prosecco numbers and the rules of Italian wine

Not on my site: Want to make money with a wine blog? Use sponsored content. As the blog’s traffic has picked up this year, so have requests to run product copy as a blog post. I turn them down, and not just because of the ethical concerns. Sponsored content confuses readers, and they “sometimes struggle to identify it, have mixed emotions about its being in the same place as regular editorial content, and often feel like publishers must be held to higher standards.” The quote, from a post on Digiday.com, speaks to the issues exactly: Only 41 percent of U.S. readers say they can easily recognize sponsored content, which means a majority of people reading post-modern journalism have trouble telling the difference. So for moral better and financial worse, no sponsored content posing as a blog post here.

Italian bubbles: Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, sells half as much wine as Champagne does in Europe, which is worth pondering given Champagne’s reputation and cachet. Shouldn’t the latter’s margin be bigger? But more interesting: Prosecco sold 25 percent more liters on the continent than Champagne did for the 12 months ending in September. Plus, Prosecco sales increased 24 percent in value and 23 in volume, while Champagne was mostly flat by both measures. The reasons are obvious: price, price, and price, since Prosecco can cost as little as one-third as much as Champagne.

Thou shalt pay attention: The Italian Wine Guy celebrates the holidays with a look at the 10 commandments that should apply to Italian wine (complete with pictures of Charlton Heston, for those of us of a certain age). It’s a funny post, but more importantly  reminds us of the reasons why great Italian wine is so great. Which is, of course, that it is Italian, and not anything else, My favorite, from the second commandment: “No Chardonnay pretending to be French, or worse, from the Russian River Valley. If it must be white, it must be true and pure as milk and honey.”

Is it time to end the Champagne boycott?

Champagne boycottThe Wine Curmudgeon has boycotted Champagne for almost two years to support Champagne Jayne Powell, the Australian wine writer who was sued by the bully boys at the Champagne trade group, CIVC, for no reason that any reasonable person would understand. Powell mostly won the suit, which accused her of trespassing on the Champagne trade name, but only after spending A$75,000 (about US$55,000) in legal expenses she will never see again.

Powell, who was under a gag order during the suit, gave one of her first interviews a couple of weeks ago, and she didn’t mince words. “I refused to give in to the CIVC; I have a strong sense of fairness: I would not succumb to such outrageous behaviour,” she told the British trade magazine thedrinksbusiness.

Sadly, almost no one else thought it was outrageous behavior. Too many wine writers ignored what was happening, and people even made fun of me for the boycott. Which wasn’t the worst part, of course. I wasn’t the one being sued, and I didn’t have to pay attorneys and lose business while I fought against a trade group whose members are worth billions. And I didn’t wait in vain for my colleagues to support me and denounce the CIVC.

Hence I am hesitant to end my Champagne boycott. The lawsuit was despicable, and I don’t want to reward the CIVC for trying to deny Powell one of the most basic of human rights, free speech. And yes, I understand that my almost solitary act of defiance made almost no difference, and that the CIVC probably doesn’t even know I did it. But it was still the right thing to do.

That’s the tough part about being one of the good guys. You have to do things even when you know that what you do probably won’t matter. In the end, how we act should not be about money or currying favor or getting free samples, but right and wrong – even if you’re a wine writer.

So consider the Champagne boycott still in force. I’ll taste it when I have to, probably for my El Centro class, and if I run across something that seems worthwhile, I’ll consider writing about it. But the idea of spending my time or money to help a group that did what the CIVC did to Powell remains as repugnant today as it was a couple of years ago.

Winebits 421: Champagne, wine reviews, local wine

Champagne ? Get the lawyers: The indomitable Alice Feiring has no patience with wine that is not the way it should be, even if it’s Champagne: “I could not sip without tasting the scorched earth viticulture that still exists in Champagne. This was all sulfur and sugar and bubble. It was cynical. It was false. It was a traitor.” The bottle in question is from Trader Joe’s, Charles de Marques, and while I applaud and appreciate the honesty of her review, I would advise Feiring to get a good attorney. Because we know what the Champagne people do when someone does something that they don’t like. Right, Champagne Jayne?

? How legitimate is that review? Cornell researchers have developed a system that spots phony Internet hotel reviews called Review Skeptic, so the Wine Curmudgeon immediately tried it on a variety of Winestream Media wine reviews. Most were identified as real, which speaks to the quality of the algorithm, since it’s not meant to do wine reviews (and, unfortunately, doesn’t judge the quality of the writing). Given the possibility we could get computer-generated wine reviews sooner rather than later, Review Skeptic — even in its current form — could come in quite handy.

? Make it local: The annual National Restaurant Association’s chef’s survey has again identified local as the hottest trend for 2016 behind the restaurant bar. This marks at least the eighth year in a row that chefs see local wine as important, which makes the Wine Curmudgeon quite happy. Now, if we could only get Dallas chefs to understand why their colleagues feel that way, I would have one less thing to bellyache about.

Winebits 381: Direct shipping, consolidation, Prosecco

direct shipping ? Lots of kinks to work out: Direct shipping, despite its successes over the past decade, is still a tiny part of the wine business, just single percentage points of the $17 billion in sales. One reason for that, of course, is three-tier, which makes it difficult for wineries to ship to consumers in different states. And three-tier has more to it than even those of us who think we know it can imagine; witness the lawyer suing Illinois wineries for not charging sales tax on shipping fees. This is perfectly legal in Illinois, where the law allows private attorneys to recover unpaid taxes on behalf of the state. Much of the coverage has been critical of the attorney, but that misses the point. Illinois law is vague on whether sales tax should be charged on shipping fees, so how how can direct shipping ever become more than a niche business if laws crucial to its success are as vague as the Illinois law? Because, given three-tier, this is certainly not the only vague, poorly written, or unclear law dealing with the subject.

? Retailer buyout: Majestic Wine, one of the biggest retailers in the United Kingdom, has bought another British retailer, Naked Wine. This is bigger news than it seems, since Naked Wine has a trendy U.S. division that sells what can best be described as craft wine on-line at discounted prices to its members. It means that Majestic, facing tremendous competition from grocery stores, is trying to find wine that consumers can’t buy at grocery stores. Given the increasing importance of supermarket wine sales in the U.S., this may be a sign of things to come in this country (within the confines of three-tier) as retailers look for exclusive products to fend off grocery stores. It’s also another indication that retailers want to get bigger to fend of the Costcos, Walmarts, and Aldis of the world.

? Nuts to Champagne: Prosecco has passed Champagne in sales at British grocery stores in news that is so shocking — given the British love affair with Champagne — that it should worry not only the Champagne business, but retailers around the world. If the British are buying Prosecco, the Italian bubbly that is at least half the price of Champagne, what does that means for retailers elsewhere? Has Champagne priced itself out of some markets? Do consumers prefer the softer, sweeter taste of Prosecco? Or are grocery stores playing a role in what’s going on? Even the story, from a British trade magazine, had a panicked tone.

 

Champagne Jayne and the new censorship

Champagne JayneOct. 21, 2015 update: An Australian judge has ruled that Champagne Jayne Powell can keep her name, ruling that the French Champagne trade group “did not do enough to compel him to order Powell to cancel her business name or withdraw her trademark.” It’s not a complete victory, though. The judge also said that Powell had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in her “use, reference to, and promotion of sparkling wines while also using the Champagne name in relation to some of her social media posts,” and that part of the case will continue. She could still be forced to pay damages or make some other restitution.

Censorship used to be easy to understand. The secret police came to the door in the dark of night and you were never heard from again. Which is what makes the Champagne Jayne case so terrifying — the secret police have been replaced by lawyers working within the legal system of a Western constitutional democracy, and what they’re doing is as legal as it is morally reprehensible.

The French Champagne trade group, CIVC, is suing Jayne Powell, an Australian wine writer whose specialty is Champagne and sparkling wine and who calls herself Champagne Jayne. The trade group claims that Powell’s name, because she writes and teaches about other sparkling wine, violates the European Union ?s trade agreement with Australia that defines what can be called Champagne. CIVC wants an Australian court to make Powell stop using the name and anything associated with it, like email addresses, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and domain names. In this, they would force her out of business.

And, in a touch I love, Powell would have to “destroy all material marked with the name ?Champagne Jayne ?, including brochures, pamphlets, and other goods.” In other words, burning books.

This must seem bizarre to Americans, given our right to free speech under the First Amendment. But it shouldn’t. Even though Australia’s free speech protections aren’t as strong as those here, this case is not about free speech as we understand it. It’s about intellectual property, and how post-modern business is using that concept to carve out an exception to our traditional free speech protections. First Amendment law in the U.S. focuses on preventing the government from censoring speech, but says little about groups that aren’t the government from doing it.

Case in point: The Cristal-Cristalino lawsuit, in which the luxury French Champagne won a judgment against the cheap Spanish cava and forced Cristalino to change its name. The federal judge who decided in favor of Cristal said the case seemed silly on the surface, but that she had to go by the law, and the law said any confusion about the name, no matter how small, must be decided in Cristal’s favor. Shortly thereafter, I got a letter from Cristalino telling me I had to obey the judgment by never referring to Cristalino as Cristalino and by replacing any reference to the old name on the blog.

In other words, I am being censored by a French wine company, regardless of the First Amendment.

This is why I have written this post, contributed to Powell’s defense fund, and urge everyone to join me in boycotting Champagne. Powell can’t speak for herself — she is under a court-mandated gag order. And if the CIVC gets away with this, and it seems like it will, then it sets a precedent for any business that doesn’t approve of what someone writes, wine or otherwise. Don’t like what I say about your wine? Then sue, claiming I used your brand name incorrectly. Don’t like what the New York Times’ Mark Bittman says about your fast food? Then sue, claiming Bittman infringed on your intellectual property. (Which is my hint to the Times — this affects all of us who practice journalism, just like Times v. Sullivan.)

Also depressing: The lack of outrage from the Winestream Media, few of whom have come to Powell’s defense. In one respect, this isn’t surprising, given that its business model is based on sucking up to the wine business. But one would think that someone would remember Martin Niemoller.