Tag Archives: corks

Winebits 460: Screwcaps, wine writing, wine prices

screwcapsThis week’s wine news: Screwcaps replaced by glass? Plus thoughts on wine writing and wine prices

Watch the heat: Here’s a reason not to use screwcaps – you can’t tell if the wine has been damaged by heat. This matters with expensive wine, says Penfolds’ Peter Gago, who makes very nice expensive wine. Who wants to buy a bottle of top-end red only to find out it’s off because it has been stored or shipped in conditions that are too warm? thedrinksbusiness website reports that a weeping cork – where some wine has leaked out – may mean the wine has been exposed to intense heat. Also, if the bottle gets too hot, the capsule – the cork covering – is pushed up. Neither happens with a screwcap, because it’s a better seal. In this, says Gago, glass will eventually become a better closure for expensive wine than either cork or screwcap. That’s a unique look at closures, and one that doesn’t apply to almost all the wine we drink since it costs less than $20 and isn’t around long enough to suffer heat damage.

Still awful: Erika Syzmanski is one of my favorite wine writers, mostly because she doesn’t write about wine. This is not damning with faint praise, but that Syzmanski understands there is more to wine writing than toasty and oaky. This piece is an excellent example, discussing not just why wine writing isn’t as good as it should be, but offering her ideas about what needs to be done: “This, fundamentally, is what makes me cringe when someone asks me about whether wine writing is becoming better, or whether we’re helping to make wine more accessible. Adding ramps to buildings is great, especially when we don’t destroy the architectural beauty of a good set of stairs doing so. Appreciate the stairs, keep the highfalutin’ publications, but simultaneously add a ramp for people who need or want to read something written more like Buzzfeed than like The Atlantic.” Which, of course, is what I have been arguing for years, though without her patience.

Grocery store wine: One reason supermarkets are so eager to carry wine is that they make more money on wine and have more control over the price. And that is becoming true for restaurants as well, which helps explain why their prices are so out of line. The grocery business is in the midst of what the experts are calling food deflation, where wholesale prices are decreasing, which means they can’t charge as much, and which means their profits are lower. This is starting to happen with restaurants, too. So how will restaurants prop up the bottom line? Continue to overcharge us for wine, to make up for what they can’t charge us for food.

Winebits 428: English wine, corks, Peter Mondavi

English wine ? Just like Champagne: Not the quality or flavor or price, but the appellation law. The European Union is expected to rule that sparkling wine from Sussex in England can be called Sussex, just like sparkling wine from Champagne in France is called Champagne. This known as protected status, and it’s an important development for usually little respected English wine. So, the next time you’re at your favorite wine bar in London, you won’t have to ask for a bottle of English sparkling — you can ask for a bottle of Sussex.

? Screwcaps are OK? There’s a journalism term called “parachuting in” that makes cranky ex-newspaper reporters even crankier, and this story from something called Business Insider looks to be classic parachuting. That’s when someone who doesn’t know much about the subject writes about it in a one-off and the story is mostly breathless prose telling us something we already knew. Such as: “While many bulk wines use screw caps ? which is likely where the stigma originated ? a screw cap is by no means and indicator of the quality of your wine.” No kidding. Where has this reporter been for the past 20 years? The rest of the story is mostly in the same vein, including the obligatory reference to the romance of the cork.

? Peter Mondavi: Peter Mondavi’s death at 101 didn’t elicit the same kind of response as that of his brother, Robert Mondavi, when the latter died in 2008. Chalk that up to the way the wine world works, and that Robert was a more public person than Peter. Nevertheless, Peter Mondavi was one of the people who made wine the way it is today, and the wine world would be significantly different if not for him. The Grape Collective ran its interview with Peter Mondavi, then 98, to commemorate his death, and it’s well worth watching.

Ask the WC 8: Restaurant wine, storing wine, sparkling wine

wine advice Because the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular wine advice feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Jeff:
I agree with you about restaurant wine prices. Even though I want wine with my meal, I rarely order it when I eat out. First, the cost of a glass of wine in a restaurant is two-thirds of the price of a bottle in a store. Second, with few exceptions, wine lists offer very little, if any, local wine, and the wines they do offer are unimaginative grocery store wines. Why don’t restaurants listen to consumers, or their consultants? The consultants tell them this, don’t they?
Frustrated in Texas

Dear Frustrated:
Ironically, I had a similar conversation with an executive at a major U.S. wine company the other day. You’d think, he said, since almost every restaurant that lowers prices sells more wine, that everyone would lower prices. Instead, he said, restaurants seem to be focused on revenue, where they don’t care if they sell less wine because they think higher prices will make up the difference in sales. This approach didn’t make much sense to either of us, but what do we know?

?

Dear Curmudgeon:
With all the screwcaps and synthetic corks these days, is it still necessary to store wine with the neck tilting down? And is there a period of time where traditionally corked wine can be stored standing up?
A standup wine drinker

Dear Standup:
Wines with cork closures are stored on their sides to prevent the cork from drying out. Since a screwcap or synthetic won’t dry out, you can store it anyway you want (as long as you keep the wine away from light, heat, and vibrations). Having said that, and to answer the second part of your question, most wine can be stored standing up, regardless of closure, since you’re probably going to drink it long before it matters how it was stored. One of my favorite wine statistics: as much as 90 percent of the wine that is bought is consumed with 24 hours, making storage irrelevant.

?

Hey Curmudge:
Enlightened wine drinkers know that white wines are at their best when poured at a few degrees above refrigerator temp. Ergo, shouldn ?t the same apply to sparkling wines and Champagnes? So when people get the juice as cold as possible and then make an effort to keep things that way by shuttling the opened bottle back and forth to fridge or ice bucket, is that not counterproductive?
Love those bubbles

Dear Bubbles:
You asked something I have never thought about, figuring white wine was white wine. However, most of the sources I consulted said bubbly should be a little cooler than non-sparkling white wine — mid-40s F vs. low- to mid-50s F. No one quite knew why (I’m assuming it has something to do with the bubbles), but this gives me an opportunity for a class project in the fall when I teach at El Centro. We can do a temperature tasting.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
? Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux
? Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine
? Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews

wine closures

Winebits 392: Wine closures, cava, women winemakers

wine closures ? Bring on the screwcaps: Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist offers one of the best analyses of the state of the wine closures, noting that the number of wineries that used corks, synthetic corks, and screwcaps isn’t as important as the size of the winieres. This is something that the cork people ignore in their quest to convince us that 19th century technology is still relevant. In other words, the next time you see something from a cork producer talking about how many wineries use natural cork, know that about half the wine in the U.S. has a synthetic cork. The post also includes this great quote from Australian wine guru Hugh Johnson: “I am faintly irritated now when I come to open a bottle of wine and find I need a corkscrew. ? Who knew a wine guru would sound like the Wine Curmudgeon?

? Bring on the cava: Shocking news for the wine business, of course, because this is mostly cheap wine, but nothing that those of us who don’t pay attention already know: Cava sales are soaring, up by 4.6 percent last year. By comparison, overall wine sales were mostly flat in 2014. The top cava brand, black bottle Freixenet, is the country’s best-selling imported sparkling brand as well, even beating all those moscatos.

? Update: Bring on the women: Apparently, I’m not the only one who found flaws in this study. I wonder: What’s going on with people who publish studies with serious errors?

Women winemakers, woefully underrepresented in the male-dominated wine business, make the best wine, despite accounting for only about 10 percent of winemakers. That’s the conclusion of a sort of study from Gabriel Froymovich at consultancy Vineyard Financial Associates, who says “I have often lamented the under-representation of women in this business.” This would be huge news and worth its own blog post, save for the methodology, which is why I call it a sort of study. Froymovich equates price with quality, and we know what a swamp that is — and only does so because using scores would be too much work, he says. This not only assumes that higher priced wine is better, which no one has ever demonstrated to be true, but that it doesn’t require skill to make cheap wine. Somehow, I think Jenn Wall at Barefoot would argue that point. Note, too, that the Wine Curmudgeon has advocated for women winemakers for more than a decade, so my problems with the study are not the results, but that better math wasn’t used to get them.

Image courtesy of Wine Anorak, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 364: Corks, liquor stores, restaurant wine

restaurant wine ? When will they learn? The cork business, as has been noted previously, doesn’t understand wine in the 21st century. And their problems with quality control haven’t helped, either. Hence yet another new cork campaign, as related by the Los Angeles Times. to reassure the world that their product is still relevant. Which makes all the same mistakes. The biggest? That the cork people continue to insist that only crappy wine is closed with a screwcap: “Any wine worth its grapes deserves natural cork.” Which hasn’t been true for decades, and is no more true today. This is a very well-done piece of reporting by the Times’ David Pierson, and includes the best numbers I’ve seen on cork’s share of the wine market: Down from 95 percent to 70 percent over the past decade, with screwcaps at 20 percent and plastic cork around 10 percent.

? Bring on the liquor chains: Want more competition for your wine dollar? Then you’ll be glad to hear that a Canadian retailer called Liquor Stores N.A. wants to add to stores and states to the 36 locations it has in Kentucky and Alaska. Shanken News Daily reports that the company has identified possible sites for expansion, and has hired executives away from Walmart and Total Wine and More to oversee the process. The chain expects to carry as many as 8,000 wines in its new stores. If Dallas is any indication, another national retailer with deep pockets will help keep wine prices low.

? Where’s the wine list? The Chicagoist website looks at restaurant wine lists, why they’re rarely mentioned in reviews, and the idea of restaurant wine in general, and includes this: “Let’s face it, there are a few too many wine professionals out there who come across as being pompous and arrogant (if not full of shit).” And this: “This is why we need intelligent wine writers to help guide us and give us some tips. And most importantly, we need writers to remind us to forget trying to know everything but, rather, to have an open mind and experiment and enjoy. Which are just two of the highlights in the interview the site’s John Lenart does with Chicago restaurateur Tom MacDonald. It is honest, accurate, and speaks to the problems wine has in restaurants. Would that people in the wine and restaurant business paid attention to it.

wine closures

Consumers appreciate screwcaps more than we know

screwcaps
Screwcaps and fireplaces? Yes, there’s a link.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s long battle for screwcaps has had its ups and downs, and I’ll admit I get discouraged. It’s difficult enough tasting as much bad wine as I do, but when you have to struggle with a cork first? Talk about hitting yourself in the head with a brick and not knowing enough to stop.

Still, there have been bright spots despite the backlash against screwcaps over the past several years, be it chatting with the Doon Master or this, from someone who appears to be a 29-year-old, fairly ordinary wine drinker who wasn’t even talking about wine at the time:

The worst part of it is, I ?m burning [wood in a fireplace] not for heat, but for aesthetics. It ?s like, ?Wait, this is actually pretty hypocritical. ? It ?s very similar to the idea of a cork in a wine bottle instead of a screw top.

Thank you, Ryan Matzner of New York City. And a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Vivian Yee of the New York Times, who was savvy enough to recognize a great quote when she heard one. That’s newspapering the way it’s supposed to be done.

wine news coravin

The $300 Coravin question

The $300 Coravin question
Even after the Coravin, sealed like new.

Coravin is the new, hip, and incredibly well-reviewed corkscrew that lets you open a bottle of wine without taking out the cork. As such, it is as revolutionary as the company says. But it’s the $300 Coravin question that remains unanswered: Is it necessary to spend that much money on a wine gadget?

Make no mistake: the Coravin does what it says it does. Shasha Dotras (that’s her in the photo) impressed almost everyone who saw her demonstrate the opener recently at Pogo’s in Dallas. The hollow needle, which has a hole in the sharp end, pushes through the cork, argon gas is fed into the wine, the wine flows through the needle, and the opener’s handle works like a spigot. Pull the needle out, the argon gas fills the empty space, and the cork expands to fill the hole left by the needle. The wine remains mostly as fresh as before the Coravin.

But is that it works enough? If it costs $300, then it had better be worth $300 worth of wine, be they 30 bottles of $10 wine or three bottles of $100 wine (and that doesn’t include $11 each for the argon capsules). And that’s a difficult standard for any gadget to meet.

Further complicating the price/value discussion is that most of us don’t need the Coravin. There are four glasses in a bottle of wine. I open a bottle at dinner, and I have two glasses and the person with me has two glasses. When are we going to use the Coravin? And most people who don’t finish a bottle are more than happy to replace the cork or screwcap, put the bottle in the fridge, and drink the rest later. The idea that oxidation exists and could spoil their wine is something only wine snobs worry about.

So who would benefit from the Coravin? Professionals who taste a lot of pricey wine one glass at a time, but that can hardly be a market big enough to make a difference. Maybe there’s demand for a restaurant version, though given the level of training at most restaurants, breakage would probably make the Coravin prohibitively expensive.

This leaves everyone who has a cellar stuffed full of expensive wine, has lots of money to spend on gadgets, and sees wine as something to collect and not necessarily drink — probably less than five percent of the U.S. wine drinking population. In other words, the Winestream Media’s typical wine drinker. Which no doubt explains this. And this.

In this, the Coravin may well be to wine what the granite counter top is to home renovation — it sells well and is really nice to have, but isn’t going to make dinner any easier cook or taste any better. Which answers the $300 Coravin question for me.