Tag Archives: corks

Winebits 325: Corks, Mateus, wine sales

Winebits 325: Corks, Mateus, wine sales
Everyone knows the cool kids only drink wine with corks.

? When in doubt, a poll: The cork business announced last week that more than 9 out of 10 wine drinkers associate natural cork with higher quality wine. Which is about as surprising as the Wine Curmudgeon announcing that he wrote a book about cheap wine. We can question poll methodology, who paid for it (and the release is very vague about that), and the like, but none of that is as important as the way the results are phrased. It doesn’t say that wine closed with cork is “better.” It says: “Consumers associate higher quality wine with cork.” Of course they do. What else would we expect, given that most wine drinkers still make screwcap jokes? Even “experts” who are supposed to know about wine are still writing that junk. No wonder I’m so cranky so much of the time.

? What happened to the bottle? Periodically, someone will announce they’ve re-marketing a Baby Boomer wine brand, figuring that people in their 50s and 60s will get a kick out of drinking the same wine they did when they were in their 20s. Mateus, which accounted for one-third of Portugal’s wine exports in the 1980s, is doing just that in the United Kingdom, releasing four new wines that are nothing like the rose the Boomers grew up. A Portugeuse zinfandel blend, anyone? Or a chardonnay and Maria Gomes blend? They’re spending 2 million (about US$3.3 million) on the effort, too, which seems like a lot of money for wine no one will be especially interested in.

? Wine sales growth slows: And the reason may have been craft beer and flavored spirits, reports the Technomics consultancy. “The sluggish economy is creating ever more intense competition for adult beverage occasions,” says the report. “And today’s consumers ? especially Millennials ? have a broad drink portfolio that involves drink spirits, wine and beer, with flavor and occasion as key factors in the what-to-drink decision. Never before has the battle for share of glass been so intense.” Share of glass, indeed. The good news for wine, though growth was only 1.6 percent in 2013, is that total adult beverage volume declined 0.9 percent. Take that, beer.

Why don’t these wines have screwcaps?

scewcapsThe Wine Curmudgeon has been tasting mostly red wine this month, and especially cabernet sauvignon, in an effort to get more wines that I don’t normally drink on the blog. Quality, even around $10, has been surprisingly good, but there has been one major disappointment. Not only do most of the wines have corks instead of screwcaps, but they come in heavy, old-fashioned bottles.

Which raises the question, which I’ve raised before and which is worth raising again: Why don’t these popularly-priced wines use screwcaps and come in lighter bottles? That would make the wines less expensive to produce, lower their carbon footprint, increase profit, and even possibly lower cost. And neither would affect quality.

Consider: The bottle for a 2003 white Burgundy — about as high end as wine gets — weighs 22 ounces and is closed with a cork. The bottle for the $5 Rene Barbier wines, closed with a screwcap, weighs 14 ounces. Yet most of the producers whose wines I’ve tasted use some kind of cork and unnecessarily heavy bottles, often closer to the white Burgundy than the Barbier. Some examples:

• The $11 Pigmentum malbec from France, 19 ounces, artificial cork.

• The $12 Errazauriz cabernet sauvignon from Chile, 15 ounces, screwcap. Ironically, the producer recently changed bottles, cutting the weight by 12 1/2 percent. Otherwise, it would be 17 ounces.

• The $12 Josh Cellars cabernet sauvignon from California, 22 ounces, natural cork.

• The $16 Bonterra zinfandel from California, 23 ounces, artificial cork. The irony? That Bonterra is one of the best selling green wine brands in the country.

• The $17 Downton Abbey claret from France, 19 ounces, natural cork.

In these cases, sadly, appearance is all. The Downton Abbey is the most obvious example, but even the others work from the assumption that consumers expect quality wine to come in heavy bottles with some kind of cork. We can argue forever about screwcaps vs. corks, but the one thing that isn’t in debate is that screwcaps are perfectly acceptable for most of the wine we drink. And there is absolutely no debate about the bottle. This isn’t 1890, when bottle weight mattered, protecting the wine from the perils of 19th century shipping. Lighter weight, given today’s bottle technology, is just as effective. Fifty million cases of Two-buck Chuck are proof of that.

Obviously, what’s in the bottle matters most. At some point, though, the bottle and closure itself is going to matter, whether producers believe it or not.

Winebits 293: Wine packaging edition

? The Coravin 1000: How big a deal is the Coravin, which lets consumers drink wine from a bottle with a cork without removing the cork? It has not only been a hit on Twitter and the wine blogs, but made CNET, which is usually reserved for flashy electronics. The system uses a thin hollow needle to pierce the cork, which makes an opening for pouring the wine, and the cork reseals after the needle is pulled out. Meanwhile, argon is inserted into the bottle through the needle so oxygen never touches the wine, and so the wine won ?t oxidize. The words magical have been thrown around a lot, though the $299 price tag may speak to its efficiency as much as magic. The Wine Curmudgeon ?s antipathy for wine gadgets is well known; is the Coravin worth $30 bottles of great $10 wine?

? Anything but glass: My old pal Tina Danze at The Dallas Morning News did herself proud with this effort, in which the newspaper ?s tasting panel searched for summer wine that came in something other than a traditional bottle. The result? 10 wines that passed master with a very exacting panel, most of whom I have judged or tasted with. No surprise that Yellow + Blue made the cut, as did Black Box, but so did wine in a can, wine in a pouch, and several plastic bottles.

? The romance of cork: The Wine Curmudgeon has had his disagreements with wine corks and cork supporters (who can forget when the cork marketing type canceled his email version of the blog after this?), but I try to be fair. Cork does a nice job for 18th century technology. And it is so romantic, as this slideshow from the drinks business trade magazine demonstrates. It ?s really romantic. Of course, if wine was only about romance, we ?d still be making it the way they did in the 18th century.

Winebits 245: New York wine, corks, wine accessories

? Spectator strikes again: Just when you thought that the Winestream Media had accepted regional wine, the Wine Spectator fired a shot over the bow reminding everyone just how inferior regional wine is and always will be. Which didn ?t please regional wine advocates in New York ?s Long Island region. Lenn Thompson at New York Cork Report sums it up nicely: ?In short, there really isn ?t anything new here and I ?m left wondering what the point is, honestly. Been there, done that. ? The point, of course, is that we can ?t make any decisions about wine on our own without checking with the Spectator first.

? Consumers care about wine, not closure: More than 9 out of 10 serious U.S. wine drinkers don ?t really care whether their wine has a cork, screwcap or synthetic closure, reports a study done this spring. Instead, they ?re more concerned with varietal, price and region. This should not surprise regular visitors here, given the Wine Curmudgeon ?s focus on making wine easier to drink. Yes, the survey was commissioned by Nomacorc, the world ?s largest producer of synthetic wine closures (and a sponsor at our recent DrinkLocalWine conference), but these numbers tally with others I ?ve seen over the years. The other interesting thing about the study? One-half of respondents have experienced some type of problem with natural cork, either with it being difficult to remove or breaking when it ?s opened. Which, of course, doesn ?t happen with a screwcap.

? Useless wine gadgets: The Drinks Business, the English liquor trade, comes up with a list of the 10 wine accessories no one really needs. The magazine is to be much applauded, since wine gadgets have always seemed like a way to get wine drinkers to spend money on something other than wine. My favorite in the slideshow is the wine rack robot, if for no other reason than I can ?t believe anyone really thought of it.

Winebits 167: Grape prices, Robert Parker, corks

? Grape crush third highest ever: California crushed 3.7 million tons of grapes in 2010 — the third-largest crush to date, reports WineBusinessNews.com. The good news for consumers? California grape prices fell by almost seven percent, and so wine prices should continue to be "consumer-friendly" for the next couple of years. Otherwise, the figures are quite contradictory, and trying to make sense of them is not easy. Some of the numbers show that the price for Napa grapes declined by more than seven percent, which would be a crisis of epic proportions. On the other hand, says the magazine, looking at another set of figures, maybe they increased one-half of once percent.

? Changes in the Robert Parker empire: Jon Bonne at the San Francisco Chronicle details key changes in the way Robert Parker — the most important person in the wine business — will review wines. The story is very long, and a lot of it is very inside baseball, but there are a couple of things worth noting. Parker is going to review fewer California wines, which Bonne called "stunning news," and the critic who will take over California probably won't be all that different from Parker. "Those awaiting the demise of big, hedonistic cult wines are probably out of luck," wrote Bonne.

? Corks to shoes: Our friends in the cork business, who keep insisting that you're not one of the cool kids unless you drink wine that has a cork closure, have enlisted the Grammy Awards to spread their message. Wines sealed with cork will be served at a fundraiser honoring Barbra Streisand and at the official Grammy celebration. Plus, the corks will be recycled to make shoes. Which raises an important question: When did the Grammy awards become cool again?

Winebits 164: Argentine wine, Gruet, corks and screwcaps

? Argentina ahead of Chile: Argentina exported more wine to the U.S. in 2010 than arch-rival Chile, which may have been the first time that has ever happened. Argentina ranks fourth, behind Italy, France and Australia, as a supplier of wine to the U.S. market. The two countries have been fighting for several years to see which would be the biggest exporter to the U.S. market, and it has turned into a point of national wine pride.

? Gruet says it didn’t do anything wrong: The story is more than a bit confusing, but the gist is this: When Laurent Gruet, whose family owns New Mexico’s Gruet Winey, bid for Texas’ bankrupt Cap*Rock Winery last year, Laurent wasn’t acting for the winery. Hence, neither he nor the winery is responsible for damages in a lawsuit relating to the failed bid. And, for good measure, the company that owns Gruet, which is controlled by the Gruet family, says Laurent “lacked the requisite mental capacity ? to bid for Cap*Rock.

? Everything you ever wanted to know about corks: The article in Practical Winery & Vineyard is quite technical, complete with diagrams of molecules, but the language isn’t too difficult and it’s easily the best piece I’ve ever seen on the difference between corks, screwcaps, and artificial corks. Plus, authors Carlos Macku, Ph.D., and Kyle Reed, Ph.D., from the department of technical services at Cork Supply in Benicia, Calif., threw in some some academic humor: “Wine packaging (probably one of the most challenging of all food barriers) has certainly evolved from the days when the product was transported, stored, and sold in Egyptian amphorae or medieval wooden barrels.”