This week’s wine news: Drink Local gets a book, plus three-tier and the Supreme Court and Dave McIntyre celebrates his 10th anniversary at the Washington Post
• All over the country: One more sign that drink local has become mainstream – a travel guide from one of the world’s leading travel publishers. Lonely Planet’s “Wine Trails: United States and Canada” includes 40 wine trails: The usual California, Oregon, and Washington suspects, plus Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Nova Scotia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, and Maryland. Again, if someone had told me I’d be writing about this book when we started Drink Local in 2007, I’d have laughed. And rarely have I been so glad to be wrong. So glad, in fact, that we’ll give a copy of the book away during Birthday Week next month.
• Bring on the Supremes: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a key three-tier case this term, though it may not be as important as many people are making it out to be. The court will decide the constitutionality of a Tennessee law that requires anyone who wants a retail liquor license to be a state resident. Residency laws are often used to keep out-of-state companies, like Total Wine, from opening in a new state (and was used in 2016 in Indiana to stop an Illinois chain from opening stores). This Tennessee case is a big deal, given how few three-tier laws get to the Supreme Court. But there has also been a lot of cyber-buzz that the court will use it to allow direct shipping from out-of-state retailers, so that someone in Texas, for example, can buy wine from a store in Illinois. Currently, that’s illegal in most of the U.S. I checked with the blog’s liquor law attorney, and he says it’s too early to tell if a residency case could transform into a direct shipping case. If anything develops, I’ll write more.
• Congratulations, Dave: My pal Dave McIntyre, who was a co-founder of Drink Local Wine, recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as the Washington Post’s wine critic. This is most welcome news, and not just because Dave and I have been friends for a long time. He possesses a fine palate, cares about quality and value, and wants to share those things with his readers. Would that more people who do this thought the same way.
“I wish I had sound advice about how to make wine easier.”
This week’s wine news: How to make wine easier and more fun, including a terrific rant from Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post
• You’re not stupid: This column from the Washington Post’s Dave McIntyre is brilliant, and I’d say that even if we weren’t long-time friends. “Are you tired of being wine shamed? There are plenty of people who will tell you what you’re doing wrong with wine. … Who needs that sort of criticism? We are judged on so many things in life. Wine should not be one of them.” Or, as regular visitors here know, drink what you like, but be willing to try different kinds of wine. Dave offers three pointers to help you do that: Quality glasses, the correct serving temperature (with an aside to restaurants and their propensity to do this so wrong), and learning how to tell flawed wine. All sound ideas, and not one revolves around price, varietal, or appellation.
• Death to scores! The Wine Curmudgeon is always happy to pass along another indictment of wine scores, and this is one of the best. Writes Katie Finn on the Coachella Valley Independent website: “Your house is lovely, but there’s no pool, so you get an 83.” Which I wish I had written, and will use from now on. Finn’s point? That scores make wine more intimidating and more difficult, instead of easier. Which is their reason for being. “Points give consumers the false idea that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect’ wine,” she writes, as accurate a criticism as possible.
• Everyday wines: Eric Asimov, writing in the New York Times, laments the difficulty in finding quality everyday wine amid wine’s confusion: “As much attention as is paid to the rare and profound bottles that fire the imagination, far less is devoted to the sorts of wines that people might actually consume at any given weeknight meal.” Guess he needs to spend more time on the bog, yes? Asimov’s advice is spot on, and especially in finding a good wine shop – which we’ve always advocated here.
This week’s wine news: We survey cheap wine 2018 wine developments
• The best cheap wine? My pal Dave McIntyre, showing his heart is as big as his talent, reviewed 29 grocery store wines in the Washington Post. Is it any wonder we’re friends? Dave’s conclusion? The best were the Woodbridge and Robert Mondavi chardonnays and the Santa Rita, Cousino-Macul, and Los Vascos cabernet sauvignons. What struck me, other than Dave’s endurance, was that he thought that many of the 29 wines were as poorly made as I do. Would that the wine business did, too.
• Bad wine is bad wine: Eric Asimov, writing in the New York Times,also understands what the wine business doesn’t: “Few things have been as damaging to the American wine industry as its homogenization.” And this, too: “Anyone who is in the business of examining wine critically needs to actually be critical, not simply validate consumer choices, and looking at wine critically means understanding the chasm between mass-produced wine products and wines that are an expression of a place, a people and an aesthetic.” Is it any wonder I consider Asimov to be the best wine writer in the country?
That’s Dave in the middle, and he should be smiling.
? More than well deserved: Who knew the Wine Curmudgeon would know someone who had won the same award as a Mondavi? Or the legendary Konstantin Frank, without whom U.S. regional wine would not have been possible? But that’s my pal Dave McIntyre, who was given the Monteith Trophy over the weekend for his work as a wine writer. Dave has done much for the cause of wine, including co-founding Drink Local Wine with me when people thought we were crazy. So it’s more than time that the wine world recognized the effort Dave has made, not only for regional wine, but for wine drinkers everywhere. Dave will be in Dallas in a couple of weeks, and I have laid in some Texas wine that we will celebrate with. Congratulations, my friend. But couldn’t you have worn a tie for a big deal like this?
The Wine Curmudgeon, of course. There I am, on page 20 of the current issue of Meininger ?s Wine Business International, a German-based trade magazine, quoted in a story discussing the popularity of sweet red wines. And how do we know this is a big deal? Because the magazine costs ?20 ? about US$25. I don ?t waste my time being quoted in those cheap $5 and $10 magazines.
It ?s an interesting story, though not quite as thorough as the piece I wrote for Beverage Media. It gives credit for the sweet wine movement in the U.S. to the regional wine business, and specifically to Texas ? Llano Estacado. I don ?t know that Llano is the only regional winery that had something to do with this (St. James in Missouri, Oliver in Indiana and Duplin in North Carolina, among many others, come to mind), but it ?s intriguing that a European publication recognizes the role of the regional business.
These should be the best days for cheap wine. The recession has focused the wine industry on wine that costs less than $10, and producers around the globe have been racing to put out as much inexpensive wine as possible. When a sparkling wine house like J does a $15 pinot gris, the world has definitely changed.
But a lot of people are not happy about this. The industry, despite its embrace of cheap wine, doesn’t really seem to have much affection for it. They’ll take the cash, much as they have always done with white zinfandel, but they really don’t want to be associated with it. Follow the business, and you’ll see news reports and interviews over and over about what really matters to them: When are consumers going to start buying wine that costs more than $15 again?
The wine media, even in the cyber-ether, has not been happy with the emphasis on cheap wine, either. Over the last several weeks, there have been a variety of posts and discussions about cheap wine’s popularity and that it’s not necessarily a good thing. The gist? That those of us who advocate cheap wine are missing the point, and that we care only about price and not about quality. Which is not necessarily the case.
The United States is not a wine drinking country. We are a soft drink country, and most of us don’t know anything about wine. What most of us do know is that wine is confusing and expensive and reserved for really special people who can talk funny about it. And anyone who loves wine who denies this is kidding themselves. I got a release the other day from a new wine club that said it would demystify and de-snobify wine — and then used the same foolish winespeak to describe how wonderful its wines were.
Given this, is it any wonder that most Americans buy wine strictly by price? Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer and top-flight cookbook author, put this into perspective for me during an interview several years ago. Most people, he said, look at wine as an alcohol intake system. They drink wine because it makes them feel good. They really don’t care about the wine stuff. I see this every time I do a public event, and ask the audience if a $100 wine is 10 times better than a $10 wine. The audience, almost every time, offers a unanimous no. It doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong; it’s their perception that counts.
Which is the real problem, and one that the wine business — and those of us who write about wine — don’t address. We don’t do enough to make wine accessible. We don’t do enough to educate consumers. We want to be famous, and this goes for wine writers as well as winemakers. The dirty little secret of my business is that too many of us want to be Robert Parker, and that’s not going to happen by writing about Yellow Tail or Barefoot or by teaching consumers how to tell the difference between a $6 wine and a $10 wine.
Which, of course, is what I have always done here. That’s why the $10 Hall of Fame exists. That’s why I write 52 wines of the week every year, highlighting just those kinds of wine. The debate should not be about cheap wine, but about quality. Are there well-made cheap wines? Of course, just as there are well-made expensive wines. And are there poorly-made cheap wines? Indeed, just as there are poorly-made expensive wines. It’s no crime to make consumers aware of that.
In fact, our job should be to educate consumers about what constitutes quality, and how to tell the difference. And every time we give a point score and use words like licorice and toast, we’re doing just the opposite — and consumers reach for the wine that delivers the most alcohol for the buck.
Sadly, though, that may be a distinction that too many in the wine world don’t — or don’t want to — understand.
My pal Dave McIntyre, the wine writer at the Washington Post, got a surprisingly nasty email from a reader. Why, asked the email, is Dave wasting the reader's time writing about Virginia wines, which no one is interested in, which cost too much, and which stink? And, by the way, Dave should stop pandering to Virginia wine producers and recommend French wines for people to drink.
On the other hand, I was talking to a wine drinker at a French wine event in Dallas last night (ironically enough). Ralph Lewerenz is a huge advocate of Texas wine, and he has the knowledge and wherewithal to drink just about any wine he wants. "It would be outrageous not to drink Texas wines," he told me. Yes, some of them aren't very good, Ralph said, but a lot of them are. Best yet, when Ralph travels, he tries regional wines. I almost hugged him in the middle of the event.
I feel sorry for Dave's emailer. Wine is supposed to be fun, which Lewernez understands. It's about exploration and discovery. How alienated from the joy of wine must someone be who sends nasty emails to a wine writer trying to helping them have fun?