This edition of Ask the WC: Are there wines sold only in restaurants, plus local wine’s success and the cost of rose
Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.
Hey Wine Curmudgeon: What can you tell me about wines sold only in restaurants? I’ve seen restaurant-only wines that I don’t see in any retailers. Why is that? Dining out
Dear Dining out: Yes, there are wines sold only in restaurants. No, there isn’t a simple explanation about how this is possible, given the requirements of the three-tier system. There are two kinds of restaurant-only wines — those made exclusively for specific chains (our old pal private label), and those the producer decides to sell just to restaurants. The latter are often more expensive and are usually sold by the glass. The theory is that there will be more demand in restaurants for those kinds of wines than there would be in stores. None of this, of course, explains why restaurant wine prices and markups remain ridiculously high.
WC: You keep writing that local wine has been a huge success. I don’t see it — I know I can’t buy wine from other states besides California in my local store. What am I missing? Drink Local
Dear Drink Local: The very fact that you’re asking this question speaks to local wine’s success. How many people would have know quality wine was made in the other 47 states 10 years ago? That you can’t get anything else speaks to the distribution problems plaguing wine more than the popularity of local wine.
Dear Pink: The majority of $10 roses I buy are from quality specialty stores and independent retailers. I agree — it’s not easy finding $10 rose in grocery stores, given the phony pricing model that supermarkets use. So, if you can buy from other retailers, do so. Otherwise, you’re buying $1) wine marked up to $18 and then put on sale for $12.
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.
5 things I learned judging Colorado Governor’s Cup 2018 last weekend in Denver
1. The quality of Colorado wine keeps getting better. It’s not so much that the best wines are the equal of wines elsewhere in the country, or even that there are more of the best wines (and both were true). Instead, it’s that there are more professionally made, competent wines – all those in the middle that don’t win big awards but are necessary if you’re going to have a local wine industry.
2. Particularly impressive were red wines made with Italian varietals, something I haven’t seen much of in the decade I’ve been judging in Colorado. We tasted a nebbilio and a teroldego; the latter did better in the competition, but both were terrific wines.
3. Drink Local. I’ve been writing about regional wine for so long – I wrote my first piece in the early 1990s – that it never dawned on me that the second and third generations of drink local didn’t know how the movement started. So I got to tell several of the old war stories to a new audience. And yes, I’m enough a ham that I got a kick out of it.
4. Quality of judges. It keeps getting better, too. Four of the 18 judges were MS or MW, an impressive percentage for a regional competition. That’s a testament to Doug Caskey, who runs the Governor’s Cup. He’s one of the most respected people in regional wine, and I hope his bosses and the Colorado wineries appreciate that.
5. The state of 21st century air travel. The less said about flying in and out of Denver the better. Just know that the two men sitting next to me on the way up, who were in their late 20s or early 30s, were complaining. This means the airline business has alienated customers who aren’t old enough to know about a time when we didn’t have pay to check bags, when seats hadn’t been made smaller to cram more people on the plane, and all of the rest. Which, in a perverse way, is an impressive achievement for the airlines.
This week’s wine news: Zinfandel icon Kent Rosenblum dies, plus North Dakota wine and a tussle over Italian-style sparkling wine made in Australia
• Kent Rosenblum dies: One of the country’s greatest zinfandel winemakers died last week; the Rosenblum zinfandel, along with Ridge and Ravenswood, paved the way for today’s zinfandel boom. But that was not Kent Rosenblum’s only legacy. He was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met in the wine business. I rode an elevator with Kent, who was a vet long before he was a winemaker, shortly after he sold the company to Diageo in 2008 for $105 million. He was schlepping wine boxes to a trade tasting. “Dr. Rosenblum, I said, “why are you carrying your own boxes? Don’t you have people to do that for you now?” He looked a little sheepish, and said, “Why would I ask anyone else to do this?”
• Bring on North Dakota wine: Researchers in North Dakota want to boost the state’s wine business, in another victory for Drink Local. “”Everyone is interested in expanding our industry in North Dakota for wineries and for tourism,” said one state official. Which, of course, is just what the WC likes to hear. The biggest problem in North Dakota, not surprisingly, is the weather, which is too cold for most wine grapes. But state researchers are working with a variety of cold climate hybrids to find the best for the climate. Currently, the state has 16 wineries.
• How do you say Prosecco in Aussie?Australian bubbly may be one of the sticking points in trade negotiations between their country and the European Union. The Australians sell a wine called Australian Prosecco, which is illegal under European trade rules – the same law that prohibits California producers from calling their wine Champagne under a U.S.- European Union agreement. Why the Australian objection to the name rule for something that’s settled in much of the world? More wine labeled Australian Prosecco is sold in Australia than the Italian kind, and the former don’t want to lose that market.
The Winestream Media continues to say nice things about regional wine and Drink Local
The irony is not lost on those of us who endured the slings and arrows of the Winestream Media a decade ago when we said Drink Local and the idea of regional wine mattered. Today, mainstream wine publications, on- and off-line, are racing to see who can hype local the most.
So allow me a smile. And I promise not to say I told you so too loudly, or to say it too often. Right, Dave?
This summer, it seemed like everyone from the Guild of Sommeliers to a trade magazine run by the people who do the Wine Spectator have waxed poetic about local wine. Plus, I’ve been told that a major wine website, run by a big-name critic, is doing a huge blowout about regional wine this fall. Plus, these:
• Vinepair’s screaming headline especially pleased my inner cranky newspaperman: “Your Guide to the Finger Lakes, the Most Exciting Wine Region on the East Coast of America.”
• The Guild of Sommeliers has run one piece and is doing another, both written by the very knowledgeable Jessica Dupuy (full disclosure: she interviewed me for the second story). They look at “emerging American wine regions.”
Finally, my favorite regional wine story was in Market Watch, a trade magazine owned by the same company as the Spectator and notorious for its parochial, New York-centered view of the world (which I know because I used to write for it). The story looked at Texas wine; that it did speaks volumes about how far we’ve come in convincing people that Drink Local is a legitimate part of the wine business.
This 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).
This week’s wine news: A regional wine roundup, featuring more deserved good news and one intriguing conundrum
• Bring on the regional wine: Jessica Dupuy, perhaps the top regional wine writer in the country, tells Sommelier’s Guild readers that “While California, Washington, and Oregon continue leading in both sales and overall familiarity, an exponential increase in wine production and vineyard plantings in New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and beyond has started to paint a more definitive picture of the future of American wine.” Her best bests for top regional wine? Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, and New York.
• Bring on Michigan wine: Paul Vigna, another top regional wine journalist, agrees about Michigan: “Now I’m a believer, having tried samples of everything from still wines to sparkling, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Gewurztraminer.” This is no surprise to those of who have followed the state’s success, despite weather that doesn’t always cooperate and the state’s up and down economic climate.
• But not at Cooper’s Hawk: I met Tim McEnery about the same time we started Drink Local Wine; Tim had a restaurant in suburban Chicago called Cooper’s Hawk that made wine. But it wasn’t Illinois wine – it was made in Illinois using grapes from California. Tim’s business model was based on the assumption consumers didn’t especially care where the wine was from. Needless to say, we had a discussion or two about the idea. Today, as Mike Veseth notes in the Wine Economist, Cooper’s Hawk is the 34th biggest winery in the country (bigger than Hall of Fame regular McManis) with 30 locations in 30 states. Cooper’s Hawk has always been a conundrum for those of us who support regional wine, since there’s nothing particularly local about the product. What does its success say about the drink local movement, which has also had its share of successes?