This week’s wine news: Michael Broadbent, a leading English wine writer and critic, has died at 92. Plus, is it OK to drink alone and does expensive wine offer value?
• Michael Broadbent: Broadbent, to quote his obituary on thedrinksbusiness trade site, “was a towering and influential figure in the wine trade.” He was a master of wine, wrote two books about wine that were considered standard texts, and was a wine columnist for Decanter magazine for almost 50 years. And that was after he pioneered fine wine auctions for Christie’s. The family business, Broadbent Selections, which is run by son Bartholomew, is one of the finest small importers in the U.S.
• Drinking alone? The New York Times’ Eric Asimov asks: “But what if social distancing means you are actually by yourself? Is it all right to open that bottle?” His answer? “If you do have a problem with alcohol or issues with depression, drinking alone is not the responsible choice. But otherwise, why shouldn’t we enjoy the beauty of wine, especially if it is augmenting a meal? If we are going to take the loving step of cooking for ourselves, I believe we should absolutely make the experience even better by enjoying a glass or two of wine as well.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
• Value for money? David Morrison at the Wine Gourd blog looks at the Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list, which has few inexpensive wines, to find out if it offers value for money. The result? Mostly, though his analysis does rely on points: “yes, good value-for-money can be found in this Top 100 list — go for the highest-scoring wine at $20, or the cheapest wine at your favorite score.” The finding that most interests me is that the best price for value is around $20, since those are among the least expensive wines on the Spectator list. And, as Morrison notes, there is “some very poor value-for-money, but in those cases you are getting vinous excitement, instead.” I’ll settle for the value, thank you.
This week’s wine news: The New York Times’ Eric Asimov takes on sweet red wine, plus wine helps a pension plan go belly up and Barefoot reaches 20 million cases
• An unlikely review: The Times’ Eric Asimov, who makes no secret of his disdain for Big Wine, discusses three top-selling Big Wine products in a recent Times’ wine school column. His comments about E&J Gallo’s Apothic and Constellation Brands’ The Prisoner and Meomi are almost as priceless as as the comments readers left. It’s also worth noting that the wines are sweet reds – Apothic more or less labeled as such, and the other two hiding sugar behind a dry red wine label. As such, there are three of the most contentious wines among those of us who do what Asimov does.
• How to make a million in the wine business: Dallas’ police and fire pension fund almost went broke last year, and only tremendous sacrifices by the cops and firefighters – who weren’t responsible for the collapse – saved the system (which is a story for another day). The point for the blog? The pension system was so badly mismanaged that it had investments in wine real estate. How is that mismanagement? Because the first rule of the wine business is this very old joke: How do you make a million in the wine business? Start with two million.
• Only 20 million cases: Barefoot, also an E&J Gallo brand, has grown to 20 million cases – or about one bottle for every drinking age adult in the U.S. That’s a mind-boggling statistic. The story from the Shanken trade news site is mostly puff (boxed wine is hardly an innovation in 2019), but it’s worth reading to note how important $7 Barefoot is to the health of the U.S. wine business. We can talk about premiumization all we want, but if Barefoot was a winery, it would be the fourth biggest producer in the U.S.
This week’s wine news: Eric Asimov on the role of the critic, plus Belgian wine and less alcohol, fruit and oak in wine
• The role of critics: The New York Times’ Eric Asimov, perhaps the best wine critic in the world, shows why: “Why is wine so regularly singled out in the United States to be assailed as something of a con game? And what is it about wine critics that invites such gleeful dismissals of their knowledge and judgment? One reason … is that [these claims] all contain elements of truth. While it may be ridiculous to assert generally that expensive wines are no better than cheap wines, it is absolutely true that many expensive wines are not as good as many cheaper wines.” It’s an intelligent, well-thought essay taking into account the role of critics, the history of wine snobbery in the U.S., and what Asimov calls industry complicity in making wine snotty and the idea that those of us who are better at it are also better people.
• Even in Belgium: Yes, there’s wine in Belgium and just not beer. The industry is not big by European standards – just 110,000 cases or so, a decent-sized U.S. winery. But it’s growing, and there are more producers and grapevines than ever. How is quality? Says one distributor: “Everything has been progressing, everything has been going well.”
• Call it international: For the past couple of decades, the International style of wine has been know for its high alcohol, over-ripe fruit, and overdone oak. That’s changing, reports the Italian Wine Guy: “There was less talk of fruit and oak and power and alcohol. And there were people crooning over acid, and cement, restraint of fruit (and alcohol) and less about power. And more about grace. And just like that, a schism rent asunder, regarding the interpretation of international style.” I don’t know that I’m quite as optimistic about these changes (ask me about 14.8 percent California chardonnay samples), but regular visitors here know how welcome that change is, the idea that wine is more than a cocktail.
“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?
This week’s wine news a day early, to make room for tomorrow’s annual Halloween post: A Canadian province takes over marijuana sales, plus a direct shipping lament and good news out of wine country
• State control: New Brunswick won’t allow retailers to sell marijuana when the Canadian province legalizes dope sales in July. Instead, the provincial liquor store system will set up “a network of of tightly controlled, stand-alone stores.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports that as many as 20 stores will open, but weed products will only be displayed under glass and customers will need to show identification to prove they’re of legal age before they can even get in. The story is worth reading, even if it’s not strictly about wine, because the politicians in New Brunswick are using many of the same buzzwords to justify the system that elected officials in the U.S. use to justify three-tier and state control of liquor sales – starting with protecting young people.
• More woes for direct shipping: Eric Asimov, perhaps the best wine writer in the world, has discovered that it’s not easy to buy wine over the Internet. “But now, states — urged on by wine and spirits wholesalers who oppose any sort of interstate alcohol commerce that bypasses them — have stepped up enforcement efforts. Retailers say that the carriers began sending out letters to them a year ago saying they would no longer handle their shipments. For consumers who live in states stocked with fine-wine retailers, like New York, the restrictions are an inconvenience. For consumers in states with few retail options, they are disastrous.” Welcome to the middle of the country, Mr. Asimov – as we recently noted on the blog.
• Little vine damage: California grape experts say the grapes and vineyards should not suffer much from the recent wine country wildfires, reports a trade magazine for growers. The analysis says only a small percentage of the 2017 grape harvest might have been harmed by the fires and smoke, but most of the harvest was done before the fires started. In addition, the grapevines acted like firebreaks, preventing the flames from spreading as they moved through vineyards.
When happens when two articles in the same paper argue for two opposite things?
One of the silly joys during my newspaper days were the dueling columnists – when two of our top writers wrote about the same subject, but did it in completely opposite ways. In other words, the Dallas Cowboys’ coach could be both a genius and an idiot in the same paper on the same day.
So imagine my glee when these two stories appeared in the New York Times. First, Eric Asimov, perhaps the best wine writer in the world, argued for ingredient labels so consumers would know if their wine used what he called artificial or suspect ingredients. A couple of weeks later, though, guest columnist and author Bianca Bosker argued for just the kind of wines Asimov was ranting about.
The point here, aside from my giggles, is that they’re both correct. We need ingredient labels for wine, and it’s a pleasure to see Asimov supporting something I’ve been writing about for years. But Bosker’s point (despite her infatuation with Big Wine) is also well made: Thanks to technology, the “gap between fine wine and commercial wine is shrinking. ….”
But because this is wine, we get the either/or – either one is right or the other is, there is no middle ground, and never the twain shall meet. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Why can’t we have both? Why can’t we have ingredient labels, which would help us get more honest and well-made cheap wine?
Isn’t that what I do here? And isn’t that best for everyone?