This week’s wine news: Massachusetts is one step closer to allowing food stores to sell beer and wine, plus Microsoft axes people for AI writing and Amazon will open a traditional supermarket
• Massachusetts three-tier: Supporters of a ballot question that would let Massachusetts convenience and food stores sell beer are step closer to voting on the issue. The state’s highest court rule that an election to allow the sales was constitutional. However, supporters must still gather enough petition signatures to ensure an election. The Massachusetts three-tier system is complicated, even for for the U.S., with state and local governments each issuing liquor licences based on a variety of criteria. The ballot measure would let local authorities issue licenses allowing food stores to sell beer and wine over and above the current system.
• Thank you, Microsoft: The Wine Curmudgeon’s disdain for Microsoft is well known, but its recent decision to fire people in favor of machines is a bit much even for the tech giant. It will replace 50 journalists with artificial intelligence machines to edit news stories for the company’s MSN website. As noted on the blog, AI is coming – but it’s not here yet with something as simple as tasting notes. And asking AI to select stories and photos for the website – deciding story importance, how the pictures look, story and photo placement on the page, and so forth – is much harder than writing toasty and oaky (which I know from having done both for my entire professional career). But what do you expect from the company that gave us Windows 8?
• Amazon not go? Amazon will open a traditional supermarket – and not an Amazon Go store – in suburban Chicago. This is huge news, and not just for Kroger and Safeway. If Amazon is serious about the grocery business, it will have to sell wine. So will it follow the others and throw up a Great Wall of Wine with fake priceing plonk or actually do something creative to benefit wine drinkers? The new store isn’t far from my mom; after Illinois lift its lockdown, I’ll ask her to investigate for the blog.
Barefoot wine review 2019: The cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay have a dollop or three of residual sugar, but otherwise taste like they should
This is the 12th Barefoot wine review I’ve written, and one thing is as aggravating today, for Barefoot wine review 2019, as it was 12 years ago: No screwcap. Why E&J Gallo, Barefoot’s owner, still uses a cork closure on most of its labels is beyond me. The only time these wines are “aged” is after they’re opened, when they sit in the refrigerator for another day. A screwcap would make that kind of aging so much easier.
The Barefoot wine review 2019 features the non-vintage cabernet sauvignon ($5, purchased, 12.5%) and the non-vintage chardonnay ($5, purchased, 13%). Both, save for a dollop or three of residual sugar, are among the best Barefoot efforts in years. Yes, that’s damning with faint praise, given the quality of the wines in many of the previous reviews. And their sweetness left that dried out feeling in my mouth for 20 or 30 minutes after tasting. But that Barefoot varietal wines taste like their varietal is worth noting. Put a couple of ice cubes in the glass, and the wines are certainly drinkable, if too simple and not very subtle.
The cabernet tastes of dark berry fruit (boysenberry?), and there are soft tannins, a certain acidity, and restrained fake oak. No chocolate cherry foolishness here, though the sweetness gets more noticeable with each sip and may annoy wine drinkers who expect cabernet to be dry.
The chardonnay, ironically, is less sweet than the cabernet. Take away the sugar, and it’s a pleasant California-style chardonnay — almost crisp green apple fruit, that chardonnay style of mouth feel, and just enough fake oak to round out the wine. There’s even a sort of finish, which was about the last thing I expected. Once again, though, the sweetness gets in the way — would that Barefoot had the courage of its convictions to make a dry wine dry.
The Marques de Caceras verdejo is grocery store wine that does what grocery store wine should do — it’s cheap, drinkable, and available
Quality grocery store wine should do a couple of things. First, it should be fairly priced, and not include a premium for a cute label or the marketing budget. Second, it should taste like what it is, so no cabernet sauvignon that tastes like a sweet red blend and no sauvignon blanc that tastes like a sweet white blend. That both of those are increasingly rare these days speaks to the crisis in cheap wine.
Which is where the Marques de Caceras verdejo ($9, sample, 13.5%) comes in. It’s a Spanish white made with the verdejo grape, so it fills two of the requirements for quality cheap wine – less expensive region and less known grape. And it does what quality grocery wine should do, too.
That means the Marques de Caceras verdejo is fairly priced, and it more or less tastes like verdejo – lots of lemon fruit and a clean finish. It’s simple, and the fruit could be less New World in approach, but it’s not insulting. This is the kind of wine for Tuesday night when you have to stop at the supermarket on the way home to get something for dinner, and you want wine as well.
Cleaning out the notebook after tasting European grocery store wine
A few more thoughts after judging the Private Label Manufacturer’s International Salute to Excellence wine competition at the beginning of April, where my panel tasted 112 wines made for and sold by grocery stores around the world. (Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the PLMA in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)
• One odd contradiction: The best cheap European wines in the states, including cava and cabernet sauvignon, weren’t that great in the competition. I was especially surprised at the poor quality of the cava, which usually costs $10 here and is almost always a value. But the other judges told me that there wasn’t a lot of well-made €5 and €6 sparkling in Europe.
• We tasted a lot of wine made from grapes we never see in the U.S. This makes sense – why try to sell something like a white wine from Lugana in Italy in a country devoted to chardonnay? But it’s also a shame. Lugana is made with the verdicchio grape, which may or may not be an Italian version of my beloved ugni blanc (there’s some DNA confusion). The best one we tasted was stunning – crisp, fresh, and sort of lemon-limey, and for about €5.
• There’s sweet, and then there’s sweet. The panel spent a fair amount of time talking about residual sugar, and how much of it makes a wine sweet. In the U.S. we consider a wine dry if it contains as much as .08 percent residual, and something like Apothic, at 1.2 percent or so, is considered sweet. In Europe, the others said, the Apothic is seen as very sweet, while dry ends around .05 percent..
• Europeans don’t get to taste much U.S. wine. This surprised me, since we drink so much European wine. But, as I was reminded, most U.S. wine is sold in the U.S., and save for some Big Wine brands like Barefoot, there is very little wine made in this country that makes it to Europe.
Finally, the competition was held at the Amsterdam Hilton, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their legendary 1969 bed-in for peace. Their suite is still there, and you can stay in it for €300 a night. The bed-in business impressed me no end, given I still own considerable Beatles vinyl. But not, however, the 30-something Czech judge sitting next to me. Yes, he said, he knew who John Lennon was, but can we get back to tasting wine?
Photo by Dave McIntyre
The Wine Curmudgeon spends two days in grocery store wine heaven
Imagine a delicious, fresh, cherryish Italian red for about $6. Or a Hungarian riesling, taut and crisp, for about $7. Or a $3 pinot noir – a little tart, but still more than drinkable.
Welcome to the world of European grocery store wine, which puts the junk that passes for supermarket wine in the United States to shame. I spent two days last week in Amsterdam judging the Private Label Manufacturer’s International Salute to Excellence wine competition, where my group tasted 112 wines made for and sold by grocery stores around the world. (Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the PLMA in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)
I couldn’t have been happier. For the most part, the wines – and especially those sold in Europe – were cheap and well made. Many would have made the $10 Hall of Fame, including the Italian red. Which, frankly, was spectacular. It was made in Tuscany with a local version of the sangiovese grape called morellino and was bright and fresh and interesting – all for €5. That’s less than the cost of a bottle of Barefoot, and half the price of a bottle of Cupcake.
In this, almost all of the wines we judged were everything I wish cheap wine in the U.S. would be – mostly varietally correct, mostly tasting like the region it came from, and widely available. Or, as the other judges on my panel, all Europeans, said to me at one time or another, tongue firmly in cheek: “Jeff, we didn’t know you had it so bad in the states.”
Little do they know.
That was the good news. The bad is that there are still too many obstacles to getting that quality of wine in your local Kroger, Aldi, Ralph’s, Safeway, and Wegman’s. Not surprisingly, the U.S. liquor laws and the three-tier system are at the forefront.
One judge, who used to be the buyer for one of Europe’s biggest grocers, said the regulations and restrictions governing U.S. wine sales are indecipherable to most Europeans – even those who are paid to figure them out. It has taken years to understand the system, she said, and it has been a long, tedious process.
In addition, the U.S. lacks Europe’s sophisticated private label supply chain. In Italy, for example, the supermarket buyer can make a couple of phone calls to get the morellino. Here, by contrast, retailers usually have to work through bulk wine brokers, a much costlier and more complicated process.
Still, if what I tasted is any indication, there are dozens of reason for optimism.
More on grocery store wine:
• Aldi wine road trip
• Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?
• Wine terms: Private label and store label