And how does a a butcher shop evolve into a a top-flight wine retailer? We talked about that, as well as Nick’s very brief time in law school; which parts of the world offer the best wine value; and the increase in interest in a Wine Curmudgeon favorite, chenin blanc. Nick also offered some of his best wine values and the best piece of advice for wine drinkers: If you want to learn about wine, you need to drink it. And don’t miss the bit about cutting red wine with water.
Finally, what makes a great wine shop? Nick’s answer is simple: It’s about selling the customer the wine that makes them happy, and not the wine that makes the retailer happy.
Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 13 1/2 minutes long and takes up 13 megabytes. The sound quality is good, though there are a couple of spots where it fades in and out and Skype wasn’t up to its usual standards (had to record the podcast a second time, in fact).
Holiday wine trends in 2015? Red wine — lots and lots of red wine.
That’s the consensus from the retailers I’ve talked to over the past 10 days. The red blends boom, combined with an upsurge in interest in pinot noir, has shoppers going for what Chris Keel, who runs Put a Cork in It in Fort Worth, calls “a bigger style in red blends.”
That was born out by numbers from Wine.com, where two-thirds of the wine sold over the past year were red. Mike Osborne, the web site’s founder and and vice president of merchandising, reports that the leading red wine categories, including merlot, have grown by double digits.
Interestingly, prices seem stable, particularly on the high end, and we’re still looking for value. But we’re also willing to pay for a holiday splurge, says Nick Vorpagel of Lake Geneva Country Meats. “They’re generally OK with $15, especially for domestic wine,” he says, noting the difficulty in finding quality for $10 from U.S. producers. “And I think consumers have decided that wine is an integral part of their meal and they’re OK with paying a bit more for a quality bottle of wine.”
Among the other holiday wine trends this year:
? Rose is still popular, even though it’s not rose season. Wine.com is selling more rose than merlot, which is as welcome a development as it is hard to believe.
? “Customers are looking for wine recommendations that fit their palate, not just a generic ‘best pairing’ recommendation,” says Vorpagel. “I’m having more customers come in and say, ‘I don’t like pinot noir; what other reds will go with turkey?’ It’s great because people are getting more comfortable with their palate to say ‘I’m not going to drink something I don’t like just because an expert recommends it.’ ” That sound you hear is the Wine Curmudgeon’s sigh of pleasure.
? Oak is not going away, no matter how much I want it to. Those of you who like it are still buying it, and especially in chardonnay, and producers have launched several wines in the $15 to $20 range for these wine drinkers.
Or, how a small meat market in central Wisconsin sells cheap wine, makes money, and pleases its customers. In other words, happiness through cava and bratwurst.
“You’d be surprised how many times people walk in, see our wine, and tell us they never realized we had this great selection,” says Nick Vorpagel, whose grandparents opened Lake Geneva Country Meats in 1965. “How often does it happen? Frequently.”
Which isn’t surprising, given the way the wine world sees itself. Wine comes in heavy bottles with corks and it’s supposed to be expensive, two traditions that proponents have been reasserting as wine sales have picked up over the past year. Throw in the foolishness that has been going on in the past month or so among my colleagues in the wine writing business, who are in a death match about what constitutes a proper wine writer, and it’s enough to make the Wine Curmudgeon take to his bed with a case of $10 Hall of Fame bottles until whatever this is passes.
But there’s no need, because smart retailers and wine drinkers, like Lake Geneva Country Meats and its customers, don’t need us or our silliness. How else to explain the meat market’s success with wine since 2005 — some 300 labels in butcher shop in a tiny town that Vorpagel happily admits is in the middle of nowhere. You’ll see very little high-priced wine and very little wine snobbishness; just, as Vorpagel describes it, “wines in the $10-$15 price range that are a little better than the price tag and that need to be good with food.”
Is it OK if the Wine Curmudgeon sighs contentedly?
“We’re really passionate about we do,” Vorpagel says. “We really believe in helping our customers have an enjoyable full meal, and what complements food better than wine? We’ve made the investment, and our customers appreciate it.”
The headline, by the way, comes from one of the market’s monthly wine tastings. This month’s featured Spanish wine, including Segura Viudas cava (and tip ‘o the WC’s fedora to my brother, who sent me the market’s e-mail). It was, says Vorpagel, one of the most enjoyable — but not as fun as the spring rose tasting, which will feature nine pink wines from around the world this year, up from three in 2011.
And just think: Vorpagel’s family figured that out without guidance from everyone is who supposed to be smarter about wine than they are. So I know where I’m getting the brats for my next cava party.
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