Tag Archives: restaurant wine

Winebits 652: Restaurant carryout booze, local rose, cheap local wine

carryout boozeThis week’s wine news: More restaurants opt to sell carryout booze, plus Illinois wineries embrace rose and local wine needs to be more affordable

Restaurant carryout booze: More restaurants see carryout booze, including wine and cocktails, as a way to help the weather the duration. Which is pretty damned amazing, since this was illegal in most of the country before the pandemic. In Texas, for example, the governor has signed an order allowing restaurants to sell to-go cups, just like New Orleans. This is mind-boggling; most of Dallas was dry in some way until a decade ago, and the state is still famous for its dry counties. Perhaps even more amazing? A suburban Chicago restaurateur is selling wine at retail for carryout and not phony restaurant prices. She hopes to make up the difference in volume – an amazing concept, yes?

Local rose: Just when the WC gets all flustered about the future of Drink Local, I read this in the Southern Illinoisan newspaper in downstate Carbondale (where, a long time ago, I was a general assignment reporter). The Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Alliance launched an aggressive and seemingly expensive marketing campaign this spring to make rose Illinois’ official state wine, and “unite” the industry with a common product. Give the WC’s enthusiasm for Drink Local and pink wine, what could be a better idea?

Not just in England: Oz Clarke, one of the patriarchs of modern wine writing, says English wine won’t become more successful or more popular until more people can afford to buy it. This is a lesson that emerging wine regions, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, never seem able to understand. It’s one of the biggest problems with Drink Local, where producers don’t understand that people are more likely to buy $15 wine than $30 wine, no matter how noble the $30 wine is. Clarke told a wine seminar that it was crucial to get “really good bottles of still wine in front of people for the same price as, say, New Zealand.” Wise words, indeed.

Texas restaurants and alcohol to go

alcohol to goNew state alcohol to go law has helped restaurants stay in business, and the change may be permanent

Shawn Virene, who owns the Houston restaurant a’Bouzy, doesn’t mince words.

“Hopefully, this will keep going for a while,” says Virene. “It’s really helped us with our cash flow during all of this. It has allowed us to pair wine with food and sell it at a reasonable price.”

The “it” Virene is talking about? The decision to allow Texas restaurants to sell alcohol to go during the coronavirus pandemic. a’Bouzy sells out its daily takeout specials – dinner for two, plus a bottle of wine for the cost of the wine in most restaurants. The wine specials, plus selling margarita setups, he says, has allowed him to hang on during the pandemic-caused restaurant closure in Texas.

And he may get his wish about the rule changes lasting longer than the duration. Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, a Republican, tweeted this week that “Alcohol-to-go sales can continue after May 1,” when Texas lifted its statewide stay at home order. Wrote the governor: “From what I hear from Texans, we may just let this keep on going forever.”

As Virene noted when we talked this week, the changes are as welcome as they are unprecedented. Texas does not allow restaurants to sell wine or spirits to go; the very idea is regarded as blasphemous, and even BYOB is heavily restricted. Meanwhile, the state’s open container law is written so that those of us who legally take an unfinished bottle of restaurant wine home could still be arrested.

So we truly are in a brave new world, as I noted in last month’s three-tier post.

The reason for the change? Because it boosts business, and easier access to alcohol, so far, does not seem to have made anything worse. Virene makes 100 to-go dinners daily, and he sells out by early afternoon. At his prices, that’s understandable. The most expensive dinner, crab-stuffed flounder for two, costs $69, and that includes a bottle of Champagne. Most are $44 or less, including coq a vin plus California merlot for $44; lasagna and Chianti for $32; and Taco Tuesday with Rioja for $39. The margarita setup, enough for a half-gallon with Jimador Tequila Silver, costs $32.

Virene says he can afford to do that because he doesn’t mark his wine up 3 to 4 times the wholesale price, which is standard restaurant practice. Rather, his markup is less than 2 to 1, because “I would rather sell you two or three bottles and know you had a good time, instead of selling you one bottle and know you went home thinking you had been ripped off.”

That’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s approach to restaurant wine. In this, Virene says other Houston restaurants seem to be adapting his to-go policy, thanks to the changes in the law. Maybe they will adapt his pricing policy, too.

Winebits 632: Sommelier cheating scandal, wine tariff, wine lists

sommelier cheating scandalThis week’s wine news: A comprehensive look at the sommelier cheating scandal, plus the wine tariff sinks French wine imports and wine list foolishness

Sommelier cheating scandal: The trade website SevcenFiftyDaily takes a long, thorough, and comprehensive look at the 2018 sommelier cheating scandal – some 4,000 words. It’s mostly well done, fair, and reaffirms the suspicions that those of us had about the lack of transparency surrounding what happened: The “events of the past year raise broader questions about an organization—and the title it confers—that’s one of the wine world’s most powerful. And not just for the trade: With the 2012 release of the film Somm, which details the efforts of four Master Sommelier candidates to pass the exam, and its subsequent appearance on streaming services like Netflix, many consumers have come to view the MS title as the standard of wine culture.”

Plummeting exports: The 25 percent U.S. tariff on some European wine has pounded French wine exports to this country, says a French government official. They dropped 44 percent by value in November 2019 from the previous month, after the import penalty went into effect on October 2019. The story also says that the “tariffs have been especially painful to producers at the lower ends of the market, where a 25 percent price hike can turn an affordable bottle into a once-in-a-while luxury.” We should know something this week or next about the next stage in the trade war after the World Trade Organization rules on a complaint by the European Union about illegal U.S. subsidies to Boeing. It was illegal EU subsidies to Boeing competitor Airbus that started this mess.

Incomprehensible wine lists: A recent Vinepair podcast takes on a subject guaranteed to make the Wine Curmudgeon crazy: The “many wine lists floating around out there that seem to revel in being inscrutable to all but the most sophisticated and educated wine drinkers.” The podcast talks about the problem, explains why it doesn’t have to be one, and offers more pointers on buying wine in a restaurant.

Winebits 574: Restaurant wine, wine apps, mock wine cocktails

restaurant wineThis week’s wine news: One more example of restaurant wine’s inability to deal with reality, plus the failure of wine apps and wine drinkers should try booze free cocktails

Restaurant wine, yet again: That the Wine Curmudgeon can find so many of these restaurant wine pricing faux pas speaks to the problem: Those who price wine in restaurants aren’t living in the same world with the rest of us. A recent on-line story featured an up and coming sommelier bragging about his wine list: “These are my favorite things to pour for our guests: the wines that sell for $45 to $70 but completely knock it out of the park.” Given restaurant pricing, that means he looks for values among wines that cost $25 to $40 retail. Which misses the point of how much most of us actually pay for wine. A $40 bottle accounts for a couple of points of U.S. sales (if that much, depending on whose numbers you use). Hence, the sommelier is running his wine list for a tiny, tiny share of U.S. wine drinkers.

Waste of a download? Most of us use wine apps fewer than a dozen times and then discard them, writes Robert Joseph in Wine Business International. There are exceptions like Vivino, but most of us who “ downloaded the app did so because they were briefly attracted by the novelty of the technology. But that interest soon wore off; they seldom if ever feel the need to record their views of the red or white in their glass, or scan a bottle before buying it.” This matters because wine apps were supposed to making wine pricing more competitive, since consumers could compare prices on their phones. Apparently, though, that isn’t happening.

Bring on the mocktail: Do wine drinkers want to try booze-fee cocktails? Yes, says one of the leaders in devising mocktails that mimic their alcohol counterparts. “While it seems this may be only about soft cocktail recipes, the bigger picture is that it’s about connection, community, inclusion and taking good care of people,” she says. One suggestion for wine drinkers: spice mulled “wine,” made with apple cider and cranberry juice.

Winebits 572: Texas ABC, restaurant wine, fake Prosecco

Texas ABCThis week’s wine news: Texas liquor retailer sues the Texas ABC, plus a restaurant tries to solve the industry’s wine problem and Italian authorities seize fake Prosecco

Texas ABC lawsuit: The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has been plagued by scandal, mismanagement, and more scandal over the past several years, is in even bigger trouble. Spec’s, the largest independent retailer in the state, has sued the agency for malicious enforcement. The federal lawsuit is the result of the TABC’s attempt to fine Spec’s $700 million after a lenghty investigation a couple of years ago.. The catch? Two judges dismissed the agency’s suit against Spec’s, saying the charges were completely unsubstantiated. Why does this matter to wine drinkers in the rest of the country? Because it might mean the end of the TABC when the state legislature meets early next year. It almost dissolved the agency two years ago, and pressure is mounting to kill it in the upcoming session. If that happens, it will send a message to liquor cops across the country about how they enforce three-tier.

One last chance: An English restaurant chain, emerging from bankruptcy, says its new plan revolves around selling better quality wine. Says the new wine buyer for the Argentine-themed Guacho: “It’s always the big wineries [who are represented] – those who can afford PR, travel and marketing. But there are so many super-interesting smaller wineries in Argentina. It’s my duty to champion those guys. If no one gives them a chance they’re never gonna get an importer.” It’s a fair plan, the idea of moving away from Big Wine, and stands an even better chance of working if the chain keeps fair pricing in mind.

Lots and lots of fake Prosecco: Italian police have seized more than 80,000 cases of Prosecco from two producers. Police said each added extra sugar to the wine during fermentation to increase the alcohol content and exceeded their production quotas. The authorities became suspicious after finding some two tons of sugar at the wineries. No doubt the wineries should have been more subtle.

Winebits 570: Box wine, wine drinkers, restaurant trends

box wine

This week’s wine news: Why isn’t box wine more popular? Plus, identifying U.S. wine drinkers and restaurant wine trends for 2019

No boxes, please: Box wine, despite its increasing popularity, remains a minor part of the wine business. It accounts for just four percent of wine sold worldwide by volume; box sales have declined in Australia, one of the few places where it’s popular; and younger wine drinkers prefer bottles to boxes. One expert thinks he knows why: The technology was developed for battery acid, and producers treated the wine they put in boxes much the same way, using it for lower quality products.

Parsing the wine drinker: A study has divided U.S. wine drinkers into six groups in one of those exercises that only marketing types can understand. The study uses terms like social newbies and premium brand suburbans to divide us by age and demographics. As near as I can tell, the idea is that younger wine drinkers are more adventurous and older wine drinkers buy the same brands of chardonnay and white zinfandel over and over. Which, of course, isn’t all that new; perhaps it means something the marketing gurus in the audience?

Restaurant wine trends: Of which there aren’t any in 2019, if this forecast from a restaurant consultancy is accurate. It lists 13 trends for next year, including higher prices, new spins on Asian food, and “motherless meat.” But it doesn’t say one thing about restaurant wine, which makes perfect sense given what we’ve seen of restaurant wine over the past couple of years. So don’t expect the conundrum that is restaurant wine — higher prices, mediocre quality — to be solved anytime soon.

What the people who do wine lists still don’t understand about restaurant wine pricing

restaurant wine pricingRestaurant wine pricing is the key to a successful list – why is that so hard to figure out?

The article in the trade magazine was called “Winning the wine game: Experts share advice for building great lists,” and the five people quoted all seemed to be smart, savvy, and knowledgeable. So what the was the one thing that almost none of them mentioned as a way to build a great wine list? Sensible restaurant wine pricing.

Nothing demonstrates the conundrum that is restaurant wine pricing more than the jargony writing in this article. “Thinking of the list as a holistic set of offerings that compliment each other is key.” Does anyone have any idea what that sentence means? How will it help anyone put together a quality wine list? Plus, it should be complement, not compliment.

Hence, the problem we face with restaurant wine pricing. Not enough people who put together wine lists understand that pricing is more important than anything else. It’s not screwcaps vs. corks or treating wholesalers with respect, two pieces of advice in the article. If we can’t buy wine at a fair price, we won’t – and there is almost 10 years of post-recession wine sales data to prove that point.

We’re tired of paying $35 for a $10 bottle of wine, but no one quoted in the piece seems to realize that. The closest anyone came – “A list needs to contain good lower-end bottle prices, along with the well-known higher end [wines]” – still doesn’t address the problem. Most restaurant wine pricing is too high, and there’s no good reason for it.

And if these five experts don’t see pricing as a problem, what does that say about the rest of the restaurant business – who probably aren’t as expert or as successful? Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

More about restaurant wine pricing:
The John Cleese/Fawlty Towers guide to restaurant wine service
Winecast 28: Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News
British restaurants to customers: Sod off