? Consumers trade down: The restaurant business, which has always taken wine drinkers for granted, is finally facing the revolt many of us have been hoping for. The recession hurt restaurant wine badly, and the recovery hasn ?t been much better, says a recent report. Diners ordered 13 percent fewer bottles in 2012, and bottle sales accounted for just one-eighth of wine orders and only 41 percent of wine revenue. In other words, consumers, tired of overpaying for crappy wine that is often oxidized or spoiled, stopped paying for it.
? Avoiding the morning after: There ?s nothing in this post that ?s especially new, but it ?s good to have it all in one place: You can minimize a hangover by drinking water while you booze and by drinking less alcoholic wines. It also argues that high tannic red wines help keep hangovers at bay, since they make us drink more water. Though I have to admit it ?s difficult to follow the main piece of advice: ?With every glass of wine, drink a glass of water. ?
? What do diners deserve? Not all that much, writes Jeremy Parzen in the Houston Press. It just seems a lot, given the sad state of restaurant wine service. His 10-point diner ?s Bill of Rights includes such basics as ?The right to request that a wine server open a new bottle of a by-the-glass selection if the wine has been open since the day before. ? Which we all know restaurants ? even ones that know better ? want to do about as much as the Wine Curmudgeon wants to run naked down the street.
? New owners for old favorite: Geyser Peak, about as dependable a $10 wine as there is, has been bought by Accolade Wines, an Australian group that has become the world ?s fifth-largest wine company. The deal included two smaller labels, Atlas Peak and XYZin, and seems to be part of a continuing shakeout in the wine business caused by the recession, the slump in wine sales, and overextended wineries. The Australians said all the right things about Geyser Peak, but when anything like this happens, the fate of the acquired company is also a mystery.
? Winery boss rips retailers: Or, as the Aussies, put it, ?launched a spray. ? The occasion was an industry function Down Under where one of the country ?s most influential producers criticized Australia ?s leading retailers for ?flooding their stores with private-label wines that he said were hollow, copycats and masquerading as real brands. ? I mention this here because private labels and store brands have become increasingly important for retailers in the U.S. ? the Total Wine that just opened in Dallas has so many private labels I had trouble finding the branded wine ? and we may soon be seeing the same sort of reaction from U.S. producers.
? Love that sweet wine: Moscato sales increased by what one trade magazine called "a staggering 73 percent" in the 52 weeks that ended Jan. 7, 2012, and the wine business wise guys are trying to put all sorts of spin on that news. The report in the link credits pop music stars like Kanye West, who sing about moscato, but the Wine Curmudgeon has another, more likely, theory. Americans like sweet wine. Which, of course, none of the wise guys want to admit. My electrician, who wouldn't know Kanye West from Cornel West, has become a big wine drinker. His favorites: Pinot grigio and moscato, and his wife likes sweet red wine. Not coincidentally, buried at the bottom of the story in the link, was this: "… small but growing categories included unoaked Chardonnay and sweet reds."
? Natural wine backlash: Renowned Rhone producer Michel Chapoutier has denounced natural winemakers as out-of-touch hippies making defective wines, reports Decanter magazine. Chapoutier told the magazine that natural winemaking ? which doesn't allow techniques like adding sulphur dioxide to stabilize the wines ? "…is a connerie. It is rubbish. It ?s like making vinegar, bad vinegar. How can anyone allow toxic yeasts to develop so that these inhabit the wine?" This should make for an interesting back and forth, since proponents of natural wine are equally as shy as Chapoutier about advancing their cause.
? Annoying restaurant wine practices: Two of the most annoying restaurant trends in the Zagat Survey's 2011 list were wine related, which should come as no surprise to regular visitors here. Overzealous wine pouring, when the waiter or waitress won't let you sip wine before they show up for a refill was No. 3, while No. 5 was wine glasses that are too big. Interestingly, inflated restaurant wine prices didn't make the list. Perhaps, like death and taxes, we've just accepted those something we can't do anything about.
The Wine Curmudgeon was traveling, and stopped at a major U.S. chain restaurant that will remain nameless to protect its identity. (OK, it was Chili’s.)
One of the group wanted a glass of wine, and ordered the Australian chardonnay that was on the list. And Chili’s does have a wine list — not great, but not awful, either. The wines are professional, and shouldn’t embarrass anyone. Barefoot, even. And, in fact, this post isn’t about the quality of the wine list. Or that the chardonnay, which retails for about $5 a bottle, cost $6 a glass. One deals with what one can get.
Rather, it’s about how too many restaurants — even ones that spend millions of dollars on server training — don’t have any idea what they’re supposed to do with wine. The chardonnay took 20 minutes to arrive at the table, which was bad enough. How hard is it to walk to the bar, pour a glass of wine, and bring it back to the table? More, after the jump: Continue reading →
? Unhappy bloggers: Not everyone was thrilled with the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Charlottesville, Va., a couple of weeks ago. Or, as my pal Dave McIntrye noted, the Whine Bloggers Conference (where the comments have angled all over the place, including a discussion of Missouri wine and whether it's any good — which it is, for the uninitiated). Tom Johnson also has a few thoughts at Louisville Juice. Meanwhile, back at the WBC, Richard Jennings, who blogs as RJ on Wine, was quite unhappy with the record heat, and held the organizers accountable. Why, he wrote, would the conference hold a major tasting event outdoors in 100-degree heat and high humidity, despite plenty of advance warning of weather conditions? Boy, that's a tough crowd, isn't it? As someone who organizes events for the media, the Wine Curmudgeon will take note of this and make sure the weather is more acceptable for our next DrinkLocalWine.com conference in Denver. Don't want DLW to get ripped in the cyber-ether for too much snow in April.
? Wine blogger awards: Congratulations to our pal Lenn Thompson at the New York Cork Report, who won his third consecutive wine blogger award (for best single subject wine blog). Lenn has broken new ground for regional wine with the Cork Report, and it's nice to see him honored. Also a winner: the Enobytes blog, which is never afraid to speak its mind, for best wine reviews.
? Wine in restaurants: Some sage advice from the great Dan Berger about buying wine in restaurants: "Always look at the non-traditional categories for the best values. (Try Albari o as an alternative to chardonnay, or Argentina malbec instead of merlot.)" The article offers a number of other useful tips, and offers wine buying etiquette pointers as well, like when it's acceptable to send back a bottle of wine.
The restaurants surveyed reported that wine sales have increased after a two-year slump, and that consumers seem to be buying more expensive wines than they did in the past couple of years.
But it doesn't look like the old, "let's spend crazy money on wine" ways have returned, says Wine & Spirits editor and publisher Joshua Greene: "… [W]hether buying low end or high, most diners were looking to get the most out of their wine-buying dollars: They weren't spending on trophy labels. Sommeliers describe a savvier wine-buying public as we come out of the recession."
This is significant, because the poll tracked wine sales using the Zagat guide's most popular restaurants in the country. These restaurants, given Zagat's methodology, attract more affluent and upscale consumers who eat out more often than the rest of us and spend more money when they do. So if they have embraced the New Normal, imagine how little the rest of us are spending.
Also significant: The average price for the most popular wines in these restaurants was $62 — about what it has been for the past five years. Which is a damned odd statistic, given the sales slump during the recession, and I'm not quite sure what it means (besides that restaurant wine is overpriced). Most likely, according to what respondents said about their wine pricing, it means that restaurants didn't cut prices during the recession, which kept the average price up even as sales declined. Why they didn't cut prices is a question for another day.
? Champagne sales slump: I suppose this isn't news to any of us who have been paying attention, but someone did feel the need to write a report. Champagne sales — that is, sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France — fared worse during the recession than the rest of the sparkling wine business. Champagne sales fell by 3.6 percent in 2009, which is an amazing figure, and more than twice as much as non-Champagne sales fell. Until, of course, one realizes that it's almost impossible to buy a bottle of Champagne for less than $20, while there are dozens of quality options that aren't Champagne, such as Spanish cava, Italian bubblies, and U.S. brands like Domaine Ste. Michelle for much less than $20.
? The quality of restaurant wine: Tom Johnson at Louisville Juice picked up this nugget (and how does he always find these things?). A CNN blogger who doesn't drink wine decided to sample a pinot grigio from the wine list at a national Italian chain. The result was predictable. "It tasted like rubbing alcohol turned bad." Which, as regular visitors here know, is one of the Wine Curmudgeon's common complaints about poorly made Italian pinot grigio. Reporting this item gives me the chance to do three of my favorite things — rail against the quality of restaurant wine lists; lament that too many people are introduced to wine through poor quality restaurant wine lists; and note something that puts a TV journalist in a less than complimentary light (once a newspaperman, always a newspaperman).
? Gallo pinot fraud: Gina Gallo, the heir to the empire, says the 2009 Pinotgate scandal, in which E&J Gallo's Red Bicyclette label sold some 1.5 million cases of fake pinot noir from the Languedoc in southern France, was a disaster. "As a company we want to be squeaky clean, and we are scrupulous in declaring alcohol levels and other matters, so of course it was an embarrassment to us," she told Decanter magazine. This is, as far as I can tell, the first time an important Gallo official has commented on the scandal, which included criminal prosecutions and convictions in France.