This week’s wine news: Three-tier lawsuit over pricing reminds us that booze regulation isn’t gong away quickly. Plus, is organic the future of wine, and why does printer ink cost more than vintage Champagne?
• No discounting: Total Wine, the national liquor store chain, can’t discount wine lower than the state of Massachusetts says it can, ruled the state’s highest court. The decision overturned a lower court judgment in favor of Total, which said the chain could charge lower prices, and that they didn’t violate state law. There’s almost no way to summarize the judgment for anyone who doesn’t have a law degree and is familiar with alcohol wholesalers; it’s enough to know that the ruling (the pricing laws are “not arbitrary and capricious or otherwise unreasonable”) reminds us that three-tier isn’t going away quickly, despite what many people think.
• Organic wine: An Italian high-end producer says the future of quality wine is organic. “I think it’s important to go organic, because today, we need to be careful about what we eat and drink,” says Salvatore Ferragamo, whose family owns Tuscany’s Il Borro. Since the vines absorb what is found in the soil, and since that is transferred in varying amounts to the fruit and into the wine, organic makes the most sense.
• Very pricey: Those of us who have always wondered why printer ink was so expensive will not be surprised to learn that it’s 10 times more expensive than vintage Champagne, widely regarded as some of the best wine in the word. A British consumer advocacy group says printer ink costs around £1,890 per litre (about US$2,400), compared to £1,417.50 per liter (about US$1,756) for vintage Champagne from luxury producer Dom Perignon. The consumer group also reported that printer was more expensive than crude oil.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.
• Palma Real Verdejo 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white blend is a Total Wine private label that tastes like it’s supposed to — tart and lemony, simple but not stupid. It looks to be some sort of knockoff of the Marques de Cacera verdejo, but is better made and more enjoyable. Highly recommended.
• Provinco Bianco Grande Alberone 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This Italian white blend, which includes chardonnay, is more Aldi private label plonk. There is little varietal character, save for some chardonnay mouthfeel. Otherwise, it’s thin and bitter.
• Weingut Berger Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($12/1 liter, purchased, 12%): Yet another Wine Curmudgeon attempt to understand why so many wine hipsters recommend gruner veltliner, an Austrian white. As my pal Jim Serroka said, and he doesn’t pay much attention to wine, “it’s thin and watery.” Look for a little citrus fruit and not much else.
• Familia Bastida Tempranillo 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Another top-quality Total Wine private label – a Spanish tempranillo that is varietally correct with soft cherry fruit, a hint of spice, not too much oak, and all surprisingly integrated.
This week’s wine news: Total Wine takes on wine delivery, plus an IHOP that sells wine and the British government sticks it to wine drinkers
• Home delivery: Total Wine, the chain that wants to become the first national wine retailer, will offer same-day and scheduled delivery in select markets. Currently, the chain only does this kind of delivery in 13 cities in Virginia. The news release, written mostly in tech-speak, is difficult to understand, but the implication is that Total will roll out delivery where it’s legal as soon as it can. What makes this different from the recent rush of retailers announcing delivery? That Total isn’t doing delivery through a third-party service like Drizly or Instacart, but will apparently provide the service itself. That’s a tremendous undertaking in this era of outsourcing, but also speaks to Total’s close to the vest approach toward retailing.
• Wine with your Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity? A Phoenix IHOP has added a full-service bar, serving beer, wine, and cocktails. So yes, IHOP mimosas with your pancakes. The chain normally doesn’t let its franchisees do this sort of thing, but the IHOP is in a former Lone Star Steakhouse, and the bar was already in the restaurant. So why not take advantage of the situation?
• Raising wine taxes: The British government, trying to balance the budget while it leaves the European Union, has found one solution: Raise the import duty on wine. The Financial Times reports that the new rate will increase the cost of a bottle of wine by 7 pence (about a dime in U.S. dollars). What makes this story so odd is that the government isn’t raising the duty on beer or spirits, even though wine is now the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United Kingdom and it’s the sixth biggest wine market in the world.
This week’s wine news: Lidl unleashes its cheap wine collection, plus Total Wine wins court victory and cheaper orchestra wine
• Score one for Lidl: Lidl’s $6 Fleur Saint-Antoine red Bordeaux, a blend of merlot and cabernet franc, is a winner, writes Bernard Showman on the South Carolina Wine Joe blog. Showman lives in South Carolina, where the discount grocer that has promised great cheap wine, has opened its first stores. I’m impressed; I know I haven’t seen anything like that from France at my local Aldi, which is Lidl’s arch-rival. That may explain why two distributors were in my Aldi the other day, trying to figure out how to get better quality wine on the shelf. And, yes, I was eavesdropping.
• Score one for Total Wine: The almost national liquor store chain has won a court victory in Massachusetts which will allow it to sell wine, spirits, and beer at deep discounts. A state court judge said that a Massachusetts law didn’t forbid Total from discounting if it met certain criteria. The ruling is fairly dense, involving how to determine the actual wholesale price of the products that Total sells. The result, though, is another victory in the battle to eliminate minimum pricing in Massachusetts, where state law regulates what retailers can charge.
• Score one for the San Diego Symphony: Regular visitor warbu forwards the wine list from the San Diego Symphony’s summer concert series, and it’s amazing – quality wine at fair prices. A glass of more than drinkable French rose for $9? Or a bottle of decent Spanish albarino for $29? This raises the question of how an orchestra can do what so many restaurants can’t or won’t. Case in point: I ate a high-end Dallas chain last week, where a bottle of vinho verde was listed at $30, or a six to one markup. Can’t get much more greedy than that, can you?
This week’s wine news: Dry Creek releases its 45th consecutive vintage of chenin blanc, plus the history of Two-buck Chuck and a loss for three-tier
• Keep it coming: Dry Creek Vineyard has released its 45th consecutive vintage of dry chenin blanc, which the winery says is a record for California. Given how little respect chenin blanc gets, and especially in California, that’s probably true. In fact, the Dry Creek chenin is a marvelous wine, a regular part of the $10 Hall of Fame, and an example to the rest of the wine world that you don’t have to make chardonnay, chardonnay, and more chardonnay. But what else would you expect from a winery that ends the news release about the chenin with this quote? “Instead of getting sucked into the increasing corporatization of the industry, we are bucking the trends and are an increasingly rare breed.” No wonder I like the wine so much.
• Three-tier takes a hit: The state’s supreme court has struck down a South Carolina law that said no one could own more than three liquor stores. The court ruled that the three-license law “limits are arbitrary and do not promote the health, safety or morals of the state, but merely provide economic protection for existing retail liquor store owners.” This matters not just for South Carolina, but in every state that limits the number of stores one person can own, which includes Texas. It’s not legally binding outside of South Carolina, but it does offer a precedent for judges to to use elsewhere. Also worth noting is that the suit was brought by the Total Wine chain, which has sued other states to overturn three-tier laws. Finally, if I may pat myself on the back, this appears to be part of a trend I wrote about last month, noting that a new generation of judges and regulators sees liquor law differently than their parents and grandparents did.
This week’s wine news: Wine retailers Walmart, Total Wine, BevMo are in the headlines
• Pricing dispute: BevMo, the West Coast liquor chain, has accused Total Wine of unfair advertising. It claimed that the latter’s ad campaign — “Don’t Paymo at BevMo” – that said BevMo’s prices were higher than Total’s wasn’t true. BevMo brought its complaint to the National Advertising Division, a self-regulatory group set up by the ad business. Total declined to participate in the process, which it is allowed to do. What’s interesting here is that Total, which seems to spend as much time courtrooms as Perry Mason, wasn’t worried by the challenge, which was made by one of the biggest regional chains in the country.
• Pricing dispute II: Total has also run afoul of the Massachusetts liquor cops, who have accused it of violating the state’s minimum pricing laws. The chain has sued the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission for briefly suspending the licenses of two Total stores for allegedly selling vodka, rum, and other booze for $1 to $6 below cost. In the Total suit, the company said it assumes that local retailers turned the chain in to the state because they didn’t want to compete on price.
• Election dispute: How deep are Walmart’s pockets? The retailer spent more than $4.8 million that helped pass a ballot measure to allow wine sales in Oklahoma grocery stores. That was some 90 percent of the money raised by the group supporting grocery store wine sales. And, because this is about booze sales, the results of the election have ended up in federal court. The state’s retail liquor trade group claims the measure is unconstitutional and wants it voided.
This week’s wine news: Cute labels matter, plus more on the Connecticut pricing controversy and direct shipping in South Dakota
• The cuter the better: Even in Japan, where the culture and the alphabet are far different than here, cute wine labels matter. Reports the Japan Times: “Wines produced in Chile, Australia and other New World regions are gaining popularity among consumers in Japan due to their reasonable prices and eye-catching animal logos.” The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t know quite what to make of this, save to reiterate what I’ve written many times about cute labels, and to note that reasonable prices certainly matter regardless of culture and alphabet. One of the most popular Chilean brands, Condor, sells for about ¥580, a little less than US$6.
• Joining the fray: A second liquor retailer has taken aim at Connecticut’s minimum pricing law, selling alcohol below the state mandated pricing. BevMax, 13 locations in Connecticut and New York, was advertising and selling liquor below the price set by wholesalers, an apparent violation of Connecticut law, reports the Hartford Courant newspaper. Says a BevMax official: “We feel that the law is unjust. It’s right to break an unjust law.” Last week, Total Wine sued the state to overturn the law, and has also been advertising its products for the state minimum. Late last week, the retailers said they would return to minimum pricing.
• Even a small state: This story, about South Dakotans buying 1,158 cases of wine directly from the producer in the first year of direct sales in the state either speaks to the tremendous power of direct shipping or it doesn’t. That’s not a lot of wine, but consider that South Dakota has fewer than 900,000 people. But that still works out to about one-half bottle per legal age resident. So you tell me – is that a lot or not?