Tag Archives: wine advice

What do wine drinkers want?

wine drinkeresWine drinkers want mostly simple things. Why is that too much to ask?

• Wine prices: What do wine drinkers pay for a bottle of wine?

What do wine drinkers want? That is, those of us who drink wine because we enjoy it and aren’t chasing scores, trying to impress others with how much money we spend, or aspire to become wine geeks.

I shouldn’t have to ask this question, but as I start to gather material for the blog’s 11th annual Birthday Week starting Nov. 12, it remains in the forefront. Because, as one Dallas retailer who usually doesn’t say things like this said the other day: “Why is the wine business starting to treat consumers and wine drinkers like they’re idiots?”

So what do wine drinkers want?

• Fair pricing. The point is not how much a wine costs, but whether it’s worth what it costs. Barefoot, regardless of anything else, usually offers $6 of value. How many $20 wines can say that? And, as noted too many times in the past couple of years, fewer and fewer wines that cost more than $15 are worth that much money – to the Dallas retailer’s point.

• Truth in labeling. If a wine is sweet, say it’s sweet. Why is that so difficult to do?

• Varietal correctness. Chardonnay should taste like chardonnay, merlot should taste like merlot and so forth. Why is this so difficult to do?

• Legitimate availability. I get at least one email a week from a reader saying she or he can’t find wines I’ve written about. This happens even though I try to write about wines that are generally available. So why the problem? Because the system is rigged in favor of the biggest wholesalers and the biggest retailers, but not the consumer. Hence, the most available wines are usually the least interesting, the least varietally correct, the least truthful about sweetness, and the most unfairly priced.

• Knowledgeable sales people. Why a Chicago-area grocery store wine salesman would be rude to my mom when she asked about a wine I had written about is beyond me. But behavior like that is becoming the norm – when you can find someone to help you.

Winebits 565: Wine advice, ancient wine, three-tier system

ancient wine

This week’s wine news: More bad wine advice, plus a shipwreck could hold evidence of 2,400-year-old wine and a another challenge to the three-tier system

No, no, no: Points and scores are bad enough, but when a general interest website runs a story aimed at beginning wine drinkers and starts throwing around winespeak, we know we’re in trouble. But that’s what the Skillet site did, advising a white wine drinker to try a red made using carbonic maceration. There is almost no reason for anyone to know what that means, unless you’re a wine geek. And, of course, most people aren’t wine geeks. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business? Next time, use English – words like soft, fruity, and so forth – and then drop in tannins if you want to get technical.

More than 20 centuries old? A 2,400 year-old wreck has been found in the Black Sea, and researchers think the ship may have been used to carry and trade wine. “Normally we find amphorae (wine vases) and can guess where it’s come from, but with this it’s still in the hold,” said a member of the expedition. The wreck is similar to the ship pictured on the Siren Vase in the British Museum. The vase, dating to around 480 BC, shows Odysseus (of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey) strapped to the mast as his ship sails past three sea nymphs.

Another challenge: A Florida-based wine importer has filed suit in California, claiming that the state’s version of the three-tier system is unconstitutional. The Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty law blog says that if the suit is successful, any importer or wholesaler in the U.S. – even if they don’t have a California license – may be permitted to sell to California retailers without using an in-state distributor. This would be a revolutionary change, possibly making it easier for consumers to buy wine previously unavailable. However, the firm doesn’t rate the suit’s chances highly, noting that the precedent used in the suit hasn’t been applied to importers before, calling it a “bridge too far” in the suit’s approach.

The new U.S. Pizza Museum is missing just one thing – wine

u.s pizza museum

My Old Style days are a thing of the past — today, it’s wine and pizza.

Four wine-related exhibits for the U.S. Pizza Museum

The new U.S. pizza museum – in Chicago, of course – is a wonderful idea. The only thing that seems to be missing is wine.

Which we can’t have if the museum is to be taken seriously (despite the usual pizza whining from Manhattan). The Wine Curmudgeon knows this because, before I wrote about wine, I wrote about pizza. Those were the halcyon days of Pizza Today magazine, working for the great Bruce Allar and knowing the joy that was the annual Pizza Expo trade show. Where else could anyone get so excited about flour and yeast but at Pizza Expo in the Las Vegas convention center?

I also lived pizza, growing up in Chicago and understanding the symbiosis between cheese, a proper thick crust, the correct tomato sauce, and Italian sausage. Those were the days of Dave’s Italian Kitchen, the pre-chain Giordano’s, the Silo in Lake Bluff, and cold, leftover Rosati’s pizza for breakfast. And yes, I used to drink Old Style with pizza, but I write about wine now, don’t I?

So if the museum doesn’t have a wine and pizza exhibit, then the Wine Curmudgeon will do something about it. Consider these possibilities:

• Always pink: rose with pizza. A French chef, long before the rose boom, told me the only proper wine for pizza was pink. So why not Cuvée des 3 Messes Basses Rose ($10, purchased, 13.5%), a solid, well made southern French rose with tart berry fruit, some minerality, and the necessary freshness and crispness. Imported by Kindred Vines

• Chianti, tomato sauce, and pizza. Any of our cheap Chiantis would work, as would any sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany in Italy. The Monte Antico Toscana, a sangiovese blend, offers fresh cherry fruit and the Italian earthiness I so enjoy.

• Regional pizza and regional wine. One of the things that surprises me about pizza is someone somewhere always seems to be doing something new with it (though you can probably guess how I feel about pineapple as a topping). Given the success of Drink Local, a top-quality Missouri norton like the St. James Estate Norton ($15, purchased, 13.5%), full of spice and dark black fruit, would complement even the unique St. Louis style of pizza.

• Why not seafood? I first saw shrimp on pizza at Gino’s in Houma, La.; despite my Chicago roots, it took me just 12 seconds to accept it as legitimate. In fact, seafood is a common topping in much of the U.S., like the clam pizza popular on the east coast. Seafood-friendly white wine, like the Fantini Farnese Trebbiano d’Abruzzo ($8, purchased, 12%). It’s less tart and crisp, but more spicy and chalky than ugni blanc (the French version of the trebbiano grape) as well a little citrus fruit. Imported by Empson USA.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Pizza Museum, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 562: Smoke taint, wine advice, non-alcoholic booze

smoke taint

I’m just not going to worry about smoke taint, no matter how much I read about it.

This week’s wine news: The cyber-ether is awash in smoke taint controversy, while we get more not very good wine advice from the Mainstream Media and non-alcoholic booze gets more popular

Fire damage? Wildfires in California and the Pacific Northwest the past two summers may have damaged grapes with something called smoke taint — or they may not have. And, even if the fires caused smoke taint, it may not affect most of the wine sold in the U.S. Ain’t writing about the wine industry grand? Smoke taint, say researchers, is caused by smoke from fires, leaving the wine with unpleasant “ashtray” smells and flavors. But no one is quite sure how to detect it or even if it can be detected before the grapes are crushed. Confused? Growers, especially after last summer’s fires, swore smoke taint wouldn’t be a problem. But some producers insist they’re wrong. More perplexing? The fantastic amount of coverage in print and the Internet, given that the grapes under scrutiny are used to make wine costing at least $20, which most of us don’t drink. But that’s how the Winestream Media rolls.

Stop me before I advise again: The Wine Curmudgeon keeps a weather eye out for wine advice in the mainstream media, where good intentions too often lead to bad advice. Witness this post from Lifehacker, which makes no sense at all and seems mostly to be a plug for the retailer doing the recommending. Please, editors: Make sure your reporters know the basics of wine before you let them write about it. You wouldn’t let them write that way about brain surgery, would you?

No more buzz: Will the non-alcoholic wine and beer market be worth will $25 billion by 2024? That’s the estimate from the Global Markets Insight consultancy. It cites several reasons: Improved brewing and fermenting techniques, which give the products the same taste and feel as those with alcohol, as well as increasing health concerns about booze from younger consumers. By comparison, wine sales in the U.S. total about $36 billion a year.

Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices

restaurant-only winesThis edition of Ask the WC: Are there wines sold only in restaurants, plus local wine’s success and the cost of rose

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question .

Hey Wine Curmudgeon:
What can you tell me about wines sold only in restaurants? I’ve seen restaurant-only wines that I don’t see in any retailers. Why is that?
Dining out

Dear Dining out:
Yes, there are wines sold only in restaurants. No, there isn’t a simple explanation about how this is possible, given the requirements of the three-tier system. There are two kinds of restaurant-only wines — those made exclusively for specific chains (our old pal private label), and those the producer decides to sell just to restaurants. The latter are often more expensive and are usually sold by the glass. The theory is that there will be more demand in restaurants for those kinds of wines than there would be in stores. None of this, of course, explains why restaurant wine prices and markups remain ridiculously high.

WC:
You keep writing that local wine has been a huge success. I don’t see it — I know I can’t buy wine from other states besides California in my local store. What am I missing?
Drink Local

Dear Drink Local:
The very fact that you’re asking this question speaks to local wine’s success. How many people would have know quality wine was made in the other 47 states 10 years ago? That you can’t get anything else speaks to the distribution problems plaguing wine more than the popularity of local wine.

Hey WC:
Someone left a comment the other day about the price of rose, that it was more expensive than $10. I’m seeing the same thing. Where are you finding $10 rose?
Drinking pink

Dear Pink:
The majority of $10 roses I buy are from quality specialty stores and independent retailers. I agree — it’s not easy finding $10 rose in grocery stores, given the phony pricing model that supermarkets use. So, if you can buy from other retailers, do so. Otherwise, you’re buying $1) wine marked up to $18 and then put on sale for $12.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings
Ask the WC 14: The wine availability edition

How to take advantage of phony wine pricing

phony wine pricesThese four suggestions can turn phony wine pricing into real savings

Wine pricing today is a jumble of fake discounts, inflated markups to make the fake discounts look good, and make-believe member and club prices. And let’s not forget all those bogus volume savings, where the multi-bottle price at one store is the one-bottle price at another store.

But there are ways to make phony wine pricing pay off. Yes, it’s a bit of work, and no, wine shopping isn’t supposed to be a bit of work. But the bit of work is the difference between getting the most value for your money, and paying too much for crummy bottles of wine.

Hence, these suggestions:

• Know the real retail price. The free version of wine-searcher.com does just that. If you start there, you’ll be able to tell immediately that the $18 grocery store wine marked down to $15 costs $13 elsewhere. And then you’ll know to buy it elsewhere.

• Plan your buying; don’t buy on a whim. If you need a bottle of wine for dinner, that’s one thing. But if you’re at Target or Walmart, don’t throw bottles into the basket just because. The next thing you know, you’ve paid $75 for five bottles of wine that might have cost $60 at another store.

• Know which stores offer which discounts – and which discounts matter. World Market’s four-bottle, club member discount is often a sham. But one Dallas specialty grocer offers 20 percent off six bottles every week, changing the discount from white to rose to red and so forth. That is almost always real savings. So don’t be afraid to ask how a store’s discount policy works.

• Use those discounts. I stock up at the Dallas specialty retailer depending on what’s on sale. That way, I can buy my $10 wines for $8, as well as splurge on $12 or $13 bottles (even if they cost $10 or $11 elsewhere). This approach will even work with grocery store pricing. In the spring, my Kroger was selling Wine Curmudgeon favorite Spy Valley sauvignon blanc for $16, which is more or less the real price. Thanks to the card discount, I was able to buy the wine for 10 percent off the real price. So I bought two.

Finally, remember that the independent retailer is your best friend. The independent retailer’s pricing is usually the most fair, and most will offer the standard 10 percent case discount. How can you go wrong with that?

More about phony wine pricing
Wine pricing foolishness, and how one group stopped it
Wine pricing skulduggery
Transparency and grocery store wine prices

podcast

Winecast 33: Andrew Stover, Siema Wines

andrew stoverAndrew Stover has been fighting the good fight for Drink Local from inside the wine business, “importing” regional wine to the Washington, D.C., area

Andrew Stover has been one of the good guys for regional wine for a decade, “importing” local wine to the Washington, D.C., area. This is especially impressive since Andrew is a distributor, a part of the wine business that has not always been kind to drink local. He brings wine in from more than a dozen states and distributes it to some of the most prestigious restaurants and retailers in the D.C. area. Jose Andres, anyone?

I’ve known Andrew since the early days of Drink Local Wine, and he has always been passionate about local wine and supportive of the cause. We talked about how he got started with local wine, why it has suddenly become the darling of the Winestream Media, and what comes next.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 14 1/2 minutes long and takes up 11 megabytes. The sound quality is excellent; we recorded it with the Wine Curmudgeon’s Linux-compatible Fifine K669 microphone.