Tag Archives: wine advice

Ask the WC 22: Natural wine, wine tariff, wine scores

natural wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Why is natural wine so expensive? Plus, trying to figure out the European wine tariff and the basics behind wine scores

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 by clicking here.

Hello Wine Curmudgeon:
Love, love, love, your blog! Also recently fell in love with natural wines, like Martha Stoumen, and I’m wondering if you think they will ever become affordable for the daily wine consumer? When I say “natural,” I’m speaking of the wines that use native yeast only to ferment and do not add sulfites. So far, the natural wines that I have found in the $10-$15 range are simply undrinkable.
Curious about natural wine

Dear Natural:
Thanks for the kind words. Natural wine, even though availability is limited, is probably the most contentious topic in wine today. And you’ve identified the natural wine conundrum – and why I haven’t written about it. It’s almost impossible to make a quality natural wine most of us can afford, given the process. Waiting on natural yeast to do the job is not cost efficient. The other interesting thing about natural wine is that its supporters say it should be expensive, so that its producers can make a living. One of their criticisms of Big Wine and “commercial” wine is that these wines don’t give the grape grower a fair return on their effort and time and cost.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I’m confused about the new European wine tariffs. Why is there a dividing line at 14 percent alcohol?
Boozed and confused

Dear Boozed:
Don’t worry – we’re all confused. Most of it makes little sense. And the provision that French, British, German, and Spanish wines with more than 14 percent alcohol are exempt from the tariff is especially confusing. That means most whites will be taxed, but some reds won’t be. Maybe it’s the idea that higher alcohol is bad, and those wines should be punished. Or it may also have something to do with the way wine is taxed in the U.S. where higher alcohol wines pay higher excise taxes.

Hi, WC:
I know this will sound stupid, but I don’t understand wine scores or what they’re supposed to do. Why can’t someone just say if the wine is good or bad?
100 points

Dear 100:
The 100-point scoring system used to be the most contentious part of wine. It’s based on the system we know from school – 90 to 100 is an A, 80 to 90 is a B, and so forth. Its original goal was to expand on good or bad, so that you would know how good or how bad. But – and regardless of every other problem with the system – almost no wine gets less than 85 points any more. Which means one of two things: either no wine is badly made enough to warrant 82 or 79 or 64 points, or the system is so flawed that scores have become meaningless. I think it’s the latter, and that’s one reason why I don’t use scores.

Photo: “Great Sage – Bar” by ZagatBuzz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Preparing for the 25 percent wine tariff

wine tariffFive ways to save money if and when the 25 percent wine tariff for France and Spain takes effect

So far, there’s been no sign that the 25 percent tariff on French and Spanish wine won’t go into effect at the end of the week. So those of us who are rightfully worried about all that quality $10 wine going away should act now:

• Stock up before prices increase. Last week, I bought what might have been the last seven bottles of Chateau Bonnet Blanc in Dallas, and also bought most of what was on the shelf of the Azul y Garanza tempranillo. The Bonnet, of course, is one of the all-time great cheap wines, but it almost certainly won’t be $10 after Oct. 18. The Azul, $11 for a 1-liter bottle, is not just a terrific value, but a quality wine as well – Spanish tempranillo that tastes like Spanish tempranillo.

• Look for closeouts and sales before Oct. 18. Central Market, the Texas version of Whole Foods, did a 20 percent French wine sale last week. So I bought a case of assorted $10 French rose for $8 a bottle; hopefully I can hold out for the first six weeks or so of the tariff.

• There is always Italy. The good news is that Italian wine was excluded from the tariff (though not its olive oil and some of its cheeses). The bad news is that this means that very ordinary $9 pinot grigio will become an even bigger attraction as retailers drop similarly-priced French and Spanish wine. But $10 Sicilian wines will still offer value, while regions in the middle part of the country like Umbria and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo have long been famous for price and quality.

• Sparkling is safe. One would have thought that if the U.S. really wanted to punish France, it would have taxed Champagne. Hence there should still be value in $12 to $15 cava, the Spanish sparkling wine.

• Think South Africa. South African wines haven’t been popular in the U.S. for almost 20 years, but this could be their time to shine, says James McFadyen, a long-time retailer and distributor on both sides of the Atlantic. Producers like Ken Forrester and Mulderbosch offer quality and fair prices for both red and white; the catch has been availability.

podcast

Winecast 40: Roberta Backlund, consumer wine advocate

Roberta Blacklund

Roberta Backlund

Consumer wine advocate Roberta Backlund says there are values to be found – the key is not to be shy about what you’re looking for

One of the biggest problems facing consumers when they buy wine, says Roberta Backlund, is a lack of confidence. “Don’t be shy,” she says. Know what you like, and don’t be afraid to say so. Why buy a $15 bottle of red wine when you want an $8 bottle of white wine? Or vice versa?

Backland has been a wine retailer and consultant, and has worked for producers and distributors. In this, she has seen almost everything that goes on in her 22 years in the wine business, and her advice is real world – no scores, no winespeak, and no foolishness.

Did you know, for example, that the trade calls the system where the same product gets three different prices “pulse pricing?” Or that Chilean wine, once one of the world’s great values, may be staging a comeback, so its sauvignon blanc and pinot noir may be worth buying? And that box wine is better than its reputation suggests?

We recorded the interview at Metro State College in Denver, when we were judging the 2019 Colorado Governor’s Cup. Backlund included advice on how to spot, older flawed wines, where to find bargains at your local retailer, and how to get around premiumization.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 10 ½ minutes long and takes up 8.6 megabytes. The sound quality is good; there’s a little popping, but nothing that gets in the way.

wine closures

Who needs a corkscrew? Pump that wine cork out!

Wouldn’t a screwcap be easier to use than paying for a gizmo to pump the wine cork out of the bottle?

Regular visitors know the Wine Curmudgeon’s long-running and Quixotic quest to convince the wine business that screwcaps can help save wine from itself. If we eliminate the wine cork, we make it easier to open the bottle. So won’t more people drink wine?

Which, of course, is advice that has been consistently ignored. And, as I always note, advice that aggravates blog visitors to such an extent that several always cancel their email when I write about this.

Nevertheless, I keep going. The wine cork is problem enough, but what may be worse is the other foolishness it has engendered. See the video for something called the Airly, which pumps the cork out of the bottle: “Gone are the days of broken corks, broken cork screws, floating cork bits in your wine, and for a lot of us…the pain of opening a bottle of wine!”

Pain, indeed.

To me, the pain comes when someone invents yet another gadget of limited value when the solution to the cork problem is simple: screwcaps. Twist and open. Twist and open. Twist and open. And no tools or expense required – just like craft beer and spirits.

The Airly, not surprisingly, apparently didn’t last much past the year-old video. I couldn’t find it for sale. But – and also not surprisingly – Amazon sells at least four similar products. Two of them have one-star ratings of about 20 percent; given’s Amazon’s reputation for inflated scoring, that should speak to how well the things work.

So cancel if you feel you must, but know that as long as wine corks and gizmos like the Airly exist, I’ll keep tilting at the windmill. Would you expect any less?

Video courtesy of GearDate via YouTube using a Creative Commons license

More about wine corks and screwcaps:
Corks: The most dangerous wine closure in the world
It’s not the quality of the wine – it’s the sound of the cork popping
Chehalem, pinot noir, and screwcaps

Ask the WC 20: White Bordeaux, crossing state lines, lower alcohol

white bordeauxThis edition of Ask the WC: Where to find affordable white Bordeaux, plus crossing state lines with illegal wine, and the lower alcohol trend

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 by clicking here.

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
Can you help me find an affordable white Bordeaux? Recently had a $36 bottle of the white blend that was heavenly but out of my daily price range.
Looking for value

Dear Value:
Premiumization strikes again. Fortunately, there is still plenty of quality, cheap white Bordeaux — the white wine, often a blend of sauvingon blanc and semillion, from the Bordeaux region of France. Chateau Bonnet, which is one of the great cheap wines of all time, is mostly available nationally and should be less than $15. Whole Foods’ Château La Gravière Blanc was the 2019 cheap wine of the year. And you can always use the search box on the upper right hand side of the blog — type in white Bordeaux.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I’ve heard that it’s illegal to buy wine in one state and then bring it back into your state. Is that true, or just another urban myth?
Bootlegging wine

Dear Bootlegging:
Yes, it may be illegal, depending on the state where you buy the wine and the state that is its final destination. Because, of course, three-tier. It would require an attorney and a couple of thousands dollars worth of consultation to be more specific about the various states and their penalties. But know that if you’re driving with wine purchased in another state, and you’re stopped for speeding in your state, there’s a chance that your wine can be confiscated and you can be fined.

Hello WC:
I heard a story on NPR that young people aren’t drinking as much as we used to drink. That can’t be true, can it? Young people always drink, don’t they? Isn’t that part of being young?
Aging Baby Boomer

Dear Aging:
Here’s how much of a trend people in the booze business think this is: I wrote two stories this summer, for different trade magazines, about young people drinking less alcohol. So, yes, there seems to be something to the idea that the youngest Gen Xers, the Millennials, and the oldest Gen Zs aren’t as enamored of getting drunk as the Baby Boomers were at that age. The experts I talked to cited any number of reasons, but one struck me. When I was 19, it was a rite of passage to drive drunk. Today, we have designated drivers. Hence, a significant culture change.

Photo: “Day 55 Hatch wine in Parksville” by terri_bateman is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 19: Supermarket wine, plastic wine bottls, corked wine
Ask the WC 18: Sweet red wine, varietal character, wine fraud
Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices

Ask the WC 19: Supermarket wine, plastic wine bottles, corked wine

supermarket wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Understanding supermarket wine, plus plastic wine bottles and returning corked wine to the store

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 by clicking here.

Guru of cheap wine:
Your review the other day about the Evanta malbec from Aldi said it was a supermarket wine. I don’t understand. What is that?
Likes cheap wine

Dear Likes:
There are two kinds of supermarket wine — more generally, mass market wine of varying quality made by the biggest producers and sold mostly in supermarkets. More specifically, and what I was talking about with the Evanda, is wine made exclusively for supermarkets, the private label wine made famous in Europe for quality and value and that we don’t see much of in the states. These private label are only sold in  one retailer, like Two-buck Chuck in Trader Joe’s.

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
What are your thoughts about plastic wine bottles?
Alternate wine

Dear Alternate:
Plastic wine bottles are another of my quixotic quests (like the Linux desktop). They are a terrific, non-traditional way to bottle wine that the wine business has shown almost no interest in. Plastic bottles — which are the same size as glass — were supposed to be the next big thing in the 1990s and again last decade, but nothing ever happened. Their advantages are obvious: Much lighter than glass, so cheaper transportation costs, more durable, and easier to recycle. But they never became popular. But then again, we’re still using corks, so why should I be surprised?

Hello WC:
Can you return a bottle of wine to the store if it’s corked or off in some way?
Loyal reader

Dear Loyal:
Of course. Just make sure you have the receipt and return it in a timely manner. Having said that, some stores have goofy return policies where they’ll charge you a restocking fee or only issue store credit. And some stores, even though they say they’ll accept returns, get cranky about it. Then you know not to shop there again. As noted many times here before, the best independent retailers want your business over the long haul, so will be happy to take a flawed bottle back.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 18: Sweet red wine, varietal character, wine fraud
Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine

Wine for people who don’t drink much wine

people who don't drink much wineThree wines that offer quality and value when you’re serving wine to people who don’t drink much wine

The Wine Curmudgeon has entertained twice in the last month where the guests weren’t professional wine drinkers. That is, they were people who fit the profile of the typical U.S. wine drinker – someone who drinks a bottle of month and isn’t interested in the stuff that keeps wine geeks up at night.

The challenge then: How you buy wine to serve with dinner for people who don’t drink much wine? The goal is to pour something interesting that isn’t stupid or insipid, but won’t intimidate your guests. The key: Keep in mind that you want to serve wine other people will like, and not what you think they should like.

A few suggestions and guidelines:

• Try to stay away from tannins and their bitterness, which may be the most off-putting part of wine for those who don’t drink much of it. But what if you want to serve red wine? Then look for something made with sangiovese, gamay, or tempranillo, like the Capezzana Monna Nera 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This Italian blend is mostly sangiovese – fresh and well-made with soft cherry fruit. Imported by MW Imports.

• Chardonnay, and especially cheap ones with too much fake oak, can make typical wine drinkers grimace. So can overly tart sauvignon blanc. Hence, chenin blanc like the Ken Forester petit 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.5%). This South African white is a long-time favorite, offering crisp white fruit and a refreshing finish. Imported by USA Wine Imports

• One of the best things about the rose boom? It’s ideal for situations like this. The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%) is a French pink, almost tart and strawberry, and a tad better made than most at this price. Imported by Pioneer Wine Co.