Tag Archives: wine availablity

Winebits 525: Blind pricing, legal weed, wine theft

blindpricingThis week’s wine news: Blind pricing, or why retailers carry expensive wine you can’t buy elsewhere, plus legal weed goes after booze and a rare wine theft

Blind pricing: This blog post by distributor Olivia Schoenwise is aimed at small retailers and how they can compete against their biggest competitors. But it also explains why it’s so difficult to find so much wine, even without the restraints imposed by the three-tier system. The idea, writes Schoenwise, is for small retailers to find wine to stock so they have “a competitive advantage against big retailers; and many are turning to blind price wines” – wine that we can’t price shop on phones or on Winesearcher.com. That’s because these wines are a form of private label. And since they’re only carried by one retailer in one area, the retailer can charge more for it, unburdened by competition. Writes Schoenwise: “[B]lind price brands are where the big profit margins are made.”

Wine is evil: That’s the theme of a campaign from legal weed, targeting alcohol, says the New York Post. “’ ‘Marijuana,’ blares a billboard in Arizona. ‘Less Toxic! Less Addictive! Less Scary Than Alcohol!’ ” The Wine Curmudgeon has been warning the wine business about this for a couple of years, but with little success. Maybe, now that legal weed is hurting alcohol sales in some legal weed states, says the story, wine will notice. Otherwise, reports the Post, “Hello Marijuana, Goodbye Hangover.”

Good help is so hard to find: An employee stole $1 million of wine from New York investment tycoon David Solomon, including some of the rarest bottles in the world. The employee was supposed to collect wine shipments at Solomon’s Manhattan apartment and then take them to the banker’s wine cellar in East Hampton. But the wines apparently never got to the Hamptons; instead, the employee sold them to an Internet retailer in North Carolina.

supermarket Wine

Can we ever solve the problem of wine availability?

wine availabilityProbably not, hence these jury-rigged solutions for wine availability

One of the most requested features during my recent blog survey: Some way to improve wine availability, so you’ll have a better idea where to buy what I write about. Which, sadly, is almost impossible.

The rule for wine availability on the blog: If I write about it, you should be able to find it at a well-run wine shop in a decent-sized U.S. city. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to buy it at a supermarket, Walmart, or specialty stores like Trader Joe’s.

Thanks to the way wine is sold in the U.S., I can’t do better than that.

That’s because wine is not like ketchup or laundry detergent. Its sale is controlled by state law, and each state has different laws. Those laws make up the legal and regulatory nightmare that is the three-tier system, and it means that even if I can buy the wine in Dallas, there is no guarantee you can buy it in any other state in the union – or even in Houston, for that matter.

Case in point: I got samples of three $20 California wines, one of which I liked and wanted to write about. The catch? The wine is only for sale in eight states, which isn’t all that unusual. So what do I do?

I’ve written about this many times, both on the blog and in the cheap wine book. It’s the most frustrating thing about what I do, and even more so because it baffles so many readers. One woman wanted to know where to buy several roses I recommended in a free-lance piece. I asked her where she lived, and she didn’t understand – even after I explained it to her – why that mattered. Why couldn’t she just buy the wine at her grocery store?

Changes in the wine business are making this problem even worse. For one thing, more retailers are selling more private label wine, wine that you can only buy at their stores. I had a fabulous $9 Gascon white from Whole Foods the other day, but it’s only for sale at Whole Foods. Do I write about it or not? For another, wine brands have proliferated like plague-infested rats in a medieval city, so that there is not enough shelf space for all of them, even if three-tier was more benign.

In the end, solving the problem of wine availability is out of our hands. All we can do is jury-rig a solution. This post describes the best ways to find wine that you don’t see on the shelf. In addition, I’ll start adding the name of the importer when I review foreign wines. This comes with the caveat that a wine can have more than one importer depending on where you live.

Because, as a long-time blog visitor and reformed wine PR type named Leslee Borger told me: “I’ve stopped trying to explain to my husband why we can’t order wine from Amazon. It ended with ‘You just can’t.’ ”

Five things consumers told me during the cheap wine book tours

Five things consumers taught me during the cheap wine book toursFive things consumers told me during the cheap wine book tours, from last fall through this month:

1. They’re really, really tired of overpriced restaurant wine. I heard this a lot, but one instance stood out. Phil Cobb, the legendary Dallas restaurateur, was at one of the signings, and he asked me why restaurants charge so much money for wine. He said he always thought 2 1/2 times wholesale was a fair markup, but he sees prices that are much higher than that — including the $50 he paid recently. If Cobb, who can afford it and knows how the system works, thinks restaurant wine prices are too high, imagine what the others told me. So why haven’t restaurants figured this out?

2. White wine is for women, red wine is for men. This is something, despite all of the writing I do about wine marketing, that never occurred to me, and I’m still not sure I believe it. But a couple of El Centro College culinary students said that’s the way it seems to them, and they made a convincing argument. Look at the some of the best-selling brands and their names — Barefoot, Cupcake, Little Black Dress — and their biggest selling wines. Not too masculine, are they? For another, they said, look at pinot grigio, which skews heavily toward women.

3. Stop recommending wines that aren’t available. Yes, even the WC, who understands availability better than most, goofed up here. We tasted the 2012 Charles & Charles rose during my seminar at the American Wine Society conference, and a woman asked me where she could buy it. This vintage is sold out, I said, but the 2013 will be out in the spring. If it’s sold out, she said, and she looked like my mom the last time I messed up her kitchen when the food processor went blewy, then why did we taste it?

4. Don’t confuse me; just tell me what it tastes like. Consumers may or may not like scores (I heard both sides), but at least scores make it easier to buy wine. What doesn’t is the winespeak many of them find when they Goggle a wine they want to buy. One of the biggest laughs I got, every time, was my parody of post-modern wine writing, with its vanilla and leather and pomegranate descriptors.

5. How come we never knew about sparkling wine and rose? Consumers, who thought all sparkling wine was French and expensive, and that pink wine was sweet and un-manly, have embraced each with an enthusiasm that makes me almost giddy. That they’re willing to try each, let alone enjoy it, speaks to how far we’ve come in getting them off the California varietal merry-go-round.

Winebits 322: Availability, lawsuits, wine writing

Winebits 322: Availability, lawsuits, wine writing ? Invisible wines: Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist weighs in on availability and the three-tier system, writing off the recent Eric Asimov column. “Asimov uses the article to respond to readers who are frustrated that the fabulous wines he often praises turn out to be nearly impossible for them to actually experience. … Asimov is sympathetic to his readers ? frustration and explains how the almost hopelessly fragmented US wine market (a lasting legacy of Prohibition) makes it nearly impossible to talk about important wines if you limit your list to only those that can be found in all the nation ?s many marketplaces.” In this, he puts Asimov in perspective, noting that there are tens of thousands of wines that are made around the world, most of which we’ll never get a chance to buy. I’m not so sure Veseth is defending the three-tier system as much he is reminding us that there is more to wine than what we find in the grocery store, and that there is a certain joy in that.

? Bring out the attorneys: Because, frankly, the Wine Curmudgeon takes an almost unhealthy glee in reporting that wine companies are suing each other. This time, Veuve Cliquot, the French Champagne giant, is suing Ciro Picariello, a tiny Italian producer that makes spumante. The former says the latter’s label is the same color as Veuve’s, and that’s illegal. That the wines have nothing else in common save bubbles is apparently irrelevant. And, as Diana Goodman notes in the linked article, the colors don’t look that similar, either. Isn’t it reassuring to see Big Wine spending its money to make a better product?

? “Depths that need to be stirred:” The Italian Wine Guy is one of the best writers in wine in the world today, and I almost always want to leave a comment on one of his posts. And I’d say that even if he wasn’t a friend of mine. So, the next time the wine world leaves you frazzled and worn out, and you’re tired of the foolishness that too often passes for wine writing and criticism, read this post. It will make you feel better. It did me.

sweet red wine

Eric Asimov and the dilemma of wine availablity

Eric Asimov and the dilemma of wine availablity

Eric Asimov loves wine, but not the dilemma of wine availability

The Wine Curmudgeon sometimes feels alone and overwhelmed in the middle of the country, battling away at the nefarious forces that confuse and confound wine drinkers. But on one crucial topic, I am not alone — even the great Eric Asimov of the New York Times, perhaps the best wine writer in the country, must contend with the dilemma that is wine availability.

“I fervently wish all drinkers could find what they want,” he wrote in Tuesday’s Times. “I sympathize with those who can ?t. But the simple solution ? choosing only wines that are easy to find ? is worse than the problem.”

Which is the exact same problem the rest of us have. Get two wine writers together (and sometimes it doesn’t take that many), and the topic that comes up over and over is availability. As in, “I really want to write about this wine, but it’s not for sale in my area. Damn you to hell, three-tier system.”

And somehow, as Asimov notes, the problem — despite technology and the Internet — never seems to get any better. I received an email the other day from a reader in a Dallas suburb, who buys wine at the same two chains where I buy wine. But he shops at different locations, which don’t carry the same wines that the stores near me carry. How much more screwed up can the system be?

Asimov describes the availability nightmare well, from why it exists — the 50 laws in 50 states forced on us by three-tier as well as the whims and wishes of retailers — to why most of the obvious solutions for those of us who write about wine aren’t obvious or solutions. And he realizes that consumers, so used to being able to buy anything else anywhere and at any time, don’t understand why wine is different — and maybe don’t want to understand.

So know this, everyone who has ever been overwhelmed in their search for a specific wine: If someone in Manhattan, the center of the universe, can’t find a wine that Asimov writes about in the Times, which caters to the center of the universe, then what hope is there for the rest of us? That’s the dilemma of wine availability.

More about the dilemma of wine availability:
? Wine availability: Whose fault is it anyway?
? Wine availability: How to find what you ?re looking for when it ?s not on the shelf
? Wine availability, and why it matters to you

Wine availability: Whose fault is it anyway?

The reader didn ?t mince any words: ?This is the third time I have attempted to purchase a wine you recommended in your column only to find that one or more of the locations you identified as carrying the wine was listed erroneously. … As for me, I will ignore your reviews in future since the prospect of actually obtaining the wine is remote. ?

Fortunately, this wasn ?t a blog reader; rather, it was someone castigating Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post. But it could have been someone here ? or anywhere in the wine world, for that matter. Availability is the bane of the wine writer ?s existence, and there is very little we can do about it.

Did Dave ?s reader have a right to expect the wine to be in that particular store? He did. But it wasn ?t Dave ?s fault that it wasn ?t there, because wine doesn ?t work that way. After the jump: Why that ?s the case, and why not much can be done about it.

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