Tag Archives: wine descriptors

Winebits 674: Holiday season wine snobs edition

wine snobsThis week’s wine news: The wine snobs celebrate the holiday season

Ice in a glass of wine? VinePair asks sommeliers when it’s OK to put an ice cube in a glass of wine, because we need guidance on this subject from people with initials after their names. The post, believe it or not, includes a section on how to properly add ice. It’s pieces like this that make me wonder if I’ve wasted the past 13 years writing the blog. How about this advice? Add a cube or two when you feel like it. Which, in Texas in August, we feel like a lot.

The kindness of strangers? Mary Margaret McCamic, MW, writing on the Karolus Wine Imports blog, notes that “many of the most exciting bottles that I have enjoyed were the result of the generosity of collectors.” How does one respond to that? Does this mean that when the Big Guy comes over, and we dip into the wine closet for my latest $10 find, it’s not exciting? It’s pieces like this that make me wonder if I’ve wasted the past 13 years writing the blog.

No affordable wine? Megan Krigbaum, writing for Punch, laments the loss of affordable Beaujolais on restaurant wine lists. She defines this as Beaujolais costing less than $100 a bottle. It’s pieces like this that make me wonder if I’ve wasted the past 13 years writing the blog. $100 is affordable? For whom?  This also begs the question of Beaujolais’ availability on restaurant wine lists, and especially in the middle of the country. But what do I know? I put ice cubes in un-exciting $10 wine.

Winebits 673: Wine.com sales, restaurant wine, tasting notes

wine.comThis week’s wine news: Wine.com reports 217 percent sales increase, plus restaurants are headed in the opposite direction and another critic ponders the need for toasty and oaky

Wine.com sales: Wine.com, the U.S.’ biggest on-line wine retailer, ended the first six months of its fiscal year with a 217 percent sales increase compared to the previous 12 months. Can anyone say pandemic? Even without the increase in on-line retail caused by the coronavirus, sales for the previous 12 months were up 102 percent. One key to the jump: repeat sales from customers who pay $49 a year for free shipping, similar to Amazon Prime’s free shipping. Sales from those customers increased by about one-fifth more than overall sales for the past 12 months, as more of those customers bought more wine on-line. This raises the question again: How, once the retail world returns more or less to normal, will we be able to go back to thinking of on-line wine as something special, and not something we buy every day?

Not so good news: Tom Wark, writing on the Fermentation blog, asks: “Do we allow a huge swath of restaurants across the country to simply disappear in the wake of COVID and state’s restaurant shutdown orders or do we act to aid these institutions?” This has been the elephant in the room as the pandemic continues, with restaurants — rightly or wrongly — bearing the burst of government restrictions. I don’t know that I agree with all Tom writes, but his piece is well worth reading.

No tasting notes: Guy Woodward, writing in the British trade magazine Harpers, pulls no punches: “Who reaps the benefit, for example, of reading that a wine has notes of  ‘gentian, elderflower, seaweed, mussels, salt spray, chicken stock, sage, fennel, peach kernel, lemon, alkali and wet stone’?” This is the second British shot over the winespeak and tasting notes bow in recent weeks — quite a surprising development, given how entrenched the two are. Again, reason for optimism that some in the wine business understand the need to make wine more accessible.

Winebits 671: Wine descriptors, expensive booze, Gallo deal

wine descriptors
“What do you mean, they’re tired of toasty and oak?”

This week’s wine news: Are consumers tired of wine descriptors? Plus, posh tequila and the Gallo-Constellation cheap wine deal nears completion — sort of

What? Cigar box aromas don’t matter? Wine descriptors, those corny, often pretentious adjectives to describe wine, may be becoming less important. The cause? The pandemic, reports Britain’s Wine Intelligence consultancy. Consumers are buying more wine on-line and in supermarkets, so descriptors matter less. That’s because we have less time — or no time at all — to read the back label, where toasty and oaky make their appearance. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the study applies only to the United Kingdom, but we can have hope, yes?

Bring on the rich guys: Is spending $1,450 for bottle of wine not enough for you? Then How about a $250 tequila? That’s Elon Musk’s new product, called — not surprisingly — Tesla Tequila, after his car company. It’s already sold out, of course, since those are the times we live in. My favorite part of the product? The descriptors, of course: “dry fruit and light vanilla nose with a balanced cinnamon pepper finish.” And the bottle is shaped like a lightning bolt, which could present problems if you drink too much at one time.

Gallo-Constellation deal: The end is in sight for the $1.1 billion deal, in which Constellation Brands is selling most of its cheap wine labels to E&J Gallo. Originally, Constellation wanted $3 billion, but that never happened. The two-year sale has had a troubled history, which includes federal government  anti-trust concerns. Constellation expects it to finally end sometime next year. That will allow the company to spend more time on its ber and legal weed businesses.

Winebits 587: Grocery store wine, descriptors, wine and food pairings

 grocery store wineThis week’s wine news: Is there a chance of grocery store wine in New York state? Plus beer descriptors and wine and food pairings

Bring on the grocery store wine: New York is the most important state that doesn’t allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, but one prominent critic thinks it’s time to change change that. “About 35 states allow [wine in grocery stores]. New York should be one of them. It’s long overdue. … I have little patience for this debate.” The story does an excellent job of explaining the mess that is wine law in New York, and the powerful forces arrayed against letting residents buy a bottle at their local supermarket.

Sorry about that, beer: How sad is this? Wine descriptors, those adjectives used to describe wine like toasty and oak, have become so common in beer that someone write about beer descriptors to avoid. It’s not enough that wine descriptors make wine difficult to understand? Now they have to annoy beer drinkers, too?

White wine and beef: London’s Daily Telegraph, in a story about wine expert Tim Hanni, reminds us that “wine pairing is pseudo-science.” Hanni, who travels the world in his attempt to demystify wine, told an audience in New Zealand that there are no perfect wine and food pairings, and that lecturing wine drinkers about pairings does more harm than it does good.

More insight into the gibberish of wine back labels

wine back labels
The relationship between back label descriptors and price for red wine (from Mark Thornton’s study).

Mark Allan Thornton, the Harvard PhD student who has done groundbreaking work trying to make sense of the gibberish that is wine back labels, has done it again. His second study has found that the back labels on cheap and expensive wine seem describe the same flavors with dfferent adjectives, depending on how much the wine costs.

“The presence of ‘dark’ indicated a less expensive wine on average, whereas the nearly synonymous descriptor ‘black,’ which appears in the same flavor cluster, was strongly associated with the back labels of more expensive wines,” he told me in an email. “In other words, I think these results suggest that people may use different words to describe the same flavors depending on whether the wine is expensive or cheap.”

The good news? That the goal of the study was see if certain flavors could only be found in more expensive wine. Given that the first study found what Thornton calls a “quite modest” relationship between price and quality, given what’s written on the back label, this is even better news for consumers. If you want dark fruit flavors, you’re just as likely to get it with a cheap bottle as an expensive one.

So what’s the catch? As Thornton notes, wine back labels are not unbiased reviews, but marketing material. Hence, the study starts with a strike against it. In addition, he says, finding enough wine back labels to work with to overcome this handicap is problematic, given how unwilling the wine business is to share data (also a problem in the first study).

Still, the conclusion is worth pondering (and probably isn’t all that surprising give how confusing back labels are), as are several other highlights:

? White wine descriptors vary more with price than red wine descriptors do, which doesn’t seem to make much sense. My guess? Maybe the presence of sweet white wines offer more opportunity for variation.

? Balance and complexity, which should be the goal of every winemaker, are useless as back label descriptors. Balance was used on cheap, but not expensive, white wine, and not at all with red wine. Complexity had no correlation with red wine pricing and appeared on expensive white wine. Does this mean wine marketers don’t think cheap white wine drinkers care about complexity and figure we’re not smart enough to understand that it will be difficult for a $5 red to be as complex as a $100 red?

? Vanilla, oak, and color were associated with more expensive wines, while dry, clean, and tropical were associated with less expensive wines. Again, this is baffling, since clean should be a goal for every wine.

For more on wine back labels:
? Back labels and the flavor of lynches
? How to buy wine at the grocery store
? Making wine easier