Tag Archives: wine facts

Winebits 553: Ancient wine, wine facts, wine’s popularity

ancient wine

This week’s wine news: Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient wine bottling plant, plus wine facts you don’t need to know and wine remains less popular than beer.

Corks or scewcaps? The Reuters news service reports that relics from an 1,800-year-old large-scale wine jug factory have been uncovered in Israel. Pottery shards, presumably from flawed and discarded jugs, were found at the site near Gedara, about 30 minutes south of Tel Aviv. The factory was active for around 600 years, making vessels for storing wine that were popular export items, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in statement. “The ongoing manufacturing may point to this having been a family business, handed down from generation to generation.” No word on whether the wine bottled at the site was reviewed by the Roman Winestream Media. I mention this because the time frame for the remains roughly coincides with the Roman occupation of that part of the world, and so much else about this place sounds similar to the way the wine business works today. So why not 88 points from Pliny?

Forget about it: The Huffington Post, trying to make wine less difficult, offers insight into common wine knowledge that no one really needs to know. The first one? Forget scores. The other four points also make good sense, including the uselessness of vintages for the wine that most of us drink, plus the foolishness of tasting notes “written by a corporation or a publication,” which are “pretty much useless.” It’s good to know I’m not the only one who has figured this out.

It’s still beer: Americans still prefer beer over wine, according to the latest soundings from Gallup. Beer is at 42 percent, wine is at 34 percent, and spirits are at 19 percent. That’s a bit of bump for wine, which was at 26 percent in 2017. Wine passed beer briefly in 2007. but has been in second place since. My other favorite part of the Gallup drinking surveys? One-third of Americans say they don’t imbibe, a number that has remained stunningly consistent for decades.

Nine silly wine facts

wine factsNine silly wine facts you probably didn’t know — or didn’t know you needed to know:

1. Two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk has as many calories as one glass of wine, around 125. Knowing this, I expect the federal Centers for Disease Control to propose higher taxes and more regulation for sweetened condensed milk, as well as strategies to wean us off the stuff.

2. The Romans, the world’s second great wine culture, had wine writers (which no doubt hastened the collapse of the empire). Pliny the Elder, one of the most famous, wrote that second-rate wines “cannot properly be termed wines.” It’s a good thing he didn’t know about scores.

3. That no one but the super-rich can afford the best French wine is nothing new. In 1845, Fraser’s Magazine quoted a Bordeaux wine merchant, who complained that the leading French wines were not only too expensive, but that he wasn’t able find any to buy.

4. The French, whose wine industry was almost destroyed by the phylloxera pest at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, probably discovered phylloxera — though they didn’t know it. French colonists in 16th century Florida were never able to grow grapes; the vines always died, and the descriptions of what happened seem to have indicated phylloxera.

5. The U.S. attitude toward regional wine — “I don’t need to drink it to know it isn’t any good” — may have its roots in 19th century English wine. Wrote Punch, a popular humor magazine: English wine needed four people to drink it: One victim, two to hold him down, and one other to pour the wine down his throat.

6. It sounds like an urban myth, but there does seem to be something called oenophobia — a fear of wine. Symptoms include anxiety, nervousness, embarrassment, or slight perspiration. In other words, everyone who drinks wine has probably suffered from it at one time or another.

7. The Code of Hammurabi, generally acknowledged as the first written set of civil law (around 1800 BC), included penalties for shady wine retailers: they were to be drowned. Maybe the three-tier system isn’t so bad after all.

8. The Greek philosopher Plato seems to have had the Wine Curmudgeon in mind: He said wine in moderation was important until 40; after that, you can drink as much as you want to cure the “crabbiness of old age” and “soften the hard cast of mind.”

9. The most important fruit crop in Napa Valley after World War II was prunes, and its cash value was higher than grapes as late as 1960. You may make of that what you will, given Napa’s standing as the epicenter of U.S. wine snobbery.

Winebits 359: Nutrition and ingredient labels edition

wine nutrition labelsBecause the controversy about soup-style wine nutrition labels is not going away.

? What do consumers want? As much information as possible, reported the British wine magazine Decanter, citing a study that says two-thirds of UK adults “actively support” calorie labeling on alcoholic drinks. Not surprising: That four out of five people surveyed couldn’t accurately estimate the calories in a large glass of wine. The study “shows there is now a clear public appetite for this information to be extended to alcohol to help individuals make informed choices,” said the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, which paid for it. Sainsbury’s, one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains, said it would put calorie counts on all of its private label alcohol within two years (pictured above).

? Let’s not go too far: That’s the opinion of Mike Steinberger, one of the best wine writers working today. “But allow me a moment of devil’s advocacy; while full disclosure on labels (or as much disclosure as a standard wine label will permit) is a laudable goal, there are a few sticking points worth acknowledging. To begin with, the comparison with food is misguided. Unlike food, wine is not necessary for sustenance (it only seems that way), so the need-to-know argument does not carry nearly the same weight.” The longish piece is worth reading, though I don’t necessarily agree with all his points. I think Steinberger overlooks the 20-somethings who are the next generation of wine drinkers, and that labels could change the way they buy wine.

? Yes, absolutely: That’s the opinion of Alice Feiring, perhaps the leading natural wine advocate in the U.S. “For a long time I’ve been in favor of less government in wine instead of more, but in this instance I have to fess up that with so many additives allowed in wine, an ingredient label is best. If there’s an ingredient list for soda, there needs to be one for wine. If you are warned about an orange juice from concentrate, the same should be true for wine that has been reverse osmosed/concentrated.”

More about wine nutrition labels:
? Update: Nutrition and ingredient labels for wine
? Misconceptions about wine ingredient labels
? Diet wine, and why we’re stuck with it

Six things you probably don’t know about wine

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post detailing some common misconceptions about wine — average price, how much Americans drink, and the like. For some reason, I never updated it, which I'm fixing now. Check out the left side panel, and you'll see this item: Six things you probably don't know about wine, with an overview of U.S. wine consumption in 2010. It will be there until I update it for 2011.

The post answers some important questions: the average price of a bottle wine (yes, it's less than $10); how many Americans drink (not enough); the most popular varietal sold in the U.S. (probably not what you think); how big wine companies are (very big); and whether we buy wine to save for later (again, probably not what you think).

A couple of thoughts about the post. The information surprises me, and I make my living stuyding these facts and figures, so don't be surprised at what you see. It's not as if this stuff is widely reported. Second, despite all the media hoopla over the past couple of years, we're still not a wine-drinking country. Hence my crusade to make wine as simple as possible, so that it's not easier to reach for Dr Pepper. Third, the wine business in the U.S., based on the average price of a bottle of wine, is one of the few businesses I've ever seen that seems geared toward ignoring its best customers.

Six things you probably don’t know about wine

There are so many misconceptions about wine in the United States — often perpetuated by the industry itself — that the Wine Curmudgeon sometimes wonders how we can enjoy wine at all. Let’s clear up six of the most common.

1. What’s the average price of a bottle of wine sold in the U.S.? $6.22, reports Nielsen, tracking sales from March 2010 to March 2011. In fact, one out of every four bottles of wine sold costs less than $3. That percentage has fallen by about half over the past 20 years, but we are still — overwhelmingly — a country that appreciates cheap wine. Nine out of 10 bottles of wine sold in the U.S. cost less than $12.

2. How many Americans drink wine? Not enough. About 40 percent of Americans say they don’t drink, a figure that has remained remarkably consistent for years. Meanwhile, 20 percent of Americans drink 91 percent of the wine sold in the U.S.

3. Where does the U.S. rank in per capita consumption of wine? 57th. Through 2009, Vatican City was first at 70 liters per person, which is about 8 cases. France, at 45 liters per person, is the leading major country. The U.S. is at 9 liters per person, about 12 bottles a year — a number that has not changed much since 1980. More of us enjoy wine, but most of us, despite the hype over the last couple of years, aren’t all that interested. Even though French consumption has fallen by a quarter over the past decade, the average Frenchman still drinks five times more wine than we do.

4. What’s the most popular wine in the U.S.? Chardonnay, by about 5 to 3, over cabernet sauvignon, says the same Nielsen study. One out of every five bottles of wine sold in the U.S. is chardonnay. However, this is marked changed from the last decade, when chardonnay outsold cabernet by as much as 2 to 1. Merlot is third, pinot grigio is fourth, and white zinfandel is fifth.

5. How long does the average American keep a bottle of wine? Not very long at all. As much as 90 percent of the wine bought in the U.S. is drunk within 24 hours, even though the Wine Magazines make it seem like buying wine to age is quite common. And, depending on the study, some 95 percent of all wine purchased in the U.S. is consumed within a week.

6. How important are the biggest wine companies? Hugely important. Fewer than two percent of U.S. wineries account for 84 percent of all wine production. Most wineries, whether in California or not, are small — about six in 10 make less than 4,200 cases a year. The company that owns Kendall-Jackson, on the other hand, makes more than 5 million cases a year. And it’s not even the biggest.

The photo is from Microstock Photography, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license