Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 687: Cheap wine test, luxury wine cellar, fake Yellow Tail

cheap wineThis week’s wine news: BuzzFeed does a cheap wine tasting, and cheap wins. Plus, do you need a 1,000-bottle wine cellar? And is fake Yellow Tail flooding Britain?

Cheap wine! BuzzFeed’s Hannah Dobrogosz blind tasted five cheap wines against five more expensive ones, and the results went the way most of these tastings go. She found that, dollar for dollar, she preferred the less expensive wines. The piece is worth reading for variety of reasons, and not just the results. First, Dobrogozs is not an old white guy, so seeing someone younger go to all this trouble is encouraging. Second, she writes knowledgeably and without the snark most of these stories revolve around. And how can the Wine Curmudgeon argue with a post that ends with: “Don’t let anyone shame you for enjoying a $6 bottle of wine. As this experiment has taught me, price does not mean you will or won’t like something. Find what you like and what works for you, and enjoy it!”

How big? Fox broadcaster Joe Buck is selling his palatial St. Louis home, and one of the highlights is what the story calls “a wine room that can hold close to 1,000 bottles.” This raises any number of questions for the WC to ponder: First and foremost, how does one drink 1,000 bottles of wine? That’s close to three bottles of wine a day for a year, something not even I am willing to try. Ah, WC, you answer: It’s not about drinking – it’s about storing. So how does one accumulate 1,000 bottles of wine worth storing? And then decide when to drink them – and what to drink them with. Frankly, it’s easier to illegally buy Domaine Tariquet.

Yellow Tail: I report this story, though I don’t necessarily believe it. The Mirror, one of those British tabloids that is best known for gossip and racy headlines, claims that Chinese gangs are flooding Britain with fake bottle of Yellow Tail, the $6 Aussie brand. Read the story more closely, and it notes that 41 counterfeit bottles were found in a supermarket in a town near Birmingham in central England, and that “other bottles have been found elsewhere in the country.” Which, of course, is hardly flooding. Besides, there’s little incentive to counterfeit cheap wine, since the fake ingredients don’t cost that much less than what’s normally in the bottle. If the wholesale cost of Yellow Tail is a couple of dollars, what’s the point of making counterfeit Yellow Tail that costs $1 to make, as the story says? And hasn’t Yellow Tail suffered enough?

Winebits 686: Orson Welles, 7-Eleven, Treasury

orson welles
“”Well, yes, eventually I’ll make a wine commercial that will become infamous.”

This week’s wine news: Orson Welles’ infamous history as a TV wine pitchman, plus Canadian 7-Elevens want to sell wine and turmoil at Big Wine’s Treasury

An anniversary: Blame it on the pandemic, but the blog missed the 40th anniversary of Orson Welles’ infamous Paul Masson wine commercial. Given the WC’s critical eye for the subject, that’s more than surprising. Fortunately, Inside Hook’s Aaron Goldfarb has all the details — including that Welles had done ads for a variety of other booze companies before Masson. The piece is well worth reading, not only for the details of Welles’ behavior, but because, as Goldfarb notes, Welles’ “work with alcohol brands that endures as part of his towering legacy to this day.” And why not? Masson’s sales increased 30 percent during the Welles campaign.

No wine here: A Canadian 7-Eleven wants to sell wine to drink in the store, and its neighbors aren’t happy about it. The CBC reports that neighboring bars and restaurants aren’t happy with the plan, which they fear will cut into their pandemic-bruised sales. Note, too, that “corner store” alcohol sales remain prohibited in the province of Ontario, where the 61 stores are located. This, of course, makes the WC smile — a 7-Eleven in Canada can sell beer and wine to drink in the store, but not to go? And we thought U.S. liquor laws were odd. The company. meanwhile, says the wine and beer service will “complement our fresh food and hot food programs.” So what goes with a plastic wrapped salad?

Treasury woes: Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates, one of the biggest wine companies in the world, may get rid of some its U.S. brands in response to a horrific sales slump thanks to Chinese tariffs. The Aussie business press has been reporting about possible Treasury moves for a couple of weeks as it tries to cope with the Chinese duties. One of the latest plans calls for selling $300 million of U.S. “assets” (though without mentioning band names) and to make more upscale wines in the U.S. ass part of premiumization. Among the company’s California labels are Blossom Hill, Chateau St. Jean, Beringer, and Provenance.

Photo: “03-08-1952_10329A Orson Welles” by IISG is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Supermarket wine sales during the pandemic

supermarket wine
I need more Barefoot, Josh Cellars, Bota Box, and Stella Rosa!

We’re probably buying more supermarket wine during the pandemic, though we have less to choose from – and we’re likely drinking it with a home-cooked dinner

Supermarket wine seems to be thriving during the pandemic, as we make fewer trips and buy more items – including wine – at one store instead of splitting the trip into two or three stops.

Why seems? Because, as with so many things wine, there are few reliable statistics. As one of the country’s leading supermarket analysts told me, “I’ve heard that’s true, and a lot of people are talking about it, but I haven’t actually seen any numbers about it.”

So what do we know?

• Sales appear to increasing. Kroger reported in December that sauvignon blanc was its fourth most popular purchase in 2020, ahead of bags of chocolate candies and burger patties. In addition, noted the annual Wine Business Monthly study, four supermarket brands — Josh Cellars, Barefoot, Stella Rosa, and Bota — grew significantly in 2020. Stella Rosa, a sweet red, was up almost 108 percent.

• We could buying more private label supermarket wine, according to  the Wine Business Monthly study. This ties into a 2020 food industry report that “three in 10 shoppers said they were buying more store brands than before the pandemic,” and while the report doesn’t mention wine, it does talk about increased demand for all private label products.

• Because price still matters, despite premiumization. The New York Times reported in September that “shoppers are being more economical,” and if it’s true for beans and laundry detergent, it may well be true for wine. That’s my sense, anyway, and especially as I struggle to find cheap wine regularly stocked on store shelves. My Aldi, for example, is regularly sold out of my favorite cheap wines.

• We’re cooking more at home, and it looks like this will continue after the pandemic winds down. And that almost certainly means more supermarket wine sales, as shoppers pick up wine to go with dinner. I was skeptical when I saw this report about home cooking this fall, but more analysts say it looks to be the case. Kroger’s chairman told the Times: “People are moving on to more complex cooking, and we don’t see that going away.”

• Fewer wines to choose from when we do buy in a supermarket, by almost five percent, according to Nielsen. This is part of a larger trend, as retailers cut back on inventory in all departments. Interestingly, that five percent was one of the smallest decreases among the 13 categories in the survey. Is this is another hint at wine’s importance to supermarkets during the pandemic?

• More on-line wine sales. Combine better supermarket technology with relaxed state laws, and supermarket on-line sales probably increased, too. I can buy via Instacart or directly from the retailer’s at half a dozen Dallas grocers. In 2019, there were maybe a couple.

Winebits 685: Jerry Jones, grape prices, Vivino

jerry jones
“Quick — see if you can get a shot of the wine Jerry is buying at the 7-Eleven.”

This week’s wine news: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stocks up on wine at 7-Eleven, plus a decade-low for grape prices and wine app Vivino raises $155 million

Not high-end Napa: How bad is the winter weather in Dallas this week? So bad that well-known oenophile, the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, bought wine at an area 7-Eleven. Jones is known for spending $200 or so for a bottle of Caymus Special Selection, a high-end Napa cult wine. So what was he buying at a convenience store? Can’’t tell from the picture in the link (though likely not a $6 bottle). But regular visitors here know that the convenience store wine selection is much better than it used to be and is one of the few bright spots in wine sales over the past couple of years. And, as always, I am happy to offer my services to Jones if he needs advice buying cheap wine, even at the 7-Eleven.

Low prices: California grape prices fell below $700 a ton in 2020, the lowest mark in almost 10 years. The USDA report noted near-decades low prices for almost all kinds of wine grapes – one more indication of the California grape glut. When will this translate into lower wine prices? Your guess is as good as mine, given the Big Wine oligopoly that controls pricing in the U.S.

Cash for Vivino: Vivino, the on-line wine app that lets users rate wine and also sell it to them, has raised $155 million in new funding. This is just another sign that Internet wine – despite the legal obstacles – is becoming more mainstream. It follows on the news last week that Uber bought wine delivery app Drizly for more than $1 billion.

Photo: “ESPN Camera Guy getting everyone ready to bring out Jerry Jones” by {algo+rhythm} | Labs is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Robert Whitley, 1950-2021

robert whitleyRobert Whitley was a passionate advocate for California wine and always willing to help another wine writer

Robert Whitley and I once spent a delightful spring lunch in Bordeaux arguing the merits of California wine. We were enjoying the discussion so much that a wine writer at another table leaned over and said, “Will you guys please keep it down?”

Robert, who died over the weekend after a brief bout with cancer, will be much missed.

He was a tireless and passionate advocate for California wine, as our Bordeaux adventure demonstrated. But he was also a pioneer in post-modern wine writing, with a syndicated newspaper column, one of the earliest ventures on the Internet with Wine Review Online, and the director of four important international wine competitions: San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge, Critics Challenge, Sommelier Challenge, and Winemaker Challenge.

But what Robert should best be remembered for is his consideration for other wine writers. This is not always common in our business; one of my wine writing friends recently told me that she was quite tired of the way too many of us disparage each other so we can make ourselves feel more important.

I never saw that with Robert. If he disagreed with you, he told you so – no whispers in the corner. He treated me with the utmost respect, even though our wine worlds often didn’t have much in common. I was a regular judge at the Critics Challenge until the pandemic, and it was always one of my favorite events. Unlike many competitions, where the judges are treated like a boil that needs to be lanced, we were treated like we mattered. We were even paid – not some “gratuity,” but real money that showed that Robert knew our time was valuable.

One final story: Around the time I started the blog, we were having dinner during a writer’s trip to Spain. Robert told Janet Kafka, one of the preeminent wine publicists of our time, that he wanted to buy the group a bottle of wine. Janet, because she is Janet, would have none of that. It was her trip and her party, and Robert was not going to pay for anything. I don’t remember if Robert paid for the wine; I just remember what a kick we got out of his offer and the way he kept insisting he wanted to buy it.

That was Robert.

Winebits 684: Drizly, tannins, wine lawsuits

How much wine can you fit into an Uber car?

This week’s wine news:  Uber buys booze delivery service Drizly ($1.1 billion!), plus tannins may work against Covid-19 and yet another terrific wine lawsuit

Uber-Drizly deal: And yes, the exclamation point in the subhed is warranted. Some five years ago, I interviewed one of Drizly’s co-founders, Nick Rellas, and $1.1 billion was about the last thing on his mind. We spent much of the time talking about how Rellas started the company by delivering booze for a Massachusetts liquor store to get an idea about how delivery worked. But there it is, one year into the pandemic — the company is worth $1.1 billion to Uber, the ride sharing and delivery service. The wise guys and analysts can debate and pontificate about the deal as much as they want, but that an alcohol delivery service is worth that much money in a country where alcohol delivery is still illegal in many places is difficult to believe.

Bring on the tannins: One more reason why health news is banned from the blog, save for stories to show why it is banned from the blog: Taiwanese researchers claim that tannins in wine can help fight Covid-19 by inhibiting the activity of two key enzymes within the virus. This is, of course, exciting news, save for one thing: How are we supposed to get tannins into Covid-19 patients?

Let the lawyers loose: The Wine Curmudgeon has long had an almost Pythonesque fascination with wine lawsuits, the sillier the better. So consider this: Rapper Drake is suing two retailers for discounting his $400 Champagne. The details are — pun fully intended — priceless, with the rapper and his partner alleging conspiracy on the part of the retailers and the brand’s former distributor. Their goal? To destroy Drake’s bubbly top benefit the competition. The WC has just one question: How surprised was Drake that the wine business was just as nasty as the record business, which is infamous for being nasty?

Photo: “uber” by stockcatalog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

All of Falesco Vitiano’s legendary cheap wines may again be available in the U.S.

Falesco Vitiano
Will the Falesco Vitiano rose soon be on U.S,. store shelves again?

Good news for cheap wine: New importer may bring back all of Falesco Vitiano wines to the U.S.

Italy’s Falesco Vitiano, one of the all-time great cheap wines, may soon be selling all of its labels in the U.S. I’m still waiting on official confirmation from the producer’s new importer, Trinchero Family Estates. But a Trichero spokeswoman said this week that the Falesco wines would be included, and it doesn’t make much sense to only add one of the three Vitiano wines.

Because that’s what happened in October, when then importer Winebow dropped the Vitiano white and rose. That was a shocking blow to those of us who care about cheap wine. The Vitiano had been in the $10 Hall of Fame since its inception, and the brand won the best cheap wine poll in 2013. The red, white, and rose are everything great cheap wine should be – in fact, what great wine at any price should be. That means varietally correct, terroir-driven, and interesting.

The Cotarella brothers, whose family-owned company makes Vitiano, are winemaking legends. One of the great moments in my wine writing career came in 2008, when I interviewed Riccardo Cotarella and we talked about the need for great cheap wine.

Apparently, the old importer didn’t see enough demand for the white and rose to make bringing them into the country worth the trouble. In addition, it didn’t seem that Winebow was importing newer vintages of the reds — most of what I could find was 2016 and 2015.

And, apparently, the producer disagreed. Though the winery didn’t respond to an email asking about the changes in October, it does seem that the switch to Trinchero could be tied into the cuts. This has been happening repeatedly over the past decade, with producers dropping their long-time importers. See this and this.

I’ll update this post with any developments.