Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 664: Fast food wine pairings, ancient wine, pandemic wine sales

Fast food wine pairings

No, this was not the WC’s favorite hat of all time, though the uniform did turn me off polyester forever.

This week’s wine news: Are fast food wine pairings the next big thing? Plus, 7th century BC wine, and more confusing numbers about pandemic wine sales.

Bring on the Whoppers: Who knew the Wine Curmudgeon would be able to discuss the fast food of his youth two weeks in a row? But Christine Struble, writing for the Foodsided blog, asks: “Are fast food wine pairings becoming the newest food trend?” Perhaps, but the concept isn’t new. I received a release in the blog’s early days from a brand called Fat Bastard touting fast food wine pairings; I’ve written about it here several times; and I taught them to wine classes at the late Cordon Bleu and El Centro. Because if you’re trying to reach people whose diet consists of fast food, what better way to teach pairings? Or, as I asked one group of Cordon Bleu students, “What do we pair with a Burger King cheese Whopper?” The consensus was supermarket-style merlot; plus, they got to hear about working the broiler at the Burger King on Skokie Road in Highland Park, Ill., resplendent in my polyester uniform and paper hat.

2,700 years ago: Archeologists have discovered the first Iron Age wine press in present-day Lebanon, reinforcing the idea that wine played a key role in the ancient world. They found the press, used to extract juice from grapes, during excavations at the Phoenician site of Tell el-Burak near the present day city of Sidon (an important trading hub in wine and other goods in the Mediterranean region). Grapes were grown in and around Tell el-Burak, which was inhabited from the late eighth to the middle of the fourth century BC. Researchers have also found amphorae, ancient wine bottles, in the area. But no one was quite sure how the grapes were turned into wine until this discovery.

More conflicting statistics? Blake Gray, writing on Wine-Searcher.com, finds even more conflict in wine sales during the pandemic. He cites research from California’s Sonoma State University, which found that even though U.S. wine sales overall are up, 57 percent of U.S wineries say their own sales are down. Or, as we have noted here, there’s little sense in trying to make sense of any of the numbers. Ostensibly, “Big wineries are taking more market share at the expense of small wineries,” said the report. You will also be happy to know, according to one analyst at the same seminar, that Americans may have had more disposable income than ever, despite the pandemic. I wonder: What country is he living in?

Photo courtesy of MeTV, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 663: White Castle wine, legal weed, premiumization

white castle

I can just taste the merlot cocktail with my 2 a.m. slider.

This week’s wine news: White Castle, home of the real slider, will offer cocktail recipes, while the illegal marijuana business shows no signs of going away and Dom Perignon’s owner is in a legal spat with Tiffany’s

The 2 a.m. munchies: The Wine Curmudgeon spent more than his share of time at White Castle as a young reporter, what with getting off work after midnight. But no one thought to recommend a wine-related cocktail with my sliders – something now available to customers. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the burger company’s “Cocktails and Craves” marketing campaign recommends cocktail pairings to make at home with three of its most popular items. How about the Original Slider with an Orange Afterglow, a beer and orange ginger ale concoction? Or the Cheese Slider with a Castillo Rosa Margarita made with pink lemonade? Or the Jalapeno Cheese Slider with a Midnight Merlot Punch that mixes merlot with raspberry Sprite, garnished with fruit and fresh mint. Who knew? If I had been able to come home and drink that merlot punch with my sliders, I might have started wine writing that much sooner.

Illegal weed may still matter: Legal marijuana was supposed to force illegal weed off the market, or so thought most business analysts. But illegal weed still matters, if a recent shootout means anything. Reuters reports that seven people were killed in a suspected illicit marijuana operation in suburban Los Angeles last week. This happened even though California legalized recreational marijuana a couple of years ago, but police said the crime scene contained a several hundred plants and 1,000 pounds of weed. That’s not a huge operation, but it’s not for personal consumption, either. It’s also worth noting that one reason Canada’s legal weed sales stalled was competition from the illegal market.

Premiummization battle? LVMH, the French multi-national that owns Dom Perignon Champagne (among other luxury brands), is being sued by high-end jeweler Tiffany’s. LVMH called off its merger with Tiffany’s, citing the tariff and the pandemic. Both have cut deeply into luxury goods sales. But Tiffany is having none of it, filing a lawsuit to force the deal to go forward and dismissing the tariff and pandemic as window dressing. Feel free to insert your comment here about two rich and powerful companies fighting over who is going to become more richer and more powerful when the world is in such a mess.

Wine Curmudgeon blog ranked 29th among Internet wine sites

Internet wine sites

The WC is No. 29 — suck on that, premiumization.

British retailer’s top 101 Internet wine sites list says WC can really pound that keyboard

The Wine Curmudgeon blog is ranked 29th among wine sites on the Internet, according to a survey by a British wine retailer. Yes, I know there are many ways to interpret that, and most aren’t printable here.

But given all that has happened to the blog over the past 18 months, including declining visitor counts, less love than ever from our overlords at Google, and the increasing difficulty in finding cheap wine worth drinking, it’s worth mentioning that our cause is still making an impression in the cyber-ether.

Hence, the details about Corking Wines’ Top 101 Wine Writers of 2020. There I am, at No. 29, between Great British Wine and The Wine Stalker, and just two spots behind the Indian Sommelier. But I’m also two spots ahead of The Wine Ninjas, so that’s something.

Jonathan Doubtfire, a marketing executive for Corking Wines, an on-line wine retailer in York, emailed that the rankings are based on “a number of factors. … We started off using a tool that estimates traffic, readership levels, etc. Then the wider team got involved and we reviewed each site on the shortlist, in order to establish the final order on there.”

Using site numbers is typical for these kinds of lists, which usually include various social media metrics (and yes, one has to use the word “metrics” when one writes a sentence like that). Given that I haven’t used social media in almost a decade, I suppose my performance is that much more impressive. And the selectors liked one of my wine tariff posts, which is surprising since it’s not traditional wine writing, but consumer journalism. Which, of course, is about as anti-wine writing as possible.

The sites on the list are most of the usual suspects, though it’s more international than this list (where I am merely No. 44). Also shocking: No Wine Spectator or VinePair, which are usually among the top handful of sites on most lists. But Jancis Robinson (No. 4) and Wine Folly (No. 1) are ranked here, and those are more or less the same kinds of sites as the Spectator and VinePair.

Does this ranking mean anything? Hopefully. Maybe it means there is still an audience for quality cheap wine, despite all of the indications otherwise. Because there are days when I have my doubts.

But if I did this for awards or rankings, I would have quit long ago. I do this because I love wine and want others to know they can enjoy it without deep pockets or wine foolishness. It’s about professionalism and writing for the people who come to the site, and not to impress anyone in the wine business with how smart or wonderful I am. Because how will that help anyone learn to love wine?

Winebits 662: Ingredient labels, tennis wine, three-tier fraud

ingredient labels

Beer drinkers want to know what’s in their glass, but wine drinkers? Nope.

This week’s wine news: A wine industry survey finds that wine drinkers aren’t interested in ingredient labels, plus a wine celebration at the U.S. Open and two New Jersey distributors are fined $8 million for cheating customers

They didn’t ask me: Most wine drinkers aren’t interested in knowing the ingredients in their wine, according to a survey by the Wine Market Council. The Wine Curmudgeon, of course, has long lobbied for ingredient and nutritional labels as a way to bring more people to wine, but I was not surprised by the results. The council’s bills are paid by the wine industry, which has opposed ingredient labels since the federal government first contemplated the idea more than a decade ago. The other thing to note: The survey didn’t include all consumers – just what the council calls “core” and “marginal” wine drinkers, and it was skewed in favor of core wine drinkers. I wonder: How different would the results have been if it had included all consumers, instead of those who already think they know what’s in their wine? I don’t write this lightly; I have tremendous respect for the Wine Market Council, and its staff has helped me with countless stories through the years. And this post probably means I will never get a phone call returned again. But it has to be said: This result has far less significance than if a Gallup poll of all consumers had found the same thing. Until then, I still believe consumers want to know if their wine contains industrial adhesives.

Bring on the wine: Tennis player Madison Brengle celebrated her upset victory over the U.S. Open’s No. 19 seed last week by chugging a bottle of Sutter Home wine, the New York Post reported. Brengle ran into the stands to drink a 187 ml bottle of an unidentified Sutter Home red after her victory. No report on how many points she gave the wine or whether she was a core or marginal wine drinker. And Brengle didn’t get a chance to celebrate again – she lost in the next round in straight sets.

$10.3 million fine: New Jersey’s two largest distributors were fined $4 million each for cheating many of the state’s liquor retailers, reports WRNJ. The legal charge was “discriminatory trade practice” – wholesalers Allied Beverage Group and Fedway Associates agreed to pay the record-high fines and promise to never to do it again after a two-year investigation by the state’s liquor cops. In addition, 20 retailers were fined $2.3 million for participating in the wholesalers’ scheme. The story in the link has the detailed charges; it’s enough to know  that Allied and Fedway worked with the 20 retailers, using illegal payments, to cheat smaller retailers. I wonder: If we need the three-tier system to protect us from corruption, who is going to protect us from corruption in the three-tier system?

Winebits 661: Walmart lawsuit, Cracker Barrel wine, Amazon Fresh

walmart lawsuit

“How about a glass of wine with that t-shirt?”

This week’s wine news: Walmart gets an ally in plan to open liquor stores in Texas, plus Cracker Barrel adds booze and Amazon plans full-sized supermarket without checkout – unless you’re buying alcohol

Walmart lawsuit: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed a brief supporting Walmart’s attempts to open liquor stores in Texas. This is a big deal; the chamber of commerce, though pro-business, usually doesn’t choose between businesses. In this case, the Texas Package Stores Association, which represents most of the state’s liquor retailers, is Walmart’s arch-enemy in the liquor store lawsuit. No word yet on when the Supreme Court will decide whether to accept Walmart’s appeal. Most recently, a federal appeals court ruled against Walmart, agreeing that a Texas law that forbids publicly-owned companies from getting a retail spirits license is constitutional.

Cracker Barrel booze: Cracker Barrel, the interstate highway restaurant chain known for a front porch and souvenir shop, has added 60 restaurants to the number of locations selling beer, wine and mimosas. That brings the total to 80; the restaurants are in Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This is an interesting experiment, given that many of the chain’s stores are in the South, where there are still religious objections to drinking, and that many of its customers will get back on the interstate to drive hundreds of miles after eating.

Amazon Fresh: Remember all the fuss in the cyber-ether when Amazon opened its Amazon Go convenience stores, which didn’t have traditional checkout? Then get ready for more excitement. The e-tailer has opened a 35,000-square-foot store in suburban Los Angeles, with the goal to help shoppers avoid a checkout line. Except, of course, if they’re buying wine or beer. As we noted here when Amazon Go opened, there was an employee to check ID, and one reporter noted: “There was nothing fancy or high-tech about this when I went to peruse the beer.”

Photo courtesy of Nation’s Restaurant News, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 660: Takeout wine, James Beard awards, Drizly

takeout wineThis week’s wine news:  Takeout wine is on the upswing because of the pandemic, plus no James Beard awards this year and Drizly, the booze delivery app, raises $50 million

More takeout wine? One-third of us have ordered takeout wine, beer, and spirits during the pandemic, and almost 60 percent of us want states to make ordering takeout booze permanent. That’s the result of a survey from something called  bid-on-equipment.com, which sells used restaurant equipment. Yes, that’s an odd source for a survey like this, but it’s worth noting if only because the survey lists its methodology. Most of the “studies” that do this sort of thing to get cyber-ink just flash the headline and leave it at that. This methodology seems legit; my only concern is the average age of the respondents is 36.

No Beard awards: The James Beard Awards, the Oscars for the restaurant business, won’t be given in 2020 or 2021. The 2020 nominees will be recognized, but the awards won’t be given because of restaurant business turmoil during the pandemic. The “foundation believes the assignment of awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle,” it said in a statement. In addition, buried toward the end of the news release, the Beard Foundation said it would try to make the awards more transparent and equitable — an acknowledgement, said the report in the link, that awards go to “mostly to white men, with the same nominees being named over and over again.”

Cash for Drizly: Drizly, the alcohol delivery app, has raised $50 million for what the company calls supporting its “laser focus on alcohol delivery.”  The additional cash comes as Drizly has thrived during the pandemic, growing more than 350 percent so far this year. The news release is worth reading not just for the news, but for its wonderful use of business-speak, which makes no sense to anyone but the people who wrote the release. My favorite? “Retailers that join Drizly experience incremental growth from new customers. …”, which means absolutely nothing. Do retailers who join Drizly experience incremental losses? Of course not. That’s the company’s fancy way of saying that not everyone picks up a lot of new business.

Graphic courtesy of bid-on-equipment.com


Penrose Hill v. Mabray: Did wine journalism win a significant legal victory?

Penrose Hill v. MabrayFederal court judge in Penrose Hill vs. Mabray says it’s likely wine bloggers enjoy the same First Amendment protections as traditional journalists

A federal judge has ruled that a winery’s attempt to sue for critical comments on Twitter and in a blog post probably wouldn’t survive a First Amendment challenge. In doing so, this may be one of the first times a judge has said that the same constitutional protections that apply to print journalism also apply to social media.

The case, Penrose Hill v. Mabray, was actually decided on a technicality; U.S. District Judge Donna Ryu ruled that the plaintiff waited too long to bring the lawsuit under California law. But in her ruling, Judge Ryu said that though Penrose Hill and its CEO, Philip James, were free to sue again, she doubted that even an amended suit would withstand constitutional scrutiny as it applies to free speech.

The case dates to 2017, when Paul Mabray used the phrase a “faker, not a maker” in a blog post discussing winery marketing practices. Penrose Hill is is a bulk producer that also runs a wine club, and its wine club appeared in the post (and in a tweet) as an example of wine clubs that promise more than they offer.

Mabray is a long-time wine industry e-commerce expert, and he has been on the blog many times. In fact, I wrote about the “faker, not a maker” post and was more than a little concerned when Penrose Hill filed its lawsuit this year. If Penrose Hill won, would I have to remove the post? Would I be liable for damages as well? Would I still be able to write posts like this about wine clubs? Or this, about Blue Apron wine?

Times v. Sullivan

That’s because free speech protections are well-defined for print and traditional journalism, thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark Times v. Sullivan decision in 1964. But there is much more uncertainty about what’s protected on the Internet. In fact, a former newspaper colleague of mine was fired a couple of years ago for tweeting about President Trump; my friend’s critical social media post, said a New York court, enjoyed no such First Amendment protection.

So yes, that the judge dismissed the lawsuit is a victory for 21st century wine writing. I can continue to write the kind of criticism that benefits consumers without worrying that a producer will sue me because they don’t want an honest assessment of its product. As Mabray’s lawyer told Wine Industry Insight: “This is a victory for Paul, and not just for him, but for all people who engage in critical commentary over the Internet. … In addition, this decision confirms the broad protection, under the First Amendment, for expressions of opinion.”

But, despite that optimism, this is not a Times v. Sullivan landmark riling. It was decided on a technicality, and Penrose could re-file the suit and another judge could decide that the First Amendment doesn’t apply here. It’s worth noting that Mabray’s blog post has been removed; that never would have happened with a newspaper story.

In fact, for all of the concerns about any potential legal difficulties stemming from my three-tier reverse sting post, the penalty there – if I was even convicted – would be minor compared to losing the right to write wine criticism on the Internet. So let’s hope Penrose Hill v. Mabray goes no further than this, and that the courts continue the trend that started here.

Photo: “Courtroom” by srqpix is licensed under CC BY 2.0