? Cold climate winners: Three wines won double golds at this month's International Cold Climate Wine Competition, which doesn't sound like a big deal. But the wines weren't sweet, and they were made with grapes that aren't viniferia — so yes, it is big news. Cold climate grapes are hybrids, and most of them are relatively new. This means they're more difficult to work with (especially for the regional wineries that make wine with them), and there is relatively little known about what kind of wine they make. So that three wines — two from Minnesota and one from Vermont — were that good and weren't sweet speaks volumes about the progress being made to make wine with odd grapes in places that aren't associated with wine.
? Label legal battle ends: Those of us who have been following the various wine trademark disputes (here and here) will be glad to know that a third case has been settled. Yellow Tail and The Wine Group, whose lawyers were battling ferociously over whether a kangaroo on one label was too much like a kangaroo on another label, have settled their case. No details were disclosed, which is probably just as well. The Wine Curmudgeon probably couldn't stand all the legal excitement, and would have take to his bed.
? So long, vending machines: Pennsylvania's attempt to add wine vending machines to its already unique arsenal of state-sponsored wine selling venues has apparently failed. That the vending machines didn't really work wasn't the reason; rather, the company that does the machines is behind on its payments to the states. Some background here, which will make most of us who value common sense wince. The good news, reports my pal Dave Falchek and one of Pennsylvania's top wine writers, is that the entire state-sponsored system in Pennsylvania seems near an end. Dave was positively giddy about its demise when I saw him at the Indy International competition last week.
? Congratulations: Devon Broglie, who buys wine for Whole Foods in the southwest U.S., is one of the newest master sommeliers in the United States. This is impressive not only because earning those initials is so difficult — there are only 112 in North America — but because Broglie believes in regional wine. He is a huge advocate for Texas wine, as well as for the other states for which he buys wine for the grocery store chain.
? Too many wine choices: Young people are increasingly celebrating special occasions at home with a bottle of wine, but are baffled by the seemingly endless choices on supermarket shelves, says a British study. Keep in mind that it's difficult to extrapolate these results to the U.S. market, since Britain's drinking culture differs from ours, but it's worth noting that the study found that 55 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds drinks at home to mark a special event, compared to just 41 percent of all British in-home drinkers. More than a fifth of 18-34s believe the large wine selection in supermarkets makes buying too complicated compared to just 1 in 10 over-34s. And half admit that without discounting they would probably buy less wine than they do. In other words, people who buy a lot of wine are confused and base their decision on price since they are confused.
A German-Australian study has discovered that consumers decide whether they like wine not necessarily because of what it tastes like, but because of what the label looks like.
The study, noted in Australia's Food magazine, found that "[w]hile both taste and extrinsic attributes influenced a consumer ?s liking for a bottle of wine, packaging and brand were the biggest influences. … While the study shows extrinsic attributes such as packaging can play a more significant role in determining consumers ? liking of wine than taste, [the study found] the best advice for food and beverage producers is to ensure taste and packaging are equally as good."
? Utah's barriers: Those of us who think our state's liquor laws are the worst need (that includes you, Pennsylvania) to check in with Utah. The New York Times reports that "Stiff drinks and doubles are illegal in Utah. Bars and restaurants must use meters on their liquor bottles to make sure they do not pour more than 1.5 ounces at a time. Other liquors can be added to cocktails in lesser amounts, not to exceed 2.5 ounces of liquor in a drink, as long as they are poured from bottles clearly marked 'flavoring.' " What's even weirder is that the state's laws are much more liberal than they used to be. I did a story about Utah's liquor laws in the run-up to the 2002 winter Olympics, which saw the state suspend some of its laws to accommodate European visitors and then un-suspend when the Olympics ended. Needless to say, bar and restaurant owners were less than thrilled.
? Blind tasting trumps all: Not that we needed any more evidence that we're predisposed to like wine if we think we know something about it, but researchers have found that telling someone where the wine is from influences their opinion. What makes this study interesting is that consumers were asked which bottle tasted better — one from India or one from Italy — and their perception of quality seemed to depend on where they thought the wine was from. The kicker? There was no wine from Italy or India, but an ordinary bottle of $16 wine that served as the wine from India and Italy.
? Winery websites stink: Or, to be more accurate: "Unfortunately, 90 to 95% of winery websites stink." That's from Sean Sullivan at the Washington Wine Report, and Sean knows his stuff. The post is must reading not only for winery owners, but for consumers who go to a website to find information about a wine or winery and find only boilerplate about the winery and almost nothing about the wine. My favorite? Sean writes that many sites have a line like "We are dedicated to producing super premium wine from Washington ?s finest vineyards." No kidding. Says Sean: "First, almost no one knows what super premium means. Second, you ?re in luck! Everyone else is looking to make plonk from vineyards that are producing 20 tons an acre!"
Can any two statements be more contradictory? Barefoot, which costs about $6 a bottle, is the ultimate anti-restaurant wine, a brand that has made its mark in grocery stores and is rarely seen in restaurants — and certainly not the kinds of restaurants that the Enthusiast writes about. This difference in perspective is Kakfka-esque, and it demonstrates once again why the wine industry is at odds with itself, and why wine continues to lag as the drink of choice among Americans.
? Wine with friends: Yes, millennials are unique because some of them like to drink wine with friends. This is the one of the findings in a study from California researchers looking at how millennial wine consumption is different from the rest of us. And, as the author, noted, it really isn’t (though she desperately tries to find some difference). The age group born after 1982 or so drinks the most wine at special occasions and eating at a formal restaurant. The study will no doubt make my pal Tom Johnson at Louisville Juice fire off yet another of his eye-rolling millennial missives. And I’d have to agree with him.
? What do critics want? To like the wine they drink, of course. This is quite well expressed by the Israeli writer Daniel Rogov, who is known as that country’s Wine Curmudgeon (something we have had a giggle about). “A great many may not realize it,” he writes, “but writing a negative review pains the critic. The simple truth is that that bad or mediocre wines have a deep emotional impact for the critic, who lives for the day when he can be entirely positive.” This, I think, is the difference between honest criticism and what passes for criticism these days, and especially on the Internet. The goal is to write truly (to paraphrase Hemingway). Too, many, though, prefer snarky, since they think it makes them look clever.
? Top regional chef dies: Deborah Whiting, a New York chef who was one of the leaders in that state's local food and local wine movements, died last week in an automobile accident. There were any number of eloquent tributes to Whiting, who ran the restaurant at Red Newt Cellars in upstate New York; her husband, David, runs the winery, and I can't begin to list them all. Know that Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post wrote that "David had become one of the Finger Lakes ? top winemakers and Debra the region ?s leading chef, championing the 'locavore' movement by featuring ingredients from nearby farms. She is widely credited with sparking the restaurant revolution in the Finger Lakes wine country, which had been dependent on fast food." McIntyre's post includes links to several other pieces about Whiting, all worth checking out.
? Too much attention for French wine? French wine has continued its downward sales trend in the U.S., yet it seems to be one of the stars of the wine cyber-ether. French wine, despite an almost 10 percent sales decline over the past year, generates what Nielsen calls a disproportionate share of buzz on the Internet through Twitter, Facebook, and the like. This is not surprising, given the incredibly overwhelming coverage on the Internet about Bordeaux. I have not see the Neilsen stats, but I doubt seriously that it's made up of coverage like mine, writing about $10 bottles. Instead, it's almost certainly from places eRobertParker.com, the Wine Spectator, and Decanter and their NFL-like coverage of anything related to Bordeaux. Also amusing: Nielsen reports that consumers don't trust alcohol advertising, and prefer to get recommendations from their friends. Which is a fitting segue to the next item.
? Shooting itself in the foot: Or, as The Italian Wine Guy says in a recent post: "[L]ately it seems like we are doing everything we can to kill the wine business in the world. Actively." Among the culprits are Bordeaux, which seems hell bent on destroying its traditional markets so it can all of its wine to China. Which, as the IWG points out, is probably not the smartest long-term strategy. He also takes on the Italian government and several other of the maroons who try to tell us what to drink when they really aren't interested in what we want.