Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 166: State budgets, global warming, screwcaps

? Sunday booze as budget panacea: Since 2002, 14 states and numerous municipalities have repealed their blue laws banning Sunday alcohol sales in efforts to spur revenue growth for their governments. Now, 36 states allow such sales, and a host more want to end Sunday bans in an attempt to raise cash without raising taxes. The biggest hurdle the states have to clear? From liquor store owners, who like their legally mandated day off. The irony to all this is that adding an extra day of liquor sales doesn’t usually increase tax revenue in the long term. There’s a short term bump, but most people drink the same amount of wine, beer and liquor regardless of when it’s sold, so the only thing that changes are buying habits. If I drink a bottle of wine a week, I’ll buy it on Sunday instead of Saturday.

? Wine and global warming: Spain’s Pancho Campo, the country’s pre-eminent wine expert, says people who still doubting the existence of climate change are outdated, and points to changes to grape growing as one reason why. Campo says climate change could result in a change in grape quality, and that average temperatures in some wine growing regions have increased so much that grapes grown in particularly hot countries are too alcoholic, ripen oddly, and produce wines that lack aromatic complexity. During my trip to Spain last month, global warming was discussed several times, and winemakers and vineyard managers say they’ve seen significant changes to their grapes over the past 20 years.

? Jancis Robinson on screwcap quality: “While traditionalists may still be reluctant to embrace them, there is now plenty of scientific evidence that indicates money spent on wine sealed with anything but a screwcap is a game of risk” — or so says one of the most influential wine critics in the world. Which, frankly, I’m going to believe more than another news release or video from the cork producers. This article, from Robinson’s Web site, is as good an overview of the history of screwcaps that I’ve seen.

Winebits 165: U.S. wine market, Far Niente lawsuit, Andrew Lloyd Webber

? "Most lucrative in the world": Wonder why so many foreign producers want into the U.S. market (and send so much crummy wine over here in the process)? That's because we're "by far the most lucrative wine market in the world," reports Wines & Vines in its coverage of the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Said one analyst: "They all know how well New Zealand has done here with sauvignon blanc and how well Argentina has done with malbec. They will try to succeed, and they will keep coming relentlessly. That ?s the downside of having the most lucrative wine market in the world." What's even more interesting about this is that the weak dollar doesn't seem to be an obstacle; imagine how much more intense foreign efforts would be if foreign wine was less expensive here.

? Far Niente heir sues winery: Or, from the Department of Things Can Always Get Worse, Despite the Recession, Jeremy Nickel, son of Far Niente founder Gil Nickel, has filed a lawsuit against three members of the board of directors of his family ?s wine companies. The Wine Spectator reports that Jeremy says the board members misused company funds and gave themselves substantial raises at the expense of company shareholders. He wants at least $50 million in damages. Far Niente, of course, is a big-time Napa winery, and its holdings include Nickel & Nickel Vineyards, Far Niente Vineyards and Dolce Wines. The lawsuit doesn't name Jeremy Nickel's step-mother and cousin, who the company's co-owners, but the two said they support the current board. Sounds like lots of family fun, doesn't it?

? Wine collection goes for more than a song: Sorry — couldn't resist. Part of musical impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber ?s wine collection sold for $5.6 million in a Hong Kong auction. There were almost 9,000 bottles of French wine in the sale, including a case of 1982 Chateau Petrus, perhaps the trophiest of all tropy wines. It sold for $77,564, or about $6,500 a bottle. The sale exceeded expectations, and yes, that was because the Chinese still, apparently, have no limit on what they'll spend for rare French wine.

Winebits 161: Constellation sale, Chinese wine fraud, Pennsylvania wine laws

? Constellation exits Australia: The world's biggest wine company has sold its Australian labels as it continues to retrench in the wake of the recession. Constellation Brands is selling its 80 percent stake in a venture that includes Hardys and Banrock Station to an Australian private equity firm for about $230 million. After the sale, it will no longer be the biggest wine company in the world; that honor will go to E&J Gallo. The other catch? Constellation paid $1.1 billion for the Aussie brands when it bought them in 2003, and its timing was perfect — the Australian wine business was entering a slump which has only gotten worse. Which leads the Wine Curmudgeon to wonder: How does a company stay in business after it sells something for only 20 percent of what it paid for it?

? Tainted Chinese wine: Six people have been detained, several wineries shut down and bottles pulled from shelves in China after authorities found wine containing several chemical additives. An expose broadcast by state television found that that wineries were doctoring their products with sugar water, coloring agents and artificial flavorings, and then falsely using famous brand names. No wonder Chinese collectors are paying so much for high-end Bordeaux — at least it's really wine.

? Pennsylvania de-regulating booze? Pennsylvania is a control state, which means all alcohol is sold through state-owned stores and nowhere else. It's the poster child for the control system — but all that may be about to change. Says Philly.com: "But 2011 may usher in a different outcome for the state Liquor Control Board and the 620 wine and spirits stores it runs: Gov.-elect Tom Corbett appears committed to yanking state government out of the business of selling alcohol once and for all." We talk a lot here about government regulation and where it's headed, and there have been big doings over the past couple of years. But Pennsylvania getting out of the booze business? That would be the biggest news yet.

Winebits 157: Holiday gift guide

? Dave McIntyre on books: The Washington Post wine columnist suggests efforts by importer Terry Thiese, writer Matt Kramer, and Laura Catena on Argentine wines. High praise for the Thiese book: "And if you wonder why wine matters so much to a loved one in your life, let Theise explain."

? Jon Bonne on wine: The San Francisco Chronicle wine writer offers a variety of gift strategies, and our old pal, Pine Ridge's chenin blanc-viognier blend, shows up as one of the best wines to bring to a party. Great description, too: "like wet pine needles after rain".

? Tom Johnson on kitsch: How does the proprietor of the Louisville Juice blog find this stuff — a moose horn wine glass, brass knuckles wine opener, and bathroom humor wine labels?

Winebits 156: Direct shipping, expensive wine, 7-Eleven wine

? Retail shipping appeal: A group of American wine retailers is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision that limited the ability of out-of-state retailers to sell wine over the Internet. The Specialty Wine Retailers Association wants the high court to decide if retailers enjoy the same protection the court gave to wineries in its landmark Granholm decision in 2005. The retailers are appealing Wine Country Gift Baskets v. Steen, in which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said a non-Texas retailer could not sell wine in Texas.

? A $233,000 bottle of wine: From our friends at the Wine Spectator: A bottle of 1869 Ch teau Lafite, estimated to fetch $8,000 at auction, sold for $233,972 — making it the most expensive 750ml bottle of wine on the planet. The Spectator reports that an unnamed Asian bidder bought the bottle, and it's no wonder the bidder wanted to remain unnamed. That $233,972 would have bought 1,950 cases of $10 wine, or enough wine to last most of the rest of us about 150 years.

? New 7-Eleven wine: The convenience store chain, which sells the $4 Yosemite Road brand, is expanding its wine lineup. Look for Cherrywood Cellars, a private label wine that will sell for about $9 a bottle, and will come in three flavors — chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. I wasn't overwhelmed by the Yosemite Road, but it was a huge success with consumers, selling out quickly.

Winebits 156: Wine headaches, wine writing, sweet wine

? No, it’s not the sulfites: Finally, an answer to one of the most dread questions in the wine business: “I get these headaches from red wine, and I’m told they’re from sulfites. Is that true?” No, of course, has always been the answer, and now scientists have a better explanation why (assuming the headache isn’t hangover induced). It’s a substance called glycoproteins, and it looks to be the culprit behind wine headaches, according to a report in the monthly Journal of Proteome Research.

? Wine writers are cranky: No, not shocking news, but it’s part of the third Wine Writers Survey (link opens a PDF), conducted by wine publicist Tom Wark, who runs the top-rated Fermentation blog. The findings are a mixed bag, and I’m not sure the methodology is as rigorous as it could have been, but it’s interesting to read nonetheless. Wark focuses on the blogger vs. traditional media angle, which I’ve never thought was the real point. Rather, the focus should be on professionals — those of us who do it for a living, whether in print or in the cyber-ether — as opposed to those who do it as sidelight. To me, that’s the most interesting comparison, because that’s been the biggest change over the past decade or so. It’s not that technology has changed, but that changing technology has allowed people to write about wine who would not have been able to write about wine before. And, frankly, all those so-called amateurs are what drives so many in the wine business crazy. (And a tip ‘o the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Tom Johnson at Louisville Juice for sending this my way.)

? Sweet wine, better palate? Or so suggests a study conducted in conjunction with the Consumer Wine Awards in Lodi this year. It found that physiology plays a major role in determining wine preferences, and that sweet wine drinkers are often the most sensitive tasters, “shattering” the myth that sweet wine consumers don ?t taste as well as those who love “better” wines. A nicely written piece by my old pal Paul Franson.

Winebits 155: Thanksgiving wine, best wines, Kluge winery

? Wine blogs and Thanksgiving: There's a spirited discussion at Louisville Juice questioning whether wine blogs should offer Thanksgiving wine advice, and the consensus seems to be that it's kind of silly for us to do so. Or, as the blogger Thomas Pellechia wrote in a comment, "Bloggers are just like print writers – ? every holiday, every year, comes with a discussion of which wine to go with which food or a list of the best. All this proves to me is that print isn ?t dead ? writing is." Which seems an odd thing to say. People have questions about Thanksgiving wine, and it doesn't seem untoward that I — or any other wine writer — should try to answer them. Unless, of course, we're not writing for people who have questions about wine, which is another question entirely.

? Wine Spectator's top wines: A tip o' the Curmudgeon's fedora to my brother, Jim Siegel, for passing this along: The Spectator is releasing its top 10 wines of the year in a cyber-fest of video and on-line updates. It's subscription only, but you can see wines 8, 9, and 10 with a free link through Nov. 28. Two of those wines are $100 each, and the Spectator notes that the average price per bottle for the top 10 is $48. You may draw your own conclusions from the pricing.

? The end for Virginia's Kluge Estate: The winery, one of the best in the state, has been forced into bankruptcy, and an auction will be held on Dec. 8 to cover its $35 million in debts. Kluge will be missed. You can argue that its owners, Patricia Kluge and William Moses, made myriad bad business decisions, but they also made good wine. And it's always a shame when a winery that makes good wine goes out of business — and especially a winery that did so much for regional wine.