Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 574: Restaurant wine, wine apps, mock wine cocktails

restaurant wineThis week’s wine news: One more example of restaurant wine’s inability to deal with reality, plus the failure of wine apps and wine drinkers should try booze free cocktails

Restaurant wine, yet again: That the Wine Curmudgeon can find so many of these restaurant wine pricing faux pas speaks to the problem: Those who price wine in restaurants aren’t living in the same world with the rest of us. A recent on-line story featured an up and coming sommelier bragging about his wine list: “These are my favorite things to pour for our guests: the wines that sell for $45 to $70 but completely knock it out of the park.” Given restaurant pricing, that means he looks for values among wines that cost $25 to $40 retail. Which misses the point of how much most of us actually pay for wine. A $40 bottle accounts for a couple of points of U.S. sales (if that much, depending on whose numbers you use). Hence, the sommelier is running his wine list for a tiny, tiny share of U.S. wine drinkers.

Waste of a download? Most of us use wine apps fewer than a dozen times and then discard them, writes Robert Joseph in Wine Business International. There are exceptions like Vivino, but most of us who “ downloaded the app did so because they were briefly attracted by the novelty of the technology. But that interest soon wore off; they seldom if ever feel the need to record their views of the red or white in their glass, or scan a bottle before buying it.” This matters because wine apps were supposed to making wine pricing more competitive, since consumers could compare prices on their phones. Apparently, though, that isn’t happening.

Bring on the mocktail: Do wine drinkers want to try booze-fee cocktails? Yes, says one of the leaders in devising mocktails that mimic their alcohol counterparts. “While it seems this may be only about soft cocktail recipes, the bigger picture is that it’s about connection, community, inclusion and taking good care of people,” she says. One suggestion for wine drinkers: spice mulled “wine,” made with apple cider and cranberry juice.

Winebits 573: Sweet red wine, pension plans, Barefoot

sweet red wine

Eric Asimov is not a fan of Big Wine

This week’s wine news: The New York Times’ Eric Asimov takes on sweet red wine, plus wine helps a pension plan go belly up and Barefoot reaches 20 million cases

An unlikely review: The Times’ Eric Asimov, who makes no secret of his disdain for Big Wine, discusses three top-selling Big Wine products in a recent Times’ wine school column. His comments about E&J Gallo’s Apothic and Constellation Brands’ The Prisoner and Meomi are almost as priceless as as the comments readers left. It’s also worth noting that the wines are sweet reds – Apothic more or less labeled as such, and the other two hiding sugar behind a dry red wine label. As such, there are three of the most contentious wines among those of us who do what Asimov does.

How to make a million in the wine business: Dallas’ police and fire pension fund almost went broke last year, and only tremendous sacrifices by the cops and firefighters – who weren’t responsible for the collapse – saved the system (which is a story for another day). The point for the blog? The pension system was so badly mismanaged that it had investments in wine real estate. How is that mismanagement? Because the first rule of the wine business is this very old joke: How do you make a million in the wine business? Start with two million.

Only 20 million cases: Barefoot, also an E&J Gallo brand, has grown to 20 million cases – or about one bottle for every drinking age adult in the U.S. That’s a mind-boggling statistic. The story from the Shanken trade news site is mostly puff (boxed wine is hardly an innovation in 2019), but it’s worth reading to note how important $7 Barefoot is to the health of the U.S. wine business. We can talk about premiumization all we want, but if Barefoot was a winery, it would be the fourth biggest producer in the U.S.

2019 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

$10 Hall of Fame 20198 wines entered the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, but long-time standbys like Bogle and Segura Viudas dropped out

The Wine Curmudgeon never thought he would write these words: Three of my all-time favorites, wines I’ve been drinking for more than 20 years, weren’t good enough to make the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.

Bogle’s reds (excepting the pinot noir), plus the Segura Viudas and Cristalino cavas were a shell of what they have been; none were included in this year’s hall, the 13th annual. The former were noticeably and unpleasantly sweet, and not nearly as well made as Bogle’s sweet Essential Red. The cavas tasted more like Italian Proseccos than Spanish sparkling wine, soft and sweetish and devoid of cava’s crispness.

And that was just the beginning of the bad news:

• More than a dozen wines dropped out, including two other standbys: The Gascon white blends that have been in the hall for most of its history, and the Dry Creek fume blanc. The best Gascon, Domaine du Tariquet, lost its importer and isn’t for sale in the U.S. anymore, while the Dry Creek tasted bitter and harsh, something else I never thought I would write.

• Higher prices continued to wreak havoc. The Chateau Bonnett red, white and rose, which cost $6 in Europe, can cost three times that much in the U.S. I left the wines in the hall because I can still find them for $10 or $12 in Dallas, but this may be the last year I can include them. Because, frankly, they’re not worth $16 or $18.

• The decline in quality was marked. The venerable Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier, which was once Hall of Fame quality for $10, today costs as much as $16 or $17 and isn’t worth it, either — awkward, unbalanced, and touched up with residual sugar. Consistency has become a problem, too. A wine could taste the way it’s supposed to one time, and completely different the next. This points to shortcuts in winemaking, as well as use of less expensive and inferior grapes.

• Availability continues to get worse; witness the Tariquet. Meanwhile, distributor consolidation means wineries that produce 200,000 or 300,00 cases — once enough to rank among the biggest in the country — aren’t big enough to find a national distributor. Hence, they will only be sold in parts of the country. That almost happened to McManis, another Hall of Fame standby, in 2018.

I wrote last year “this may be the last Hall of Fame for a long while where this many wines are good enough to earn induction. The quality at $10, and even $15 or $18, isn’t there, sacrificed for ‘smoothness,’ the chance to upsell consumers to equally inferior wine, and a resurgence in cute labels and marketing trickery.”

I take no pleasure in being right.

The $10 Wine Hall of Fame 2019 is here. You can also find it at the Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $12 or $13 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.

You’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF. Look for the icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

Winebits 572: Texas ABC, restaurant wine, fake Prosecco

Texas ABCThis week’s wine news: Texas liquor retailer sues the Texas ABC, plus a restaurant tries to solve the industry’s wine problem and Italian authorities seize fake Prosecco

Texas ABC lawsuit: The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has been plagued by scandal, mismanagement, and more scandal over the past several years, is in even bigger trouble. Spec’s, the largest independent retailer in the state, has sued the agency for malicious enforcement. The federal lawsuit is the result of the TABC’s attempt to fine Spec’s $700 million after a lenghty investigation a couple of years ago.. The catch? Two judges dismissed the agency’s suit against Spec’s, saying the charges were completely unsubstantiated. Why does this matter to wine drinkers in the rest of the country? Because it might mean the end of the TABC when the state legislature meets early next year. It almost dissolved the agency two years ago, and pressure is mounting to kill it in the upcoming session. If that happens, it will send a message to liquor cops across the country about how they enforce three-tier.

One last chance: An English restaurant chain, emerging from bankruptcy, says its new plan revolves around selling better quality wine. Says the new wine buyer for the Argentine-themed Guacho: “It’s always the big wineries [who are represented] – those who can afford PR, travel and marketing. But there are so many super-interesting smaller wineries in Argentina. It’s my duty to champion those guys. If no one gives them a chance they’re never gonna get an importer.” It’s a fair plan, the idea of moving away from Big Wine, and stands an even better chance of working if the chain keeps fair pricing in mind.

Lots and lots of fake Prosecco: Italian police have seized more than 80,000 cases of Prosecco from two producers. Police said each added extra sugar to the wine during fermentation to increase the alcohol content and exceeded their production quotas. The authorities became suspicious after finding some two tons of sugar at the wineries. No doubt the wineries should have been more subtle.

Bogle wins 2018 cheap wine poll

2018 cheap wine poll Bogle wins 2018 cheap wine poll, its fourth victory in five years; Columbia Crest finishes second for the second year in a row

And it wasn’t even close.

Bogle has won the 2018 cheap wine poll, the sixth annual. It was Bogle’s fourth title in five years, and it took almost half the votes. Washington state’s Columbia Crest was second with 18 percent, while Other was third, with dozens of wines and wine brands getting single votes, including many that cost more than $10.

Barefoot, the most popular wine on the blog and more or less the best-selling wine in the U.S., finished sixth. It had finished seventh each of the previous three years.  Finally, Two-buck Chuck, the Trader Joe’s private label, finished last once again — something it has done every year of the poll.

Frankly, given the quality of some of Bogle’s wines this year, its victory speaks more to the sad state of cheap wine than anything else. When even Bogle — a brand I have waxed poetic about for more than a decade — starts adding sugar to some of its dry red wines, we’re in big trouble.

This year’s results are below. You can find the results for 20172016, 2015, 2014,  and 2013 at the links.  I’ll probably retire the poll after this year unless the blog’s visitors clamor to do it again in 2019. It’s not so much that Bogle keeps winning; rather, it’s that cheap wine quality has sunk so far that it seems silly to ask people to reward poorly made wine.

Winebits 571: Ed Lowe, three-tier foolishness, wine prices

ed loweThis week’s wine news: Ed Lowe, whose Dallas restaurant served Texas wine when hardly anyone knew what it was, has died. Plus, New York state three-tier foolishness and cheaper bulk wine prices

Ed Lowe: How important was Ed Lowe to the U.S. regional wine movement? He served Texas wine for 30 years at his Celebration restaurant in Dallas, and when he started doing that Texas wine was chancy at best. Lowe, 69, died before Thanksgiving during a canoe trip in the state’s Big Bend region. I knew Lowe a little, and we talked several times about local wine, his half-price Thursday night wine promotion, and quality local food. Celebration was farm-to-table long before the term was invented by some East Coast hype guru, and Lowe (who could still be seen busing tables) truly believed in the concept. The world will be a poorer place without him.

Take that, Wegman’s: The East Coast grocery store chain has been fined more than $1 million for illegally managing liquor stores by the New York state booze cops. That’s because grocery stores aren’t allowed to sell alcohol in New York, save in one location. The state liquor authority claimed Wegman’s violated any number of laws and regulations, including “illegally trafficking in wine.” That’s a delightful 21st century crime, yes? The infractions are arcane to anyone who doesn’t follow three-tier, and Wegman’s may actually have violated the law. The larger question, though, is why these laws still exist.

• “Awash with wine:” More bad news for premiumization – wine prices in the bulk market are dropping, “and in some cases, significantly,” reports a British wine trade magazine. The world is flush with wine after bountiful 2018 harvests around the world, and those interviewed in the story say prices could keep falling. Why do bulk prices matter? Because, save for the most expensive wines in the world, bulk prices influence the price of grapes everywhere. Cheaper bulk prices usually mean cheaper grape prices, and that usually means cheaper wine prices.

Illustration courtesy of Tampa Tribune using a Creative Commons license

Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?

private label wineAre U.S. retailers ready to sell quality private label wine like their European counterparts?

I tasted two wines just before Thanksgiving that were easily some of the best cheap labels I’ve sampled this year. The catch? They’re only available in Europe – where, of course, they’re wildly popular.

They were grocery store private label wine. One was a €4 (about US$4.55) South African sauvignon blanc called MooiBerg that has sold 750,000 cases at Aldi stores in the Netherlands. The wine so much better made, so much better priced, and so much more enjoyable than the Winking Owl that dominates U.S. Aldi shelves that I was speechless.

The wine’s producer and importer are desperate to get into the U.S. but have had little success. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

That was the bad news. The good news? I tasted the wines at the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association trade show, which dedicated part of this year’s effort to convince U.S. retailers to abandon their traditional overpriced and poorly made private label wines in favor of quality like the Mooiberg. The group is so serious about doing this that it holds an international wine competition for store brand wines.

As part of that effort, I moderated a seminar that explored the differences between private label wine in Europe and the U.S. (Full disclosure: I’m doing some consulting for the trade group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

We were trying to figure out why British consumers get quality €6 Prosecco at Lidl in the United Kingdom and we get crummy $10 domestic sparkling wine at Aldi. In fact, said the panelists, U.S. wine drinkers do want better quality private label wine than they’re getting now.

And this was more than my whining. One of the panelists, Maryrose Rinella, oversees private label wine for the nationwide Albertson’s/Safeway chain. And she told the audience that her company wants to upgrade its private label wine to make more money. Quality private label, she said, is more profitable for the retailer. Talk about a revolutionary concept for the wine business.

So a fine start, but still a long way to go until we get that €4 sauvignon blanc on U.S. shelves. But it will be worth the wait. Because, of course, Winking Owl.