? Cheaper wine and traffic accidents: States with higher wine consumption have fewer traffic deaths, so why not make wine more easily available? A new study suggests that wine is more socially responsible than beer or spirits, so why not push consumption toward it and away from the others through legal supermarket sales? Said one researcher: "Wine is more likely to be consumed with food. That has an impact. We also suspect that there are different demographic groups that consume this alcohol. Maybe the audience that consumes wine is less likely to drink and drive and be in a traffic accident." A fascinating thought, though the Wine Curmudgeon notes that the study was conducted by researchers in New York state, where there is a huge fight going on over wine sales in grocery stores.
? Because we can never get enough about wine scores: David Duman in the Huffington Post takes on wine scores, calling out two leading members of the Winestream Media, Jon Bonne of the San Francisco Chronicle and Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast: "… it was discouraging to see their defenses of the system utilizing those same tired arguments used by lesser critics." That's about as harsh as it gets in this business, but Duman didn't stop there. He sounds almost Wine Curmudgeonly: "If you want to be a wine critic who remains relevant for the next thirty years you might want to ditch the rating system now, lest you be stuck wearing the wine writing equivalent of acid-washed jeans and feathered hair a decade too late."
? Consumers and state stores: Here's a shocker: Wine drinkers will break the law to buy cheaper wine if all that means is shopping out of state. Regular visitors here will remember that the Pennsylvania state store system, in which the state runs the liquor stores, has been under attack for being inefficient, bloated and poorly run. This on-line survey says that 81 percent of respondents would rather break the law and bootleg their wine and liquor across the borders than suffer state-mandated price hikes. Bootlegging? Does this mean shoppers will start wearing Wine Curmudgeon-like fedoras?
? Score jiggling: Lots and lots of wine score news in the cyber-ether. Blake Gray has done some number crunching, and sees score inflation. Shocking news, no? My favorite was this article in the New York Times, in which the writer thinks he may have discovered how to buy really nice wine for less money — wait until Robert Parker lowers the wine's score, after Parisian retailers lower the price. It's the equivalent, he writes, of a Moody's downgrade. And any article on scoring that includes a reference to "Spinal Tap's" infamous 11-level sound system is well worth reading.
? Wine with grilled cheese: Food & Wine's Ray Isle, who knows his way around cheap wine, has some intriguing wine pairings for grilled cheese. And not just the classic white bread and American cheese version, but several more esoteric sandwiches, including one with Italian robiola cheese and mortadella sausage. Oddly, enough, the Wine Curmudgeon made croque monsieur, the French version, and tomato soup a couple of weeks ago, pairing them with the Chateau Bonnet red. Who knew I was on the cutting edge?
? Chefs love regional wine: Local wine, for the second year in a year, is one of the top 10 restaurant trends, says the National Restaurant Associaton. It's right up there with healthful meals for kids and ahead of culinary cocktails — pretty impressive, given how much ink the latter gets. I was skeptical when local wine made the list last year, but I'm beginning to see a trend, especially as we travel the country for DrinkLocalWine and see how enthusiastic so many chefs are. (Shameless plug for DLW 2012: Denver on April 28 — tickets on sale soon through the website.)
? Near the center of the universe: There have been a spate of recent articles, not only in the Winestream Media, but in many big-time consumer publications about New Jersey wine. One of the most recent came from the Wall Street Journal (behind the paywall) which revealed that the Garden State is enjoying a wine renaissance. As a long-time and ardent supporter of regional wine, I'll take the good news anywhere I can get it. But it does seem odd that media like the Journal are suddenly discovering New Jersey wine, which has been around for more than a decade. This can be traced to what some media critics call the center of the universe theory — nothing exists until it has been identified and validated by the most important news outlets in the country. And where are the most important news outlets in the country? In New York City, just a short ride down the New Jersey Turnpike from New Jersy wine country.
? Wine prices plummet: Not, of course, for wine we actually drink, but wine the wise guys use to make money — on the Live-ex wine exchange, a stock market for wine. Really. As silly as that sounds. Prices of the 100 top-traded wines fell by an average of 22 1/2 percent between June and December last year ? the steepest fall since the beginning of the recession, reports Drinks Business magazine. The reason for the decline, apparently, is a slump in the Chinese market. The link is well worth clicking on, if only because the story is so bizarre. I've been writing about both business and wine for more than 20 years, and I can barely make sense of it. How anyone makes money trading wine is beyond me — ignoring the fact that the point of great wine drinking it.
? Too much knowledge? Kris Chislett at Blog Your Wine asks a question that I've asked many times here: Why does the wine business do such a lousy job of wine education? "Sure, I can wax poetically with the best of ?em about the meso-climates within this one tiny vineyard parcel within the sub-region of a greater region, which has a sandy loam soil and maritime climate. I just don ?t think that ?s what most people, even the more wine-savvy, can relate to. … I want to help people learn, and I just don ?t think that can be achieved by boring them to death with what for the most part is useless wine trivia." Can't argue with that, can we?
? Recession forcing winery sales? That's the question the Wine Spectator looks at, and the answer is yes, kind of. "It ?s far from a fire sale, but wineries in California are changing hands while others are quietly taking on new partners. The surge of deals follows two years of slow business activity ?the struggling economy meant plenty of wineries were struggling but no one wanted to rise to their financial rescue." Now that the wine business can see an end to the slowdown, the story says, deep-pocket investors — the story cites Fiji Water and Boissett Family Estates — are buying brands that the investors thinks are good values. Also going on, but with much less publicity: Well-known wineries are taking on partners to shore up the books after four years of slow business.
? Oldest Charles Krug bottle: A search for the oldest Charles Krug-Peter Mondavi Winery bottle of wine in existence hasn't found much yet. Krug, which is owned by the Peter Mondavi family, was founded in 1861, and the winery is looking for a really old bottle as part of its 150th birthday celebration. So far, though, no bottle much older than the 1940s has turned up. To complicate matters, there don't appear to be any records existing from before the 1950s, making it harder to track old wine.
? The French failure? NPR ran a story that said underage drinking in France was increasing, despite the country's long history of alcohol use. This is not supposed to happen in countries like France, according to people like me, where drinking is accepted and not taboo, like it is in the U.S. Then, in practically the next sentence, the story explains that the French have recently tightened their drinking laws, as well as setting a new minimum age. Is this how bad journalism has become, that a cranky ex-newspaperman has to lecture a media outlet like NPR on a wine blog? If the French have changed their laws and made drinking more difficult, like here in the U.S., why should we be surprised that binge drinking and underage drinking are going on? And it's a crappy headline, too. Harrumph.
A sampling of what other wine types recommend:
? The Napa Valley Register: The Wine Curmudgeon was stunned by these suggestions — New York riesling from Dr. Frank and Todd Kliman's "The Wild Vine," about as regional as wine gifts get. Several other good ideas, including a mini-vertical or mini-horizontal from your favorite wine or region. The former is the same wine from a couple of different vintages; the latter is the same vintage from a couple of different producers.
? Northwest Wine: The advice focuses on the Pacific Northwest, but the approach makes sense no matter where you live. Chocolate wine, anyone?
? The Guardian: The English newspaper includes a reciple for mulled wine, making it worthwhile just for that. The point here is not whether the suggested wines are available (though some are), but, again, the approach to take. There is good advice on buying pricy gifts, as well as one of my my favorites, buying wine at the local convenience store.
? Blogger payday? Today, says Swedish micropayment startup Flattr, is Pay a Blogger day. The Wine Curmudgeon appreciates the sentiment, even if it is being used to promote Flattr’s services. Think of Flattr as PayPal for small amounts sent to specific people, who are rewarded for the good work — or, in this case, blogging — that they have done. Still, you won’t see a Flattr widget on the site. Groveling for money, though it has its advantages (as one of my oldest and best friends often reminds me), isn’t part of the business plan here. How curmudgeonly could I be if I had to ask readers for money?
? Mostcato sales take off: Like a rocket, actually, says Eileen Fredrikson of Gomberg-Fredrikson, which knows more about this stuff than almost anyone else in the U.S. She predicts that the sweet white wine, along with sweet reds, will lure novice wine drinkers, in much the same white zinfandel did two decades ago. Nielsen numbers through September show that Moscato purchases climbed by 800,000 cases, up 73 percent in 2011. The catch, of course, is that there isn’t a lot of moscato. It accounts for just two percent of U.S. sales, and by the time producers in California and elsewhere plant enough grapes to catch up with demand (which will take three or four years), the boom may well be over. Or, as the Italian Wine Guy so succinctly put it: “The moscato phenomenon is just that — it is white zinfandel in a mini skirt and high leather boots. It will pass. Just like Blue Nun, Thunderbird and Yago Sangria passed.”
? Better wine labels: An English design firm, seeing how badly wine brands sell themselves, has offered to work for free for any producer willing to try something different. The Stranger & Stranger firm will do 30,000 worth of design per month for anyone, it says, that wants to address younger wine drinkers seriously, do something more than pay lip service to eco-friendly wine, and treat consumer with respect instead of an “occasional hazard.” Sounds like the Wine Curmudgeon’s kind of guy, no? And certainly worth following up.
? Stealth wines: Which is what my pal Dave McIntyre calls labels that don ?t have wineries; rather, distributors, stores and importers commission custom blends from negociants. One of the leading practictioners of stealth wines is Cameron Hughes, a broker who buys excess wine from producers and bottles it under his own name. Several visitors have asked why I haven't written about Hughes, since his reason for being is bargain wines. As Dave notes, his wines can often cost pennies on the dollar compared to similar products. I haven't done anything because of the limited availability of Hughes' wines. By the time I wrote something, the wine would likely be sold out. And what's the point of that? Hence, take a look at Dave's piece, which ran in the Washington Post, and which does an excellent job of describing what Hughes does and why it works. And the wine isn't bad, either.
? Take that, state of Texas: Someone is even more annoyed with the state of Texas and the way it has treated its wine marketing and research programs than I am, which means they are pretty annoyed. That is Vintage Texas' Russ Kane, and he spares nothing in a recent post about what happened: "All we have in Texas is a starry-eyed man with foolish aspirations of being president while he casts the fate of his state ?s wine industry to the hot dry Texas wind." There's even video.
? Take that, beer distributors: We haven't had any HR 1161/5034 fun on the blog lately, so how about this? Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight has a suggestion for everyone who is fed up with the distributor lobby and its attempt to tighten direct shipping laws. And everyone, of course, means almost everyone who writes wine blog in the U.S. Perdue suggests that we boycott Big Beer, whose distributors are at the forefront of HR 1161, "because Budweiser, Miller, Coors and the other mega-breweries provide the National Beer Wholesalers Association with the money they need to screw consumers. I ?ve been boycotting Big Beer for a couple of years now because I refuse to feed the machine. I will not allow the profit from my beer purchases to finance their arrogance and totalitarian actions." I'm going to have to check — does beer from Aldi count?