? Is the moscato craze over? The Wine Curmudgeon wonders, because plans have been announced for a $15 moscato called SIP, from the same people who do Layer Cake. Given that moscato ?s popularity is based on the fact that it ?s cheap and sweet, that someone thinks there is a market for a pricey moscato that is not quite as sweet means the wise guys are starting to look at the moscato market. And when the wise guys start to look at something, it ?s time for the rest of us to look elsewhere.
? Copycat bottles? Yes, another wine business intellectual property dispute. This time, reports thedrinksbusiness.com, one Champagne maker is threatening to sue another because the latter ?s bottle shape is too similar to the former ?s. Apparently, there is more than just the way the bottle looks ? this particular shape affects how the wine ages or tastes or something. I ?m not quite clear on that. Still, aren ?t you glad I follow this stuff, so you don ?t have to?
? ?Get over it! ? Or so says the Wine Spectator ?s Matt Kramer, who is apparently tired of hearing people complain about various parts of the wine business, including wine prices. ?Now, you or I may not like it. Hell, we most certainly do not like it. But what we like or don't like is pretty much beside the point. The juggernaut will keep rolling. ? Ah, bliss ? is it any wonder I so enjoy the Spectator?
? Jonathan Swift? Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist, citing the precedent set by Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift 283 years ago, suggests ?Instead of asking critics to score the wines on a quality scale, let ?s ask them how much they are worth! How much should someone be willing to pay for this wine Which the Wine Curmudgeon wholeheartedly agrees with, and has been part of the blog since its inception. Imagine the fun: Suggested retail price, $15. What it ?s worth price: $5. That would get everyone ?s attention, no? Besides, who wouldn ?t want to be in the company of Swift, who wrote ?Gulliver ?s Travel ?s ? and fought the good fight against the 18th-century British bosses and elite?
? What should wine cost? Eric Asimov at the New York Times says $20, for at that price it ?s possible to find something where ?the odds swing decidedly in your favor. With a little experience, you can find dozens of joyous bottles, plucked carefully from the ranks of the routine. ? He lists 20, mostly very nice bottles. though availability outside of Manhattan may be a problem. What intrigued me the most, though, was Asimov ?s discussion of price, which is something he doesn ?t do much. He acknowledges that $20 may be a lot of money for some of us, and that there are perfectly acceptable bottles of $10 wine for sale. When Eric Asimov says things like that, the wine world has most definitely changed.
? Oops: The Wine Blogging Awards, which recently announced its finalists, made a mistake in the Best New Blog category, where one of the finalists wasn ?t supposed to be one of the finalists. Something about a math error. It ?s pretty much a mess, and involves separate voting in that category. I suppose I could write something snarky here, like a wine blogger should, but I like to think I ?m better than that. Besides, the awards have enough problems of their own.
Who knew what fun we’d have after my trio of posts about the direction for wine prices in 2012? Since then, the cyber-ether — as well as the traditional media — has been hipping and hopping about what will happen to prices. Even Time magazine got into the act (for what that’s worth), with a story that took price-mongering to new heights: “Panic! Wine Prices Due to Rise.”
This story closely followed a report by Silicon Valley Bank detailing what their experts see as a possibly severe supply-driven shortage for California grapes. Or, to translate for the non-expert, there won’t be enough grapes for all of California’s wineries, so grape prices will go up, which will force wine prices up as well.
Yet there is an equally persuasive argument being made that just the opposite might be going on. Britain’s the drinks business trade magazine quoted quite a few experts who said reports of a supply shortage were overstated, and that what was going on in California was nothing more than the ebb and flow of grape growing.
There’s also the perspective offered by economist Mike Veseth, who wrote that the wine business has changed so much in the last decade that the rules that applied during the last shortage 10 years ago won’t necessarily apply this time around. In particular, he wrote, consumer behavior has changed, and that will exert pressure on prices in a way they didn’t influence prices before.
Finally, no one knows how the on-going European economic crisis will affect U.S. wine prices. Wine sales in Spain and Italy are seriously off, according to winery types I’ve spoken to in each country. If they (along with France, which is near recession) start dumping wine on the U.S. market to make up for their domestic slump, we’ll be flooded with cheap European imports. Veseth touches on this briefly, and even the Silicon Valley Bank report noted that consumers would be able to buy less expensive European wine if they didn’t want to pay the new, higher California prices.
My guess is that California wineries will try to take price increases this year, and that consumers will buy something else when they do. In addition, there is some question whether retailers will pass on any price increases, given the increasingly cut-throat competition on the retail side, where Costco and Walmart set pricing patterns that smaller retailers often match.
What happens after that will bring us to 2013, and then it will be time for more price-related blog posts.
? FTC will investigate alcohol ads: The rise of social media has had an unintended consequence — exposing underage consumers to wine, beer and spirits ads that they might not have seen before. After all, how many 12-year-olds read the Wine Spectator? Hence the news that the Federal Trade Commission is requiring the major alcoholic beverage advertisers to detail their use of digital marketing and data collection practices. Adweek reports that in 2008, these companies spent just 2 percent of their marketing buget on new media, but that regulators expect that that figure has increased significantly over the past several years. In fact, says the story, the biggest booze producers have found social media to be quite effective at reaching younger consumers, and telling the difference between young and too young in the cyber-ether is quite difficult.
? Did top critic take cash? That's what a Montreal newspaper, La Presse, is reporting. The French-language newspaper says former Wine Spectator critic James Suckling was paid C$24,000 (about US$24,200) by the Quebec liquor authority, which runs the province's wine stores, and the hint is that it was for favorable reviews. This is the latest in a series of pay for play scandals among the Winestream Media that included Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. The Wine Curmudgeon is shocked, shocked, to learn that gambling is going on.
? Decanter readers don't want cheap wine: Decanter, the English wine magazine, has been accused of "unashamed elitism" in a letter from a reader. So it ran a poll asking if it should review cheaper wines. The answer? Not really. Only 27 percent of respondents said the magazine should review more wines costing less than 10 (about US$16), while the rest said either the current policy was OK or that maybe wines for less than 15 (about $US24) would be acceptable. This is yet another example of why there will always be an England.
? Alabama wineries urge boycott: Not as much good news in Alabama, where a state legislative committee killed a bill that would have allowed the state's 14 wineries to distribute their wine without a distributor. The bill was apparently tabled at the behest of the state's beer distributors, who were terrified that any change in the three-tier system would cost them money. Like they don't already make enough. The wineries' response? A boycott of the state's national beer brands, including Budweiser, Miller and Coors, to protest the decision. They have the Wine Curmudgeon's support.
? Pricier California wine? Silicon Valley Bank, which is supposed to know about these things, predicts that U.S. consumers will have to pay more for domestic wine, settle for lower quality, or buy cheaper imports. Its annual report on the wine business says there is a serious shortage of California grapes, which will last for a while and kick prices higher.
CNBC, the cable network, is running a documentary later this week about what it calls “The Costco Craze: Inside the Warehouse Giant.” Part of this is a very quick look at the role Costco plays in the wine business as the largest importer of high-end French wine in the U.S. and as perhaps the largest wine retailer in the world.
The clip, which is after the jump, is revealing if only for the interview with Annette Alvarez-Peters, who oversees Costco’s wine buying — and rarely gives interviews. It’s not long, only a couple of minutes, but worthwhile for Alvarez-Peters’ reaction when reporter Carl Quintanilla asks her if she is the most powerful person in the wine world. Continue reading →
? Whither organic wine? Dave Falchek looks at organic wine, and offers new perspective on something that has raditionally been much less important in wine than elsewhere. "Once the vinous equivalent of an unkempt grunger, these wines now have more polish. There has never been a larger array of eco-sensitive wines." He also offers an interesting take on the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic wine.
? Looking for a tax shelter? Think wine — or so suggests this website, run by a group called Premier Cru, "Europe's leading fine wine investment house." There is even a chart comparing an investment in wine to the leading stock exchange indexes since 2005, and guess what? Wine has done better. This assumes, of course, that you don't drink the wine you buy, which opens up so many metaphysical questions that it makes the Wine Curmudgeon's head hurt.
? The Greek wine crisis: The country's wine business has collapsed, along with the rest of the Greek economy. Wine is being sold below cost, and consumers are shifting to less expensive bulk wines. Why does this matter to Americans? Because the European financial crisis has softened demand for wine throughout the continent, lowering prices. And lower prices in Europe could well affect wine prices here, as Greek, Spanish and Italian producers look to dump in the U.S. that they can't sell at home.