Tag Archives: wine rants

Wine trends 2021

wine trends 2021
Will I be able to buy wine over the Internet after 2021 — but not in January, of course?

Look for Dry January, “healthy” wine, the pandemic, and legal maneuvers to mark wine trends 2021

This is the second of two parts looking at wine prices and wine trends in 2021. Today, Part II: Wine trends 2021. Part I: Wine prices 2021.

Anyone in the wine business who says Dry January doesn’t matter must also believe the Trump wine tariff is good for business, young people are flocking to buy $100 wine, and I think scores are the future of wine criticism.

But there it is, as we look at wine trends 2021: Any number of experts who say Dry January and the neo-Prohibitionists don’t matter. Or, as one magazine editor asked me, “What’s Dry January? Why is that in your story?”

I should have pointed him to this story. Or this one. Or this one.

In fact, I spent much of the past couple of years writing trade magazine stories about the growth in no-alcohol, low-alcohol, and “healthy” wines. And I wasn’t talking to one-off startups, but executives at some of the biggest wine companies in the world. So any discussion of wine trends 2021 must start with Dry January and that it’s OK to say you don’t drink – cool, even.

What we don’t know is exactly how Dry January will change the wine world. But it will change wine in 2021, as will these:

• “Healthy” wine. If you haven’t heard of FitVine yet, you will. It markets itself as “less sugar, fewer sulfites, and no flavor additives for a cleaner wine” – all for $15. And it’s not alone. There are products like The Wine Group’s Cupcake Light Hearted; Trinchero’s Mind & Body; and Constellation’s Kim Crawford Illuminate, which promise fewer calories, less sugar, less alcohol, and say they are gluten free and vegan. The idea is to sell wine to younger consumers who supposedly prefer a healthier lifestyle and who may not be drinking wine now. One estimate: this market will grow 34 percent over the next four years.

• Shortages and supply chain problems will continue. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more we’ll see retailers and wholesalers have a difficult time keeping popular wines on shelves. It doesn’t mean the wines will disappear; rather, they’ll be there, sell out, and not return for a week or more.

• Wine tourism on the brink. If the vaccines do their job, and if life returns to normal by the fall, then all should start to improve. But if we go through another year of travel and public place restrictions, then questions must emerge about the future of wine tourism. The 90 percent of U.S. wineries that don’t make 90 percent of the wine survive on wine tourism. How will they survive if there isn’t any?

• Three-tier reform, but slowly and incrementally. That’s because the Supreme Court won’t hear a key three-tier case, so no Internet wine sales anytime soon. Still, we will see alcohol delivery continue to expand, thanks to the pandemic. In Texas, the legislature is expected to make cocktails-to-go permanent this year, a development that is so unprecedented as to be almost indescribable. And Illinois is set to legalize retail booze delivery throughout the state, also difficult to believe.

• The Trump tariff, and how soon we can get rid of it. Change here requires compromise, good will, and good faith from the U.S. and the European Union. Sadly, all have been in short supply.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite posts of 2020

favorite posts 2020
“I guess we’re gong to have to start giving scores, Churro.. All of the funny blog posts we wrote in 2020 fell flat.”

These seven posts weren’t necessarily the best read, but they were among my favorite posts of 2020

Welcome to the Wine Curmudgeon’s sixth annual year-end top 10 list, which is not about the most read posts. Or necessarily has 10 items. Anyone can do that. Here, where being contrary matters. we honor the best posts I wrote in 2020 that not enough people read.

Why not a best read list? Because Google takes care of that, as we see every year with Barefoot’s blog dominance. Rather, these are the posts that I enjoyed writing, thought were important to write, or both.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite posts of 2020:

• I wrote three wine video parodies this year, and none did as well as they should. Spock drinking rose isn’t funny? Robin Hood kicking down the Trump wine tariff isn’t funny? Bruce Lee kung-fuing snotty wine judges isn’t funny? The parody posts never do well; I’m beginning to think the blog’s readers take wine much too seriously.

• Even though my podcast with restaurant wine guru Cara Klein at the start of the pandemic didn’t get big numbers, it could have helped make her an Internet wine star. After Cara’s appearance here, she showed up on a variety of other wine blogs throughout the year. As she much deserved — old white guys aren’t the only people who know about wine.

• In the mid-1970s, legendary wine professor Maynard Amerine warned us that price was no guarantee of wine quality. And no one read this post on this blog?

• The WC apparently doesn’t understand about turning a post viral. What’s not to like about good witches battling bad witches to save the soul of wine? Or do you want just want scores?

• I do know why the series of posts about Churro, the blog’s new associate editor, didn’t do well. A dog writing a wine blog, even as a joke? That’s awfully goofy. But it should have been done boffo business. Think about all the things it says about the wine business and wine writing.

More on the WC’s favorite posts:
Favorite posts of 2019
Favorite posts of 2018
Favorite posts of 2017

Binge drinking during the pandemic — or not

binge drinking
“Forgive me, mom. I didn’t know wine with dinner would turn me into a binge drinker.”

One study says one out of three Americans are binge drinking during the pandemic; another says worldwide booze consumption will fall 8 percent this year

The Wine Curmudgeon has been trying to avoid writing wine and health posts on the blog for almost as long as the blog has been around. But then something happens, and I am forced to take keyboard in hand again.

This week, a Texas study claimed one in three of us are binge drinking during the pandemic. Meanwhile, a leading alcohol market consultancy says global booze consumption will fall eight percent this year, and “beverage alcohol volume consumption during the pandemic was down across almost all markets.” The U.S. and Canada were the exceptions – up a gigantic two points.

Sigh. Am I the only one who notices these contradictions?

Apparently not, given how much of this we’ve seen over the past couple of years, and especially during the pandemic. In this, the Mainstream Media will leap on the binge study to report we’re all passed out in front of our loved ones, reduced to a combination of drool and spittle.

So, once again, I will perform my journalistic duty and point out why the binge study can claim what it claims – and why these sorts of health studies are notoriously unreliable.

• The binge study lumps all alcohol together, which strikes me as problematic. Is binge drinking spirits worse than binge drinking wine? Does one binge one type of alcohol more than the other? Where does beer fit in? Or hard seltzer? Do we need a study to answer these questions? (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

• The definition of binge drinking is full of holes – “four alcoholic beverages per occasion.” As noted here before, that makes anyone who drinks wine with dinner a binge drinker. Even the study’s authors acknowledge this problem, writing that the study didn’t take into account the time frame for drinking – four drinks in 20 minutes vs. four drinks in four hours. Which makes me ask: So what use is the study?

• The study acknowledges that many Americans don’t drink, then ignores that to come up with the one-third number. Hence, one-third is probably a lot less if we take non-drinkers into account. Which makes me ask again: So what use is the study?

• Serious sampling errors. The authors write that the study is skewed toward rich, white people, which might mean its “alcohol consumption is overestimated compared to the general population.” Which makes me ask a third time: So what use is the study?

Please, someone, stop these health researchers before they study again.

Photo courtesy of TheJournal.ie, using a Creative Commons license

This California winemaker is impressed with nutrition fact boxes

nutrition fact boxes
Just 100 calories — take that, light beer.

Not everyone in the wine business thinks nutrition fact boxes are the spawn of the devil

Anthony Riboli didn’t necessarily want a nutrition facts box on his peach flavored fizzy wine. But U.S. and Italian wine regulations required it – and you know what? The facts box isn’t so bad.

“I wish I could say I had a choice in the matter, but now there are obvious benefits,” says Riboili, the fourth-generation winemaker for his family’s San Antonio Winery and its four brands. “Are wine connoisseurs going to care? Probably not. But it will it open us up to drinkers who may not identify themselves as wine drinkers? I can see that.”

The wine in question is the Stella Rosa Golden Honey Peach, a fizzy Italian moscato flavored with peach that has 100 calories, no added fruit juice and no sodium. How do I know this? It’s on the back label. (Click on the label to make the picture bigger.)

The wine snobs reading this probably stopped after the last sentence. It’s bad enough he’s writing about nutrition facts again, they’re thinking, but a peach-flavored moscato? That’s not even real wine. Cancel my subscription!

Which is their loss. As has been argued here for years, the future of the wine business has a nutrition facts box in it, even if no one in the wine business wants to admit it. If Smoothie King wants ingredient transparency, why not wine?

Yes, there will be short-term difficulties, particularly for smaller producers. But the long-term benefits will be more than worth it. Consider just one: A light beer has about 100 calories, while a normal glass of wine has 125. In other words, not all that much difference, and wine tastes better. But how is anyone going to know unless they can check a nutrition facts box?

In fact, Riboli told me that the peach wine nutrition facts box has worked so well that he’d consider adding one to San Antonio’s traditional wines, assuming any potential legal issues could be resolved about how the information could be used.

One other note: The wine was damned good – well-made, peachy, not too sweet, and fresh and sparkly. I’ve tasted much worse from serious winemakers chasing 92 points, but who don’t want to use a nutrition facts box.

More about nutrition and ingredient labels:

Clean wine: Has the Winestream Media finally figured out why we need nutrition and ingredient labels?
Nutrition labels for booze
Bud Light debuts new and improved ingredient labels

Birthday Week essay 2020: Wine as expensive shiny baubles instead of something to savor and enjoy

cheap wine
“Ha! Just try and keep me from writing about cheap wine.”

How did we end up in a Peloton wine universe, when all we want is something to drink with dinner?

How does one keep cheap wine in perspective, given this year of living depressingly – the pandemic, the Trump wine tariff, the presidential election, the sommelier sex scandal? In fact, why even bother? Why not just load up on Winking Owl at Aldi, get hammered, and leave it at that?

And who would blame us if we did? Has cheap wine ever been worse off in the blog’s 13-year history? Yes, I know I seem to write that in each of the blog’s annual Birthday Week essays, and I am writing it again for the blog’s 13th birthday. But that’s because, sadly, it always seems to be true.

We’ve been dumped into some sort of bizarre Peloton wine universe, where everything is sold to us as an expensive, shiny bauble – even when it is neither expensive, shiny, nor a bauble. And, most infuriatingly, even if we don’t need it. I got a $17 sample this fall, and the tasting notes were past snotty (let alone indecipherable): “Polished fore palate with ample fine grain tannins on a generous mid palate.”

We want quality and value, and the wine business gives us $15 supermarket plonk because surveys say that’s the hot price point. The cost of the wine in that $17 sample, allowing for some crude math, was probably less than $4; does that mean the tasting notes cost more than grapes? We aren’t customers anymore, but lines on a spreadsheet, metrics to be parsed, trends to be analyzed, and preferences to be focus grouped.

How did we get to this point?

It starts with the state of the world, and is not exclusive to wine. It’s what one observer has called late-period capitalism, which is based on “taking beloved institutions and destroying everything that made them great so that a few billionaires can get even richer.”

Wine’s contribution is consolidation. Today, most of the world’s wine production is in the hands of maybe a couple of hundred companies, and the U.S. business is even more top-heavy. The top five producers account for about three-quarters of U.S. sales, even though there are some 10,000 wineries, while the two biggest distributors control half the wholesale business.

The result? An almost surreal wine market:

• Cheap wine that tastes cheap — poorly made, stemmy, and bitter, and produced for no other reason than to cost $3 or $4 a bottle.

• $15 wine made for a mass audience — sold in supermarkets and the biggest retailers, slightly sweet and “smooooth,” and where more money may be spent on label copy than on the grapes.

• Expensive wine that exists for no reason other than that it’s expensive, and which commands the fawning supplication of the Winestream Media.

The idea that wine should taste like wine, and that it is something that most of us can afford to drink with dinner – which was the idea of wine for much of the past 200 years – is a quaint, old-fashioned notion. Which only cranks like me still believe – because, of course, late-period capitalism.

So is it time for the Winking Owl?

Hardly. Wine is a pleasure, something to be enjoyed, and something that makes life more enjoyable. A glass of wine after a day of good writing is something to be savored and appreciated, not scored and cataloged and trophy-ized. Why should I let people whose idea of success is as offensive as it is self-defeating spoil it for me?

Yes, cheap wine is in a bad place – we’ve lost much quality cheap wine over the past couple of years thanks to producer and distributor consolidation, and consolidation has wreaked havoc with availability. And it’s not like availability was easy even in the good old days.

But there is still great cheap wine out there, it’s still worth looking for, and I’m going to keep looking for it. Call it the cheap wine version of grace under pressure – if something is worth doing, then we should do it, even when it may not be easy. No, finding great cheap wine won’t solve the world’s problems, but it may help us endure until we can figure out a way to solve them. That’s a fine job in and of itself, and one I am happy to do –because we must solve them.

More Birthday Week perspective on the wine business:
How do you write about quality cheap wine when the system is rigged against it?
Have we reached the end of wine criticism?
• 10 years writing about cheap wine on the Internet

Expensive wine pricing and snobbery have been institutionalized, legitimized, and even admired

expensive wineCan’t afford to buy one of the world’s great wines? Then lump it

This is the second of two parts looking at the conundrum that is wine pricing today – we’re awash in cheap, often crummy wine, while the prices of the world’s great wines are at all-time highs. Today, part II: How we got to the point where no one but the ultra-rich can afford the world’s great wines. Part I: The grape glut, and what it means for consumers.

The problem with expensive wine prices is not that they are expensive or that wine snobs are eager and willing to pay them. We’ve always had both. Rather, it’s that never before in the history of wine has pricing and snobbery been institutionalized, legitimized, and even admired. We’re at a point where people buy the world’s great wines not to drink them, but to keep them in a vault and watch them appreciate in value, using their acquisitions to prove their superiority to the rest of us.

How screwed up is that?

But that’s where we are, and it’s the reason why the world’s great wines cost thousands of dollars a bottle. Consider: I can pay for a place to live for a month, or I can buy a  2016 Harlan Estate cabernet sauvignon for $1,450 at a Dallas retailer. By one estimate, prices of the finest wines have increased eight-fold since the early 1990s, even after inflation.

On the other hand, the price of decent everyday wine, despite premiumization and inflation, is probably about where it was when I started the blog in 2007. I could buy Domaine Tariquet for $10 then, and it’s more or less $10 today.

So how did we get to this point?

Much of it has to do with the seismic shift in U.S. wealth distribution over the past 40 years, where we’re approaching disparities not seen since the Depression. More millionaires mean more people with more money to spend, so why not spend it on wine? Isn’t that what rich people do? Or, as Sports Illustrated’s Jonathan Wilson has called it, the greed of late-period capitalism.

Besides, as one California winemaker told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Esther Mobley: “I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that wine has always been a luxury commodity. Unfortunately, it’s a beverage of privilege.”

And what better way to leverage that privilege than with Liv-Ex, the stock market for wine? Buy a bottle, put it away, and watch it appreciate in value. Who cares if it spoils or goes off? The point is not to drink it, but to use it to amass even more wealth. And, since the supply of fine wine is limited, the more it’s in demand, the higher the price will go. And, as Eric Asimov pointed out in last week’s New York Times, demand is increasing thanks to all that wealth.

How sad is that? Great wine reduced to a share of stock.

The irony, of course, is that legitimate stock markets serve an economic purpose, to help companies raise capital. Amassing wealth is a benefit, and not a stock market’s reason for being (as it is with Liv-Ex). The other irony? Liv-Ex is a lousy way to amass wealth. Its Fine Wine 50 index has increased 26 percent in five years, or about what an ex-sportswriter who writes about wine could do with a mediocre mutual fund. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, on the other hand, has increased about twice that much.

Long-term effects

So why does this matter to the rest of us? Shouldn’t we happy with our Tariquet and leave it at that? Let the snobs waste their money. And don’t we have more important things to worry about, like the increasing disparity of wealth?

Yes, obscenely expensive wine prices are a result of the disparity, not a cause. But know two things: First, that these prices work their way down to the bottom, so every $1,000 bottle of Harlan ends up raising all prices. The Mulderbosch rose, a pleasant enough wine, now has a suggested retail price of $17 for no good reason at all, save rising prices elsewhere. In fact, that’s the sham of premiumization — we’re paying more money for the same  quality wine and not a better bottle.

Second, and more important, can you imagine a world where only the most wealthy are allowed to look at great art and to read great books? You’re not rich enough for Picasso or Rembrandt or Shakespeare or Jane Austen, so lump it.

That’s not a world I want to live in. Do you?

Photo: “Wine Auction” by alans1948 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wine history lesson 2: Maynard Amerine on quality, price, and value

maynard amerineLegendary UC-Davis professor Maynard Amerine told us 45 years ago that price was no guarantee of quality or value

One of the most intriguing things about U.S. wine history is how it repeats itself. Time after time, smart people warn the wine business about what will happen if it doesn’t pay attention to its customers. And, time after time, the wine business ignores the warnings – much to its detriment.

Today’s wine history lesson comes from legendary University of California-Davis professor Maynard A. Amerine, with wisdom from his 1976 book (written with UC-Davis math colleague Edward B. Roessler), “WINES: Their Sensory Evaluation.” It was perhaps the most important wine book of its time.

What made it so important? I asked Randy Caparoso, a long-time wine critic and restaurateur, who wrote about Amerine on the Lodi wine appellation blog. What struck me about his Amerine post was that the UC-Davis professor echoed the analysis of pioneering wine writers Leon Adams and Frank Schoonmaker, who earned their own blog post about a year ago.

“I think people like Amerine, Adams and Schoonmaker could clearly see the writing on the wall,” says Caparoso. “That’s because, even in the ‘50s and ‘60s, they personally knew many a well-heeled wine collector or connoisseur. Same for me during my career as a wine professional, which started in ’78. These kinds of people were already driving up prices with their mania for ‘great’ wines. This was the essence of Amerine’s quote, ‘Drink wine, not labels.’ … But what was true 50, 60 years ago was bound to get even worse in the 21st century, and it has.”

In other words, Amerine – like Adams and Schoonmaker – predicted the mess we find ourselves in: Too much ordinary wine, too much overpriced wine, and a wine industry that doesn’t understand that it has lost its audience because it has focused on either ordinary or overpriced wine.

Enjoying wine –without the fuss

Hence, three of Amerine’s eight guidelines for enjoying wine:

• You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy wine. It’s “nonsense… The expert may know why he enjoys a certain wine but he would be presumptuous to claim that he enjoys it more than the amateur. The latter may, in fact, enjoy a certain wine more fully than the expert precisely because he doe not have the knowledge and experience to make all the possible comparisons among wine.”

• Small wineries are not better just because they are small. “Some of the worst wines we ever suffered came from small, picturesque wineries. We hasten to add that some of the best also came from small wineries. It is the standards of the producer, and a fair amount of luck, that determines the quality of the wines produced, not the size of the winery.”

• Expensive wines are not necessarily better than cheap wines. “Some are, many are not. Price depends on many factors that are not necessarily related to quality. Those who buy wines on a price-basis deserve what they get. … But it is the quality of the wine, not the price, that is important. Some famous vineyards, secure in the knowledge that they have an established market, often charge whatever the market will bear. This means that the wines are sometimes not worth the higher price if quality alone is the criterion for selection.”

Photo courtesy of the UC-Davis Library, using a Creative Commons license