This week’s wine news: The WC’s beloved New York Times screws up a wine and health story, plus the eminent Jancis Robinson laments overpriced wine and wine tax relief
• Even the Times: The Wine Curmudgeon has nothing but respect and admiration for the New York Times, which regularly reminds us what great newspapering can be. But the Times, apparently, has the same weak spot as the rest of the media – wine and health stories. In a story last week about new federal nutrition guidelines, Roni Caryn Rabin writes: “Confined to their homes, even those who have dodged the coronavirus itself are drinking more and gaining weight, a phenomenon often called ‘quarantine 15.’ ” I can’t speak to the weight part, but as we’ve noted on the blog since the pandemic started, Americans are probably drinking less. U.S. alcohol sales, as near as can be told, have declined during the pandemic, which would make it difficult for us to be drinking more. How this unsubstantiated sentence got into the Times – and past its topflight copy desk – is beyond me.
• Too expensive: Jancis Robinson, one of the most respected wine critics in the world, agrees with the Wine Curmudgeon that wine costs too much money. She writes: “I’m not thrilled that prices for the established trophy wines of France, Italy and California have skyrocketed in recent years, putting them out of the reach of most wine drinkers, but I understand why. They are in relatively short supply and there are more and more billionaires in the world who need billionaires’ drinks. … But it does stick in my craw to see four- and even five-digit prices being asked for bottles with hardly any reputation at all.” When Jancis Robinson and I agree – and our wine worlds and perspectives have little in common – then wine really is messed up.
• Tax relief: The wine business did get some good news in 2020. At the end of the year, Congress passed a law extending excise tax cuts that would have expired otherwise. The bill makes permanent a variety of credits and reductions aimed at helping the small producers who make up some 90 percent of the more than 10,000 wineries in the U.S. These days, these producers can use all the help they can get. I’ll do a podcast later this month with Michael Kaiser of the Wine America trade group, who was instrumental in getting the legislation passed.
This week’s wine news: Local wine and the chambourcin grape get a video shout out from the Winestream Media. Plus, tips about sounding less snotty when you write and wine taxes in Ireland – which aren’t pretty.
• Bring on the chambourcin: Madeline Puckette at Wine Folly offers a refreshing perspective on hybird grapes like chambourcin, complete with video: “So, instead of poo-pooing that so-called ‘foxy’ bottle of Marquette or Chambourcin, maybe give it a whirl. It might actually be good!” The point, of course, is not whether the grapes are good or bad, according to some critic’s perspective, but whether the winemaker can turn the grapes into a quality bottle of wine. Which, as I have tasted many times over the years, can be done. And it’s worth noting that I’ve had crummy bottles of wine made with so-called real grapes like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
• Better wine writing: One of the Wine Curmudgeon’s crusades over the blog’s history is making wine writing easier to understand – less winespeak and more English, if nothing else. This post from Lifehacker’s Meghan Moravcik Walbert isn’t about wine writing specifically, but her suggestions apply: “[F]ancy words that make you sound like an ass are all around you. And it’s time you know so you can stop using them.” Written as only a cranky ex-newspaper employee would write, and oh so true. Her list of banned words includes “curate,” which makes me cringe, and “synergy,” which she reminds us “isn’t a real thing.”
• Very high taxes: The Irish pay some of the highest taxes on wine in the world – 54 percent of a standard €9 bottle of wine is tax. That works out to about US$3.50 a bottle on a $6 bottle of wine, a staggering sum – and one the neo-Prohibitionists would no doubt gladly agree to. Interestingly, despite the tax burden, the Irish drink about twice as much per capita as we do in the states. And our tax burden is just one-quarter to one-third of the Irish, depending on where you live,
This week’s wine news: Total Wine takes on wine delivery, plus an IHOP that sells wine and the British government sticks it to wine drinkers
• Home delivery: Total Wine, the chain that wants to become the first national wine retailer, will offer same-day and scheduled delivery in select markets. Currently, the chain only does this kind of delivery in 13 cities in Virginia. The news release, written mostly in tech-speak, is difficult to understand, but the implication is that Total will roll out delivery where it’s legal as soon as it can. What makes this different from the recent rush of retailers announcing delivery? That Total isn’t doing delivery through a third-party service like Drizly or Instacart, but will apparently provide the service itself. That’s a tremendous undertaking in this era of outsourcing, but also speaks to Total’s close to the vest approach toward retailing.
• Wine with your Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity? A Phoenix IHOP has added a full-service bar, serving beer, wine, and cocktails. So yes, IHOP mimosas with your pancakes. The chain normally doesn’t let its franchisees do this sort of thing, but the IHOP is in a former Lone Star Steakhouse, and the bar was already in the restaurant. So why not take advantage of the situation?
• Raising wine taxes: The British government, trying to balance the budget while it leaves the European Union, has found one solution: Raise the import duty on wine. The Financial Times reports that the new rate will increase the cost of a bottle of wine by 7 pence (about a dime in U.S. dollars). What makes this story so odd is that the government isn’t raising the duty on beer or spirits, even though wine is now the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United Kingdom and it’s the sixth biggest wine market in the world.
? Wine over the phone: Never thought you would see the words wine and telemarketing in the same sentence, did you? But several California companies are making the concept work, reports the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa. VinoPRO handles phone sales for 50 wineries, including Jackson Family Wines, Constellation Brands and Treasury Wine Estates, and totaled in $8 million in sales in 2012. Growth over the past three years? 1,800 percent. An official from another wine telemarketer reports that he's always surprised that customers will stop what they're doing to talk to someone from a winery. Was never like that when they called at dinner to sell long distance, was it?
? Academics take on tasting notes: Spanish researchers are collecting a data ? some 12 000 tasting notes from places like the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Decanter. The words used will be compiled in a database so we can tell how they ?re used, reports Jamie Goode of the Wine Anorak blog (whose notes will also be included. It ?s not so much that this isn ?t a good idea, but that I ?m not sure what it will accomplish. Do we really need to know how many times leathery is used for a red wine? Or toasty and oaky for white? The answer, without a need for research, is too many.
? British booze taxes: The man who runs one of Britain ?s biggest retailers says the government, in its curb to cut binge drinking through taxes and sales restrictions, will destroy the country ?s wine business. Wine, he says, will become a luxury available only to the rich: ?Having established this culture of food and wine, you know, which is a sea change from where we were 30 years ago, why would we want to stop that I have been following this debate for the past several years for a couple of reasons, one of which is that the English always seemed so sensible about drinking compared to us. The other is that just when I think the three-tier system is bad, I see another example that is almost makes it seem sensible.