Panic wine buying, as the Wine Curmudgeon stocks up before a possible 100 percent European wine tariff.
The Wine Curmudgeon, faced with the prospect of a 100 percent European wine tariff, does some panic wine buying
The picture pretty much says it all. I spent an hour or so last week at Dallas’ biggest wine retailer, stocking up in case worse comes to worst. The result? 28 bottles of wine for $290. It’s good to know that the Wine Curmudgeon hasn’t lost his touch in the face of an international crisis of epic proportions.
A few thoughts after my panic wine buying:
• Lots of gaps on the shelves. Lots. I bought the last two bottles of the Chateau Bonnet white, and there wasn’t any Chateau Bonnet red or new Hall of Fame member Azul y Garanza, the $11, 1-liter Spanish tempranillo. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has panicked.
• Lots of cheap wine I haven’t seen before. It looked like the retailer had done some buying, too, stocking up on inexpensive European wine before the 25 percent tariff raised its prices. I bought some of these new wines, and will report back as the situation warrants.
• I even bought California wines. This included the always dependable McManis as well as the Shannon Wrangler red blend, which was the wine of the week 4 ½ years ago. Oddly enough, the wine cost $2 less this time.
Just six wines entered the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame, and it’s probably going to get worse
Remember how distraught I was about last year’s $10 Hall of Fame? I’m even more distraught this year; compiling the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame was an exercise in misery — and that’s even before I started worrying about tariff-induced price increases.
Just six wines entered the Hall, five dropped out, and none of the new wines were roses or from California. My notes contained so few “HoF 2020” notations that I went through almost all the wines I drank last year, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
How did we get to this point? Premiumization, of course, as well as the dumbing down of what’s left of wine costing less than $15. Big Wine, Big Retail, and all the rest are convinced that if they make wine taste less wine-like by adding sweetness, fake oak flavors, and purple grape juice concentrate, they’ll convince people who don’t drink wine to drink it. Which, as White Claw demonstrated, doesn’t really work.
Availability, always a problem, got worse last year thanks to wholesaler consolidation. There are too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they prefer Big Wine products. Since most of the most interesting cheap wines are from smaller, niche producers, they can’t find a distributor (or suffer a small one with little clout) and disappear from shelves.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s proposed 100 percent tariff would double the price of European wine, which means there would be almost no $10 wine worth drinking or writing about. If that happens, the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame might well be the last one.
Some good news
The six wines that entered the Hall are top-notch, as good as anything I’ve tasted in 20-some years of wine drinking. That includes the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year, Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay; the return of the Gascon classic, Domaine Tariquet; the stunning Portuguese red and white Herdade do Esporão Alandra; the 1-liter Azul y Garanza tempranillo; and the French white blend, Little James Basket Press.
The complete 2020 $10 Wine Hall of Fame 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 $13 or $14 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 printer icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.
• Premiumization will continue until it doesn’t. This approach is scarily similar to what happened to the newspaper business. In the late 1980s, many industry leaders knew that the days of throwing papers from cars at 6 a.m. were numbered. I was even told that in a meeting. But no one did anything about it, because newspapers were still obscenely profitable and the industry had so much money tied up in printing presses. The smart people in the wine business know premiumization is on its last legs, but they don’t have another plan and they’re still making money, so it’s easier not to worry about what’s next.
• More wine-like products – bourbon barrel wine, fruit-flavored wine, and the like. Because, of course, White Claw. The irony is that producers see White Claw-like products as their chance to attract younger wine drinkers, when White Claw’s success is about its cost and low alcohol. Which, of course, has nothing to do with wine. It’s also worth noting that White Claw and its ilk are hurting beer more than wine, and that not just younger people drink it.
• Neo-Prohibitionism becomes an accepted part of American life. In other words, this will be the year when we find out Dry January isn’t just a story in a woman’s magazine. The evidence has been there for a long time, not that anyone in the wine business paid much attention. But when designated drivers, mocktails, and all the rest are as common as smoking and drunk driving were when I was a teenager, then the world has changed significantly. And the wine business better figure that out, sooner rather than later.
• The tariff. Or tariffs, as the case may be, since the threat of a more inclusive 100 percent levy is hanging over our heads. I’ll go into more detail in Monday’s 2020 wine prices post. But know that as bad as the 25 percent tariff will be, the 100 percent tariff could destroy the European wine business and wreak havoc in the U.S. And, as I have noted many times before, spite is not a good enough reason to do either.
• More three-tier excitement. That’s because 2019 saw a couple of significant legal decisions, and 2020 promises even more. My best guess, after talking to attorneys who deal with this stuff, is that there is momentum for change in the way beer, wine, and spirits are sold in the U.S. So there’s a chance that Internet sales could eventually become legal. And there’s also a chance (though much smaller) that some states may eventually make it possible for wines to be sold at retail without a wholesaler. This would vastly increase choice. Having said that, those things won’t happen immediately, and what we could see in 2020 are more legal decisions that continue to chip away at three-tier.
Can’t talk about wine trends 2020 without talking about the European wine tariff.
The WC talks about wine trends in 2020 with Nick Vorpagel of Lake Geneva Country Meats, the blog’s favorite wine store and meat market
Nick Vorpagel of Lake Geneva Country Meats, a long time friend of the blog, asks me about wine trends 2020 as part of the store’s podcast series. We talk about prices, premiumization, great cheap wine to drink, and even the tariff — and have a good time despite that topic.
Click here to go to the Lake Geneva site to listen to the podcast.
Jay Bileti talks about the American Wine Society’s program to help its members Drink Local
The American Wine Society is one of the largest consumer wine groups in the country, so that it’s helping its members discover regional wine is one more victory for Drink Local. The AWS’ Jay Biletti, a long-time advocate for regional wine, discusses the chapter sharing program and how it works. And you don’t even have to belong to the group to participate.
We’re buying big and red and pricey for holiday wine trends 2019
The wine we’re buying for the holidays this years seems to have little in common with what we bought in 2018. Call it the holiday wine trends 2019 conundrum.
The retailers I talked to three parts of the country said we’re buying big and red and pricey. A Boston retailer reports that his customers are also much less adventurous, opting for the tried and true – and even bourbon and rye whiskey – instead of taking a chance on high priced wine they may not know much about.
Who would have expected that after a year like 2019 and especially after we were apparently looking for different and less expensive in 2018?
“I’m actually kind of surprised that we’re selling so much expensive wine,” says Dan Fredman, who oversees the upscale Biagio Wine & Spirits in Dallas’ Victory Park neighborhood. He is selling lots and lots of Napa Valley caberent sauvignon, as well as Champagne and sparkling wine costing as much as $150.
That’s also the case for the wine shop at Lake Geneva Country Meats, a small grocer in a tourist region in southern Wisconsin. Nick Vorpagel, a long-time friend of the blog, reports that his customers are buying a $16 or $18 California cabernet instead of a $12 bottle, and that paying $15-$20 a bottle seems much more common than a year ago. In fact, his average bottle price increased seven percent this year.
The reason? Premiumization, of course.
“Wine has become so much more expensive that people don’t want to take chances,” says Fredman. “What’s the point of buying or trying something different that costs more, when you can get what you know someone will like?”
Liz Thach: $12 to $20 is the sweet spot for U.S. wine.
Liz Thach of Sonoma State University talks about premiumization, the wine tariff, wine prices and what else to expect in 2020
Sonoma State University’s Liz Thach, MW, PhD, is one of the most respected wine business analysts in the country, so her take on what will happen next year with wine prices, premiumization, and the tariff is worth a podcast. And Thach doesn’t offer much hope for those of us who appreciate quality cheap wine:
• Yes, the grape glut in California is good news for consumers. But she also expects wine prices to continue to thrive between $12 and $20, as premiumization continues.
• The tariff will benefit California producers, and especially hurt Spanish wine. Australia, long out of favor with U.S. consumers, may also benefit.
• French wine won’t be hurt as badly as Spain, given its higher prices.