Tag Archives: wine trends

High alcohol: The controversy continues

What kind of a stir would a food magazine cause if it said it was going to list the ingredients in its recipes? None at all.

But the wine business is not the food business. Only in wine would a controversy ensue when the San Francisco Chronicle and Decanter magazine, two of the leading members of the Winestream Media, announced each would start listing alcohol levels for the wines it reviewed. Said the Chronicle's Jon Bonne: ".. [W]e resisted printing them regularly because the act of bringing alcohol into the discussion of a wine is inherently political."

Which says a lot about how screwed up the wine business is. Bonne is right — unfortunately, reporting alcohol levels in an alcoholic beverage has become political, because much of the wine establishment has made high alcohol its cause. Winemakers have pushed alcohol levels to 15, 16 and even 17 percent, even in white wine, and have been rewarded with glowing reviews from Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator. Those of us who object, like the Wine Curmudgeon, are called philistines and told we don't understand the issue.

Most wine drinkers want to know alcohol levels. As one commenter noted in the Chronicle story, "If I wanted to get sh*tfaced, I could do it for a lot less than $50 a bottle." But that's of little concern to the people who make and write about these wines. They know best, and they're going to tell us what to think. More, after the jump.

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Writing for free and the wine business

Writing for free and the wine businessOne of the most common questions that people ask the Wine Curmudgeon (and it came up several times last weekend at DLW 2011: Missouri) is whether I get paid for doing this. And how I get paid. And if there is any money in being a wine blogger.

The answers, which are complicated, say a lot about the direction that wine writing is headed. More, after the jump:

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CellarTracker and the rise of social media

CellarTrackerWhen Eric LeVine came up with the idea for CellarTracker, the on-line wine inventory system, he thought it would appeal to wine geeks like himself and to people who needed to manage sizeable wine cellars. He never envisioned that he would be helping to make a revolution in the wine business

Because that’s what CellarTracker has done. The number of people who visit the site far outnumbers the number of people who use the site to track their wine collections. CellarTracker has about 40,000 registered users, but 90 percent of the site’s visitors are not registered — and it gets a couple of hundred thousand unique visitors a month. Which means people aren’t going to CellarTracker to mark off a wine after they drink it; they’re going to CellarTracker to read wine reviews written by amateurs.

Which is mind boggling, given the way the wine world works. Wine knowledge is handed from the top down, and we’re supposed to drink what our betters — Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, and the like — tell us to drink. But that’s not what’s happening with CellarTracker. We’re looking for advice from people just like us.

“These are real people, spending real money for a real bottle of wine,” LeVine says. “There’s a much broader audience out there than I thought, and that was my first really big surprise.”

More, after the jump:
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2011 wine price update

Some thoughts to follow up on the December post about what the experts are calling consumer-friendly wine prices in 2011:

? Italy invented pinot grigio as a wine to sell in the United States, but the recession may have helped change Italy's pinot grigio dominance. Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy, has done an analysis of selected U.S. pinot grigio sales for 2010, and California looks like it will replace Italy as the varietal's top producer. There are a couple of couple of caveats, says Alfonso, but his conclusion looks solid. And the reason California is passing Italy? Cheaper wines, such as Barefoot, which are replacing Italian brands that cost $10 or more. "Value wines still reign," he wrote.

? How far have white zinfandel sales fallen? So far that Beringer, which is among the top two white zinfandel producers in the country, is not only price cutting, but marketing. And the last time anyone needed to market white zinfandel in the U.S. Never, probably. Beringer is giving away a downloadable single from crooner Michael Buble, and has teamed with Buble to pair wine, songs, and food. This is a lot of trouble to go to sell a $7 wine.

? The Wine Economist blog has put much of what has happened over the past couple years in perspective, and has discovered consumer-friendly pricing in the process.  "As I am writing this, the neighborhood Safeway is offering an extra 20% off any wine selling for $20 or more," noted Mike Veseth, who posted that the sales increase in more expensive wines that has the industry so excited is almost certainly coming from this kind of discounting.

? A few Dallas-area, very consumer-friendly prices from the past couple of weeks of shopping: Rodney Strong chardonnay, about $15 list, for $10; Wente chardonnay, about $15 list, for $10; and House Wine, a very nice red blend from Washington state, usually $12 or $13, for $10. Looks like it's time for a House Wine review.