In which we ?re attacking each other, announcing the end of wine writing, and doing all those other things that we do that no one else especially cares about but that generate comment after comment on wine blogs (though not, of course, on this one, because it’s not really a wine blog — and that’s a good thing):
The Hosemaster of Wine, best described as the Wine Curmudgeon on an especially bad day, wrote a very nice bit that I wish I had written:
Much of what bothers me about wine writing is how uncritical it is. I love wine as much as anyone I know, but I also really dislike boring wines, stupid wines, and what I think of as fatuous wines. And there are lots of them. I see them getting 91 points, or A-, or somewhere between 9 and 9.5 (so, 9.23567?) from people with the qualifications of a raccoon.
Which, at last count, had almost four dozen comments in agreement — an irony I can’t even begin to understand.
Very few wine writers ever have made a living with their wine writing alone. For every Robert M. Parker Jr., Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov, who look to be supporting themselves through their wine writing alone, dozens of other practitioners of the craft, many of them highly influential and every bit as insightful as Parker, Robinson and Asimov, supplement their writing with other gigs, sometimes related to wine, sometimes not. [He] might better have said, “This is the way it is, kids, so get used to it.”
What others are writing about wine for Turkey Day:
? Last minute holiday wines: From no less than Eric Asimov at the New York Times, which does not seem like something he would write about ? rushing to the store just before Thanksgiving. And his selections include Beaujolais (no, not the Nouveau); Macon-Village, the inexpensive white Burgundy that I like a lot as well; and zinfandel, believe it or not. And here is where things get really spooky ? Asimov recommends Ridge ?s Three Valleys, which I just did, and Ravenswood ?s Old Vine Sonoma County, a grocery store wine (I know, I know) that I tasted a couple of weeks ago, liked, and scheduled for a review.
? Go French: Oddly enough, that seems to be a theme this year. Among those who recommend French wines are Pam Busch of Examiner.com, who notes that ?It s almost impossible to go wrong with these French wines at this time of year. ? She likes a Kermit Lynch producer, Domaine Dupueble, which begs the question: When is not a good time for a Kermit Lynch wine?
The one consistent from last year? Consumers are still looking for value, and they ?re still worried about prices. Or, as my pal Gil Kulers, who works for Atlanta ?s Tower Wine and Spirits, one of the largest retailers in the southeast, described it: ?If it ?s a choice between spending $1 more to get a better wine, and not spending the $1, I had a customer who didn ?t want to spend the $1. ?
The good news is that prices remain consumer-friendly, save for some higher end wines and Champagnes. In addition, the retailers I talked to said we ?re looking for value in places that we haven ?t necessarily looked for value in the past. The details are after the jump:
And still in double-digit numbers, too. I ?m beginning to think there may be something to this wine blogging business.
The always popular colored chart, which is after the jump this year, shows just how well we've done since I started tracking visitors in January 2008. The first post went up in November 2007, but I didn't keep stats for the first six weeks. Who knew I would still be here?
All told, the number of average daily visitors has increased 3,230 percent from that first January through the end of October. Plus, not only is the blog up 21 percent through October, but this year saw best day ever (when this Costco post ran), as well as its third best day ever (when the winery shell game past ran).
Even Eddie G. is surprised by the changes in the wine business over the past five years.
The blog turns five next week, a period that has given the Wine Curmudgeon a cyber-eye view of some significant changes in the way we drink wine in the U.S. It ?s not the same score-driven, pay as much as you can business that it was when I did newspaper wine writing in the two decades before the recession.
But everyone I ask says the same thing (and I ask everyone I talk to). We ?re selling more wine than ever before, they say, but we ?re making less money because we ?re selling cheaper wine and cheaper wine is less profitable. One importer was practically rueful; she said she had never seen anything like it in all her years in the wine business.
The other changes: The multi-national wine producers ? growth and increasing domination of the wine business; the return of sweet wine; the decline and fall of Australia; and the idea of local wine.
1. The rise of cheap wine. In the early part of this century, there was no Two-buck Chuck, no Barefoot, and no Cupcake. There wasn ?t even a sense of cheap wine. Instead, the perception was that there was good wine, which was expensive, and bad wine, which wasn ?t. Two-buck Chuck, the first competently and consistently made cheap wine, started the idea of cheap wine as something that wasn’t junk, and recession-weary consumers embraced it. Wine drinkers who had been taught they needed to pay $15 or more for a decent bottle of wine for dinner discovered they could pay $7 — and they didn ?t notice a difference in quality (because, of course, the wine business never bothered to explain the difference). This process is called trading down, and it looks like it ?s here to stay.
3. The return of sweet wine. In 2007, white zinfandel accounted for almost 10 percent of U.S wine sales, as measured by bottles sold. Four years later, it was just 7 percent. This trend started sometime in the early 2000s, and it looked like white zinfandel ? once the wine that drove ?serious ? wine drinkers crazy because it was sweet ? was fading slowly away. Which may happen, and which may be irrelevant. The wine business has embraced the new sweet wines in a way it never did white zinfandel ? new brands, clever marketing, and the respect that comes from a new cash cow. Even more unbelievable is the rush to sweet red wine, which accounted for 1 percent of wine sales in 2011, as much as malbec.
4. The sun sets on the Aussies. A decade ago, the hip wine was shiraz, Yellow Tail had spawned what seemed like a million critter labels from Down Under, and Australia was the next big wine region. Today, the Australian wine industry is a mess, and retailers tell me they can ?t give shiraz away. How bad is it? The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported earlier this year that the country ?s wine sales declined 2.4 percent in the most recent fiscal year — the first decline ever. The Aussies were clobbered by a doubling in the value of their currency against the U.S. dollar; an almost Wall Street-like feeding frenzy in which the country ?s big producers merged, merged again, and then collapsed; and government policies that encouraged production and produced an almost unimaginable over-supply of grapes.
5. Local does mean wine. The number of regional wineries in the U.S. increased 44 percent between 2005 and 2010, from 1,550 to 2,765, according to the Wine America trade group, We can argue all we want about the quality of local wine or about whether there is a need for it, but that doesn ?t change the fact that it exists, and that it isn ?t going away. There are two generations of wine drinkers younger than the Baby Boomers who have grown up with regional wine, and think that it ?s perfectly normal in the same way Boomers thought TV was normal and didn ?t understand why anyone would want to listen to the radio every evening.
The Wine Curmudgeon does not do Halloween and wine; how many times can I write about Bogle ?s Phantom or Ghost Pines from E&J Gallo? But that doesn ?t stop the rest of the wine world, so this week we look at wine and Halloween:
? The always reliable Ray Isle of Food & Wine got stuck doing a Halloween post last year ? the Phantom and Charles Smith ?s Velvet Devil merlot appear among several others. They ?re all decent wines, and not the stuff that usually shows up with a cute name and that isn ?t much worth drinking.
? Finally, because I have a special fondness for this sort of thing, how to turn an empty wine bottle into a Halloween lamp. Besides, how can I pass up an opportunity to link to a site called Tattooed Martha? The fondness? That ?s because I made a lamp in shop class in high school, and I am far from the handiest person in the world.