Coming soon to a YouTube near you: Wine Curmudgeon videos

Wine Curmudgeon videosIs the cyber-ether – let alone the wine world – ready for Wine Curmudgeon videos?

Is the Wine Curmudgeon going to be the Internet’s next viral sensation? We’ll know early this summer, when the first of two wine videos I made this week goes live.

I did the videos, featuring helpful, useful information about summer wine and restaurant wine, for the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association. The videos are part of the trade group’s quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort – because, of course, Winking Owl. I’ll post a link when the summer wine video goes live.

The experience was unique. How else would an ink-stained wretch see a process that involves makeup, story conferences, green screens, and long discussions about what I should wear? I haven’t spent that much time worrying about my clothes since since my mother picked them out. I should also mention that I have spent much of my writing career gently mocking – or worse – those of my friends who did have to worry about that stuff. I suppose I will have to endure their gentle – or worse – mocking now.

The goal with each video was to avoid winespeak as well as the deadly dullness that overwhelms most wine videos (even those with big names and big budgets). We wanted to offer information that wine drinkers could use when they were staring at the supermarket Great Wall of Wine. Which I think we did.

A very large tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Sonia Petrocelli, the videos’ producer, and Richard Dandrea, who wrote them. Both made the process infinitely easier than I thought it would be, and their patience with my ignorance of all things video was much appreciated.

TV wine ad survey: 1980s Richards Wild Irish Rose

Constellation Brands sold its birthright in this month’s $1.7 billion fire sale to E&J Gallo — Richards Wild Irish Rose is the brand that made the company wealthy

There were many surprises when Constellation Brands sold 30 of its labels to E&J Gallo this month, but perhaps the most surprising was that Richards Wild Rose was included in the deal. The sweet fortified wine was named after Richard Sands, the son of company founder Marvin Sands (and who would eventually become its chairman when Constellation  expanded around the world). How important was Richards Wild Irish Rose to Constellation’s success? As late as the beginning of this century, it was selling 30 million cases a year. Those are Barefoot numbers.

Obviously, those sales weren’t because of this commercial. It’s not as offensive as some, and it’s certainly not as stupid. Rather, it’s almost bland, as if the ad agency can’t decide how to market a product with a less than stellar reputation. And I can’t figure out why the blonde playing the bass is in the band, other than to shake her very 1980s hair.

Video courtesy of tvdays via You Tube

Wine of the week: Marques de Caceras Verdejo 2018

Marques de Caceras verdejoThe Marques de Caceras verdejo is grocery store wine that does what grocery store wine should do — it’s cheap, drinkable, and available

Quality grocery store wine should do a couple of things. First, it should be fairly priced, and not include a premium for a cute label or the marketing budget. Second, it should taste like what it is, so no cabernet sauvignon that tastes like a sweet red blend and no sauvignon blanc that tastes like a sweet white blend. That both of those are increasingly rare these days speaks to the crisis in cheap wine.

Which is where the Marques de Caceras verdejo ($9, sample, 13.5%) comes in. It’s a Spanish white made with the verdejo grape, so it fills two of the requirements for quality cheap wine – less expensive region and less known grape. And it does what quality grocery wine should do, too.

That means the Marques de Caceras verdejo is fairly priced, and it more or less tastes like verdejo – lots of lemon fruit and a clean finish. It’s simple, and the fruit could be less New World in approach, but it’s not insulting. This is the kind of wine for Tuesday night when you have to stop at the supermarket on the way home to get something for dinner, and you want wine as well.

Winebits 589: The world revolves around the three-tier system edition

three-tierThis week’s wine news: It’s all about three-tier — a merger called off because it would have raised pricers, the “unique” U.S. distribution system, and tussling in New Jersey

No deal: Breakthru Beverage Group and Republic National Distributing Company, which had announced a $12 billion merger in 2017, have called it off. The reason? The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees these deals, said it would have caused “likely anticompetitive harm.” An FTC official said the agency found that “this transaction likely would have resulted in higher prices and diminished service in the distribution of wine and spirits in several states.” The Wine Curmudgeon, who is not an attorney and doesn’t pretend to know anything about anti-trust law, has just one question. If this deal was anticompetitive, why did the FTC allow the 2016 Southern-Glazer’s merger, worth $16.5 billion, to go through? The new company controls one-quarter of the wholesale spirits and wine market, and is bigger than the next three companies combined.

Just a happy family: Who knew that alcohol distribution was just another family business? That’s the latest from the industry’s trade group, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association, which wants the world to know the “story of wholesalers and the three-tier system while highlighting the value and uniqueness of America’s beverage alcohol system.” The Wine Curmudgeon, who does know how to read a news release, got a giggle out of this one. Unique indeed – so unique that almost no one but liquor law attorneys and wholesalers understand how the damned thing works. And yes, value, especially when the FTC doesn’t object.

Not in Jersey: New Jersey’s legislators are trying to decide if they should loosen the state’s direct shipping law, one of the most restrictive in the country. The article is exceptionally well written by Bloomberg.com reporter Stacie Sherman – easy to understand, direct, and almost devoid of winespeak and legalese. In other words, it’s everything almost all other mainstream media booze stories aren’t. My favorite part? Her description of three-tier: A “patchwork of laws that, as with those governing so many other industries, were ill-suited for the advent of e-commerce.”

Follow-up: Two days judging European grocery store wine

grocery store wine

Yes, that’s E&J Gallo’s Apothic and Barefoot for sale in Amsterdam — and no bargains either, at €14.95 and €9.95 (about US$17 and US$12).

Cleaning out the notebook after tasting European grocery store wine

Two days judging European grocery store wine

A few more thoughts after judging the Private Label Manufacturer’s International Salute to Excellence wine competition at the beginning of April, where my panel tasted 112 wines made for and sold by grocery stores around the world. (Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the PLMA in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

• One odd contradiction: The best cheap European wines in the states, including cava and cabernet sauvignon, weren’t that great in the competition. I was especially surprised at the poor quality of the cava, which usually costs $10 here and is almost always a value. But the other judges told me that there wasn’t a lot of well-made €5 and €6 sparkling in Europe.

• We tasted a lot of wine made from grapes we never see in the U.S. This makes sense – why try to sell something like a white wine from Lugana in Italy in a country devoted to chardonnay? But it’s also a shame. Lugana is made with the verdicchio grape, which may or may not be an Italian version of my beloved ugni blanc (there’s some DNA confusion). The best one we tasted was stunning – crisp, fresh, and sort of lemon-limey, and for about €5.

• There’s sweet, and then there’s sweet. The panel spent a fair amount of time talking about residual sugar, and how much of it makes a wine sweet. In the U.S. we consider a wine dry if it contains as much as .08 percent residual, and something like Apothic, at 1.2 percent or so, is considered sweet. In Europe, the others said, the Apothic is seen as very sweet, while dry ends around .05 percent..

• Europeans don’t get to taste much U.S. wine. This surprised me, since we drink so much European wine. But, as I was reminded, most U.S. wine is sold in the U.S., and save for some Big Wine brands like Barefoot, there is very little wine made in this country that makes it to Europe.

Finally, the competition was held at the Amsterdam Hilton, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their legendary 1969 bed-in for peace. Their suite is still there, and you can stay in it for €300 a night. The bed-in business impressed me no end, given I still own considerable Beatles vinyl. But not, however, the 30-something Czech judge sitting next to me. Yes, he said, he knew who John Lennon was, but can we get back to tasting wine?

Photo by Dave McIntyre

Cigarettes, wine, and cancer

wine and cancerThe mainstream news media can’t report a story about wine and cancer correctly no matter how much I lecture them

Dear Mainstream News Media:

I realize this is the 21st century, and that journalism standards aren’t what they were when I was a young reporter. For one thing, the bosses don’t care any more, since caring costs too much money. For another, journalism education isn’t about getting the story right, but about marketing. Because, the money.

Still, your performance during the recent cigarettes, wine, and cancer cyber dust-up left much to be desired. It seemed like every headline and story thundered the news that anyone who drinks wine will die of cancer as surely as a three-pack-a-day smoker, wheezing and hacking to the grave. Or, as this epic screamed: “Put a Cork in It: Drinking a Bottle of Wine Per Week Is as Bad as Smoking 10 Cigarettes

Sigh.

I thought we had covered this ground twice before – during the Centers for Disease Control “wine with dinner is the equivalent of binge drinking” study and the “even one glass of wine is one glass too many” scare. Both times, as I noted, each study had its flaws and solid reporting should do more than parrot the results. Ask questions. Each time, I offered hard-earned wisdom about how to cover these kinds of stories.

Which you apparently ignored. So, one more time – how to parse a wine and cancer study before you write about it:

• Read more than the executive summary. Yes, I know wading through the technical stuff is boring, and that it’s often written to confuse those of us who aren’t scientists. But it is worthwhile, as I noted in the wine with dinner post linked to above.

• Pay attention to the math. I know this is also boring (and math is far from my best subject). But you’d be surprised what you can find, as my Starbucks pumpkin latte post shows.

• Look for the caveats, since every legitimate study will have them. Just like we did in the red wine study.

• Look for the biases, because too many studies have biases these days. The cigarettes, wine, and cancer report is British, part of a barrage of studies that have come out of that country over the past several years in the wake of Britain’s binge drinking crisis. So what else would you expect the study to find?

Because, as one reporter discovered at the end of an otherwise “We’re all going to die!” piece:

“The use of cigarette smoking as a measure of risk is clever, but somewhat misleading.” That’s the opinion of Larry Norton, MD, the deputy physician-in-chief for breast cancer programs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Association is not causation … On the other hand, we know for sure that smoking actually causes lung and other serious cancers. So putting it all together, the equating of tobacco with alcohol has some real flaws.”

See what I mean?

Your pal in better journalism,
The Wine Curmudgeon

Two days judging European grocery store wine

grocery store wine

Imagine those wines costing €5 instead of $15.

The Wine Curmudgeon spends two days in grocery store wine heaven

Imagine a delicious, fresh, cherryish Italian red for about $6. Or a Hungarian riesling, taut and crisp, for about $7. Or a $3 pinot noir – a little tart, but still more than drinkable.

Welcome to the world of European grocery store wine, which puts the junk that passes for supermarket wine in the United States to shame. I spent two days last week in Amsterdam judging the Private Label Manufacturer’s International Salute to Excellence wine competition, where my group tasted 112 wines made for and sold by grocery stores around the world. (Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the PLMA in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

I couldn’t have been happier. For the most part, the wines – and especially those sold in Europe – were cheap and well made. Many would have made the $10 Hall of Fame, including the Italian red. Which, frankly, was spectacular. It was made in Tuscany with a local version of the sangiovese grape called morellino and was bright and fresh and interesting – all for €5. That’s less than the cost of a bottle of Barefoot, and half the price of a bottle of Cupcake.

In this, almost all of the wines we judged were everything I wish cheap wine in the U.S. would be – mostly varietally correct, mostly tasting like the region it came from, and widely available. Or, as the other judges on my panel, all Europeans, said to me at one time or another, tongue firmly in cheek: “Jeff, we didn’t know you had it so bad in the states.”

Little do they know.

That was the good news. The bad is that there are still too many obstacles to getting that quality of wine in your local Kroger, Aldi, Ralph’s, Safeway, and Wegman’s. Not surprisingly, the U.S. liquor laws and the three-tier system are at the forefront.

One judge, who used to be the buyer for one of Europe’s biggest grocers, said the regulations and restrictions governing U.S. wine sales are indecipherable to most Europeans – even those who are paid to figure them out. It has taken years to understand the system, she said, and it has been a long, tedious process.

In addition, the U.S. lacks Europe’s sophisticated private label supply chain. In Italy, for example, the supermarket buyer can make a couple of phone calls to get the morellino. Here, by contrast, retailers usually have to work through bulk wine brokers, a much costlier and more complicated process.

Still, if what I tasted is any indication, there are dozens of reason for optimism.

More on grocery store wine:
Aldi wine road trip
Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?
Wine terms: Private label and store label