Restaurant wine prices 2018

restaurant wine pricesSome restaurants are moving away from traditional wine pricing, and selling wine at prices we can afford to pay

There’s actually some good news surrounding restaurant wine prices 2018 – which is especially welcome after 2017’s higher prices and, not surprisingly, flat consumption.

I’ve talked to a number of restaurant officials in different parts of the country over the past two or three months who are being more aggressive with pricing. That includes extended half-price wine nights, half-price wine happy hour promotions, and even – as difficult as it is to believe – lower markups than the traditional 3 ½ to 4 times wholesale.

Yes, this is a small sample size, and there remain too many restaurants that consider charging $30 for an $8 retail bottle of wine their inalienable right, just like freedom of speech and assembly. But good news is good news.

Perhaps even more important: The restaurants that are cutting wine prices are seeing impressive results. An Italian restaurant owner in New Jersey told me his second biggest wine night of the week is half-price Monday, second only to Saturday night. Ordinarily, Monday is one of his worst days for wine sales.

In New Orleans, meanwhile, the general manager at a popular French Quarter restaurant said half-price wine happy hour has done the impossible – keep his restaurant busy between lunch and dinner, usually a dead spot. In this, he said, given the choice between a packed dining room and traditional wine pricing, he’ll take the packed dining room every time.

A few other notes from my reporting and research on restaurant wine prices 2018. Unfortunately, in these cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same:

• A Dallas seafood restaurant that caters to the city’s social and political elite has about one-third more red wines on its list than whites. And the markups remain mostly 4-1.

• The restaurant business’ leading trade magazine recently ran a very basic story about how to put together a restaurant wine list, the kind of thing I might write for the blog. One would like to think that anyone reading that magazine would already know how to do that. That the story still ran speaks to the need for basic wine list information – which, actually, shouldn’t be surprising. Also not surprising: the story didn’t mention pricing at all.

• Where are the young people? No matter where I eat (and not just in Dallas, where wine is still seen as exotic by many diners), I don’t see enough Millennials and Gen Xers drinking wine. I’ve been coast to coast this spring, and most of the wine was being consumed by older white couples – even in restaurants where where there were lots of younger people. One more reason why I fear for the future of the wine business.

More about restaurant wine prices:
The John Cleese Fawlty Towers guide to restaurant wine service
Restaurant wine prices explained: Follow the money
Winecast 28: Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News

The U.S Open – wine tasting as a competitive sport

U.S. open wine tasting

“Oh wow.. did you see that swirl and spit?”

The U.S Open wine tasting offers wine drinkers a chance to see how good their palates really are

One of the things wine has always lacked – no matter how much else it has to offer – is dramatic tension. Now, though, we’ve got just that with next month’s upcoming U.S. Open wine tasting championship.

Imagine a blind tasting, and watching teams of wine drinkers sniff, swirl, and spit as they try to identify the wine in their glass. Does competitive sport get any better than that?

“Blind tasting is really hard,” says John Vilja, who is organizing the event on Aug. 11 in Marina Del Rey, Calif. “That’s what makes it fun.”

And it should be even more fun with an audience and cheering. Even booing, maybe? Can you imagine Hall of Fame baseball announcer Harry Caray shaking his head in disgust? “Boy oh boy, how did they screw that one up? You know, anyone should be able to smell that oak and know it’s California chardonnay.”

Who needs the World Cup? We’ve got competitive wine tasting.

There is a serious side to this: The winning team will represent the U.S. in the sixth annual World Wine Tasting Championship in France in October. Sweden won the 2017 event, while France finished 11th and the U.S. tied for 15th. In 2016, Vilja helped the U.S. finish third.

How does a competitive tasting like this work?

• Teams of two people will blind taste six white and six red wines from around the world.

• Teams score points by identifying the primary grape, country and region of origin, vintage, and producer.

• The teams are allowed to discuss the wines among themselves, but that’s it. No phone, no Internet – just their palates.

The competition is open to anyone, whether a wine professional or consumer. In addition, spectators will be able to blind taste along with the competitors.

Wine of the week: Banfi Centine Toscana 2017

centine toscanoBanfi’s Centine Toscana remains a Hall of Fame quality $10 red wine

The Centine Toscana ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is Big Wine done right – a varietally correct Italian red made with sangiovese made by Banfi, a $70 million company that sells wine in 85 countries. So it should be no surprise that it’s a $10 Hall of Fame quality wine (as is the white version).

The 2017 Centine Toscana is even a little more Italian, so less ripe fruit than the previous vintage and more earthiness. As always, it’s terroir driven, with slightly tart cherry fruit, a pleasant, chalky finish, and appropriately soft tannins. In other words, it tastes like sangiovese from the Tuscan region of Italy, and not a winemaking-driven product from a marketing company focus group trying to figure out how to make a sort of sweet and very smooth Italian wine.

Pair this with summer barbecue – sausages, of course, but also smoked chicken and burgers. And maybe even pizza on the grill for the adventurous. And if the weather allows it, this is a delicious wine with any red sauce.

Winebits 550: Dennis Horton, legal weed, and controversy in Champagne

Dennis HortonThis week’s wine news: Remembering Virginia wine pioneer Dennis Horton, plus three-tier for legal weed and another Champagne controversy

Dennis Horton’s legacy: Virginia’s Dennis Horton, who died in June, was one of the most important winemakers and winery owners in the U.S. That most people have never heard of him speaks to the way the wine world works. Dennis was one of the two or three people, along with New York’s Konstantin Frank, who never gave up on the idea of Drink Local, and is one of the people who helped us get to where we have wine in every state. To quote Virginia wine writer Frank Morgan: “I had the pleasure of sharing a few glasses of wine with Dennis in the early days of my wine journey. I remember him for his unique personality, wit, humor and the viticulture insights he shared.” Dennis was also famous for his dislike of the three-tier system; once, when I asked him about direct shipping, he told me he would ship wine to anyone anywhere, and he dared the states’ various liquor cops to try and stop him.

Bring on the weed: The WSWA, the trade group that represents the wholesalers and distributors who make up the second tier of the three-tier system, will support marijuana legalization. The catch? That its members distribute legal weed, reports Shanken News Daily, and the “states agree to regulate cannabis as they do alcohol.” One has to admire the group’s consistency and its chutzpah, if nothing else. Much of the wine world is trying to get rid of three-tier for its antiquated inefficiencies, but that doesn’t bother the wholesalers in the least.

A tussle in Champagne: The Wine Curmudgeon has long enjoyed watching the Champagne business run around in circles, and this bit fits that description perfectly. It’s not easy to decipher what’s going on, but it involves sparkling wine sold in the U.S. that is labeled as “Champagne,” an important French producer, Big Wine, and a variety of Gallic name calling (including one side accusing the other of “mad arroigance” and the other responding that it did not like being called an imbecile).

Update: Dumbest pop culture wines 2018

Handmaid's Tale wine

“Don’t blame me for The Handmaid’s Tale wine. I’m not evolved enough to think of something that stupid.”

Add the since-canceled Handmaid’s Tale wine to the list of dumbest pop culture labels

We’ve added a wine to the dumbest pop culture wines 2018 list, one that is so colossally stupid that it makes the list even though it was canceled. Because, of course, it was so colossally stupid.

Wine drinkers unite: We don’t have to put up with The Handmaid’s Tale wine.

The geniuses behind this foolishness is a company called Lot 18, which specializes in branded wine. It has also given us wine based on Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live, and Lord of the Rings – products without which the republic would have collapsed.

At best, the idea of Handmaid Tale wine is in poor taste. At worst – and many in the cyber-ether pointed this out – it celebrates a totalitarian culture that denigrates women and where rape and torture are accepted public policy. Hardly a positive marketing environment, if someone had spent 15 seconds thinking about it.

Hence, Lot 18 and MGM (which does the Hulu series) decided to cancel the wine. Neither offered an explanation – just took the wine website down. That no one said anything was probably a good idea, given promotional material used to sell the wine:

“Completely stripped of her rights and freedom, Offred must rely on the one weapon she has left to stay in control – her feminine wiles. This French Pinot Noir is similarly seductive, its dark berry fruit and cassis aromatics so beguiling it seems almost forbidden to taste.”

“Almost forbidden to taste?” Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

Hendrick’s gin: How to do a TV booze commercial

This Hendrick’s gin TV ad puts most wine advertising to shame

A friend of mine, a woman who hits the wine demographic sweet spot, doesn’t drink gin, doesn’t buy gin, and doesn’t like gin. So I asked her to watch this Hendrick’s gin TV commercial.

“Wow,” she said. “I want to buy Hendrick’s gin.”

In other words, one more example of how the booze business – save wine – understands TV advertising. We get the Roo; spirits drinkers get something clever and enticing.

What makes this commercial work?

• The bit about “oddly infused with rose and cucumber.” All gin is infused with herbal and vegetable flavors, but this ad defines the point of difference between Hendrick’s and other gins.

• The animation, a cross between Terry Gilliam and William Gibson. It fits perfectly with the rose and cucumber line.

• No cliches. No almost naked babes, no wine drinking stereotypes, no frat house humor. This is a classy product, says the ad, and you’ll enjoy it. Would that someone in wine understood that approach.

I was talking to a friend the other day, a leading wine industry type, and wine marketing came up. His point was almost chilling: What passes for quality wine marketing, he said, is convincing people Carlo Rossi is a real person.

No wonder I worry about the future of the wine business.

Video courtesy of Hendrick’s Gin via YouTube, using a Creative Commons license

More about TV wine ads:
What was James Mason doing making a Thunderbird TV commercial?
Is this the greatest TV wine commercial ever?
TV wine commercials aren’t getting any better

Go figure: Convenience stores are selling more wine than ever

convenience store wine

Who knew 7-Eleven and its competitors had become wine destinations?

Convenience store wine sales increased five percent last year, more than the overall wine market

Convenience stores are selling more wine than ever – and no, no one quite knows why.

Wine sales in convenience stores increased five percent in dollar terms in 2017, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores. That’s an amazing figure, given that overall wine sales in the U.S. have been mostly flat for the past couple of years.

“If anything, it’s a 10-year overnight success story,” says Jeff Leonard of the convenience store association. “It has taken a sustained effort by retailers to believe in the category to the point where consumers largely expect to be able to find wine – and the kind they want – at convenience stores.”

In this, convenience stores are likely taking wine sales away from supermarkets, but given the convoluted way wine statistics work, no one is quite sure. It’s also worth noting that wine sales grew almost five times as much as bottled water, a convenience store staple (albeit from a small base).

So what’s going on? Why are more of us buying wine at 7-Eleven, QuikTrip, Circle K, and the like:

• Better selection, as Leonard notes. It’s not just private label wine from 7-Eleven, but high-end wines – you can spend $50 for a bottle of Napa’s Stag’s Leap. Thank Big Wine for that. As the the biggest producers buy more companies, they need more retail outlets, so why not convenience stores?

• Younger consumers don’t see convenience stores the same way the Baby Boomers do. We associate convenience stores with Thunderbird and 4-liter boxes of sweet wine, which was about all you could buy there 30 years ago. They grew up with more and better choices.

• One-stop shopping. Says Leonard: “If consumers can go to one place to get gas, food and wine at one stop, that is more attractive than three stops.”