Winebits 560: Wine trends, Wine Spectator lawsuit, Coke and weed

wine trendsThis week’s wine news: The Italian Wine Guy notes several disturbing wine trends, plus the Wine Spectator sues another magazine, and Coke wants in the weed business

Making money: Apparently, I’m not the only one worried about the future of the wine business. The Italian Wine Guy, who spent the last three months visiting retailers and restaurants around the country, writes that price “seems to be one of the biggest factors. It’s the economy, stupid. The wine trade has often been a race to the bottom, and these days, there is a significant concern for revenue and profit.” Consumers, he was told, are showing “high anxiety over a buying decision.” In other words, not everything is peachy-keen in the era of premiumization. And his take on the three-tier system? Intriguing and insightful for someone who used to work for the biggest distributor in the world.

It’s time for the lawyers: The Wine Spectator is suing a new marijuana magazine called the Weed Spectator for infringing its trademarks and copying its familiar 100-point rating scale for wine to rate cannabis. Reuters reports that the filing says Wine Spectator owner M. Shanken has no interest in associating Wine Spectator and the Wine Spectator marks with cannabis, a largely illegal drug. Any association of this type is likely to tarnish the reputation and goodwill that has been built up in the Wine Spectator marks and business for decades, resulting in dilution of the brand.” I’m most fascinated by the charge the weed magazine is copying the 100-point scoring system. I’d love to watch that unfold in court, given how many people use it and that the Wine Spectator didn’t invent it.

One more time: Those of us with long memories still laugh about Coca-Cola’s failure in the wine business in the late 1970s. So its foray into marijuana beverages elicits a similar chuckle. Nevertheless, reports the BBC, “the drinks giant is in talks with [Canadian] producer Aurora Cannabis about developing marijuana-infused beverages. These would not aim to intoxicate consumers but to relieve pain.” Apparently, it would be a “recovery drink,” aimed at the same market as Gatorade and Powerade. I’ll leave that straight line alone – it’s almost too easy.

New and easier to use motor oil containers, but same old wine bottles

wine bottles

Something’s wrong here — not a cork or punt in sight.

Even the conservative and old-fashioned motor oil business realizes packaging matters. So why doesn’t the wine business?

Does this quote sound familiar?

“We are far more conservative in the marketing of our products. We are almost apologetic. While other industries focus on creating products that are distinctly different and stand out from the crowd, we do the exact opposite.”

No, it’s not the wine business, which considers screwcaps the spawn of the devil and still thinks chateau wine labels are a big deal. It’s the motor oil business, as described by a long-time senior official at Valvoline.

So when Valvoline comes out with a truly innovative product – a five-quart, easy-open, easy pour, ergonomic motor oil bottle, what does that say about the wine business and its outdated and ridiculously stubborn reliance on the 750-ml bottle and its cork closure?

Not much. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

The genesis for this post came after talking to a friend about wine packaging. He described a trade show seminar where a packaging consultant told the audience that the dizzying array of wine bottles – their shapes, sizes, and closures – were expensive, inefficient, and hurt sales and profits. He couldn’t help them until they decided to get serious about wine packaging.

And then I saw a TV ad for the new Valvoline bottle, and I literally shook my head in despair. Valvoline wanted a new container that would make changing oil easier and less messy, but that fit on store shelves the way the current container does. In other words, it saw a problem and wanted to fix it to sell more product.

By contrast, how many times has anyone in the wine business said opening a wine bottle should be easier? Hardly ever. And how many times has anyone said the wine business should spend money to solve that problem? Even less than hardly ever.

The solution to this exists, by the way. There is a wine equivalent of the new Valvoline bottle – plastic, or PET, bottles. They have a smaller carbon footprint and weigh up to eight times less than glass, are almost unbreakable, use screwcaps, and fit on a shelf like a glass bottle. There was a push to use PET for wine about a decade ago, and you’ll see PET beer bottles, but the wine initiative never got anywhere. Is anyone surprised?

More about wine packaging:
It’s not the quality of the wine — it’s the sound of the cork popping
Will canned wine solve all of the wine business’ problems?
Four wine myths that confuse consumers

The cyber-ether loves the Wine Curmudgeon blog

wine curmudgeon blogTwo rankings put the Wine Curmudgeon blog among the top 100 wine sites on the Internet

Good news for those of us who love cheap wine. Two website rankings put the Wine Curmudgeon blog among the top 100 wine sites on the Internet for 2018.

Amsterdam Diary (and no, I don’t know why it ranks wine blogs) says the site is among the top 90 on the Internet, while Feedspot puts the blog among the top 100 sites.

This is a big deal, and not just because I like to boast about the Wine Curmudgeon blog. First, that I made these lists speaks to the need for credible, well-written information about the wine most of us drink. Which, of course, many in the wine business prefers we don’t know, since they want to sell us crummy, overpriced wine.

Second, I made the same lists as sites with more money, employees, and ad revenue, including the Wine Spectator, VinePair and Wine Folly. Here, of course, I do everything myself. That says a lot about how much you appreciate what I do — and is one of the reasons I keep writing the blog.

How to take advantage of phony wine pricing

phony wine pricesThese four suggestions can turn phony wine pricing into real savings

Wine pricing today is a jumble of fake discounts, inflated markups to make the fake discounts look good, and make-believe member and club prices. And let’s not forget all those bogus volume savings, where the multi-bottle price at one store is the one-bottle price at another store.

But there are ways to make phony wine pricing pay off. Yes, it’s a bit of work, and no, wine shopping isn’t supposed to be a bit of work. But the bit of work is the difference between getting the most value for your money, and paying too much for crummy bottles of wine.

Hence, these suggestions:

• Know the real retail price. The free version of wine-searcher.com does just that. If you start there, you’ll be able to tell immediately that the $18 grocery store wine marked down to $15 costs $13 elsewhere. And then you’ll know to buy it elsewhere.

• Plan your buying; don’t buy on a whim. If you need a bottle of wine for dinner, that’s one thing. But if you’re at Target or Walmart, don’t throw bottles into the basket just because. The next thing you know, you’ve paid $75 for five bottles of wine that might have cost $60 at another store.

• Know which stores offer which discounts – and which discounts matter. World Market’s four-bottle, club member discount is often a sham. But one Dallas specialty grocer offers 20 percent off six bottles every week, changing the discount from white to rose to red and so forth. That is almost always real savings. So don’t be afraid to ask how a store’s discount policy works.

• Use those discounts. I stock up at the Dallas specialty retailer depending on what’s on sale. That way, I can buy my $10 wines for $8, as well as splurge on $12 or $13 bottles (even if they cost $10 or $11 elsewhere). This approach will even work with grocery store pricing. In the spring, my Kroger was selling Wine Curmudgeon favorite Spy Valley sauvignon blanc for $16, which is more or less the real price. Thanks to the card discount, I was able to buy the wine for 10 percent off the real price. So I bought two.

Finally, remember that the independent retailer is your best friend. The independent retailer’s pricing is usually the most fair, and most will offer the standard 10 percent case discount. How can you go wrong with that?

More about phony wine pricing
Wine pricing foolishness, and how one group stopped it
Wine pricing skulduggery
Transparency and grocery store wine prices

The growth of ultra-expensive wine

expensive wineDoes the increasing popularity of ultra-expensive wine mean wine has become a collectible and not something to drink?

The Big Guy, who hangs out with a better class of wine drinker than I do, forwarded me the auction company email: “Can you believe the prices of these wines?” he wrote. The list was expensive wine run amok – impressive labels, certainly, but prices that even I had trouble comprehending:

• $8,500 for a bottle of red Burgundy.

• $1,000 for two bottles of an 1872 Madeira.

• $40,000 for a case of 2000 Petrus, perhaps the Holy Grail of wine collecting.

• $4,750 for a magnun of another red Burgundy.

Which raises a host of questions: Who buys these wines? Do they actually drink them? And, of course, the one that has always fascinated me – how does one justify paying thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine?

Because spending that kind of money happens all of the time. It’s just not auctions, but includes trading on Liv-Ex, a stock exchange for wine. In this, the growth of ultra-expensive wine sales and expensive wine becoming more expensive have been hallmarks of the 21st century wine business. Two decades ago, people bought wine to drink it. Today, more and more people buy wine not to drink it.

This matters for two reasons. First, as these ultra-expensive wines grow in popularity, more resources will be devoted to them. If more resources are devoted to these wines, will less be available for the wine that most of us drink? Second, how healthy can the wine business be when its most prized products are kept in locked vaults? How can the evolution of wine — from something to drink with dinner to a version of coin collecting — be a good thing?

Yes, the sale of ultra-expensive wine remains a small part of the wine business. Those 10 million cases of Barefoot that are sold annually dwarf ultra-expensive wine sales. But how much attention does all that Barefoot get? The hype for ultra-expensive wine dwarfs Barefoot, as well as the rest of the wines that most of us drink. That even I’m writing about it says something – and it’s probably not good.

More about ultra-expensive wine:
Wine as a collectible, and not something we drink
Expensive wine prices in the real world
More about wine prices 2018

Wine of the week: Falesco Vitiano Rosso 2015

Falaseco Vitiano RossoThe Falaseco Vitiano Rosso may be the world’s greatest cheap red wine

The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t get to taste the Falaseco Vitiano Rosso much anymore. That’s one of the drawbacks about what I do; the blog needs to be fed, and that means a constant stream of new and different wines.

So when I do get to taste the Vitiano ($10, purchased, 13.5%), it’s even more of a treat. This Italian red is one of the world’s great cheap wines, and it’s not going too far to call it one of the world’s great wines regardless of price. It has everything a great wine should have: varietal correctness, terroir, and honesty. The Cotarella family, which makes these wines, believes in value for money. They don’t skimp on what’s inside the bottle, regardless of price.

The Falaseco Vitiano Rosso is a blend – one-third sangiovese, one-third merlot, and one-third cabernet sauvigon. The 2015 vintage is a little heavier than previous vintages, which isn’t a bad thing. That makes it more of a food wine, and it needs red sauce, sausages, and the like. In fact, as cool weather returns, drink this with a braised pot roast cooked with garlic, tomatoes, herbs, and red wine.

Since it’s heavier, look for more plum than cherry fruit and a deeper, darker approach to the winemaking. Having said that, the wine isn’t too tannic or too tart, and all is in balance. Which is what I expect from the Cotarella family.

Highly recommended, and it will return to the $10 Hall of Fame next year. It’s also a candidate for the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Winebits 559: Weed and food pairings, wine clubs, wine and health

weed and food pairingsThis week’s wine news: A chef devises weed and food pairings, plus an unhappy wine club member and another sensible insight into the recent wine and health foolishness

Just like wine: Chris Sayegh, also known as the Herbal Chef, offered weed and food pairings at this summer’s American Culinary Federation conference in New Orleans. We didn’t have to wait long for that, did we? Bret Thorne reports in Nation’s Restaurant News that Sayegh doesn’t use street dope, but lab tested extracts “and you have to ease them into their marijuana high.” Thorne also notes that chefs who want to do these pairings should consult an attorney, since marijuana is not yet legal in every state.

We knew this: A Connecticut man says he was ripped off by a wine club, which charged him for wine he didn’t order. The story is the usual sort of thing we’ve written about here, and it’s good to see other news media picking it up. My favorite part? Many of these clubs offer a money-back guarantee, but you have to return the wine. The man learned that it would have cost more than the wine was worth to return it, plus it’s illegal in some states for individuals to ship wine.

One more sensible insight: Sara Chodosh, writing in Popular Science, offers one more intelligent take on the recent wine and health foolishness. “Suddenly moderate drinking is unhealthy. What happened?” There have been two systematic errors, say some researchers, that have been skewing alcohol studies for years, First, giant surveys like Lancet’s have been comparing non-drinkers to drinkers; this may introduce a statistical error called compounding. It’s too difficult to explain compounding here, but know that it can throw a study off. Second, that moderate drinkers may be more healthy for other reasons, and will also skew a study. Says a prominent researcher: “It’s fine to say ‘I enjoy drinking.’ Why do you need to worry about whether it’s good for you or not? Why not just drink every once in a while and enjoy it?”