Apothic coffee: Is it any wonder I worry about the future of wine?

Apothic coffeeApothic coffee might reach a younger audience, but how will coffee-flavored wine save the wine business from itself?

The marketers at E&J Gallo are geniuses, turning brands like Barefoot and the sweet red Apothic into massive national best sellers without one lick of support from the traditional wine media. So why would Gallo come up with an Apothic coffee product, called Apothic Brew, “a taste that captures the smooth mouthfeel and velvety chocolate notes of cold brew with the juicy blackberry characteristics of a dark red wine“?

Because if the Gallo marketers think the wine business needs Apothic coffee, and it knows the wine business better than anyone, we’re doomed.

Regular visitors here know that wine is facing conditions it hasn’t seen since the 1980s – flat consumption, rising prices, reduced quality, and the tail end of the Baby Boom that powered those 30 years of growth. Plus, the two generations younger than the Boomers have shown no indication of picking up the slack.

Hence all sorts of attempts to bring wine to Generation X and the Millennials, including virtual reality labels. That’s probably where Apothic Brew fits in, a product for younger consumers who think wine is snobby and too geeky. But if even Gallo, the world’s biggest wine company with almost $5 billion in revenue, has to resort to a wine and coffee blend to reach younger consumers, we’re doomed.

Because isn’t Apothic coffee just Red Bull in a bottle with a cork? This is not a value judgment on the product; I don’t do that. Drink it if you want, and enjoy it. But how is a boozy energy drink going to help the wine business out of its doldrums? Wouldn’t fairly priced quality wine, closed with a screwcap, deliver better results?

Because if Apothic coffee is the future of wine, we’re doomed.

The fourth do-it-yourself wine review

do it yourself

Drinky appreciates white wine with fresh stone fruit and citrus aromas and flavors.

How else to combat the foolishness in so many wine reviews? Hence, the fourth  do-it-yourself wine review.

The fourth do-it-yourself wine review gives you a chance to play wine snob, wine geek, and wine know it all, just like so many who do it professionally. Why deprive yourself of writing: “The strawberry, rhubarb, blueberry and cranberry flavors are juicy and fresh, with plenty of purity and oomph, offering a firm backbone. Dried herb, fresh earthy loam and spice notes linger, but the fruit continues to sing out on the finish.”

So write your own wine review, using the drop-down menus in this post. Just click the menu and choose your favorite line. Those of you who get the blog via email may have to go to the website — click here to do so.

And, as always, thanks to Al Yellon, since I stole the idea from him.

In the glass, this white wine:

I smelled the wine, and:

I tasted the wine, and:

All in all, I’d say the wine:

More do-it-yourself wine reviews:
The first do-it-yourself wine review
The second do-it-yourself wine review
The third do-it-yourself wine review

Wine of the week: Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2016

Tiefenbrunner pinot grigioThe Tiefenbrunner pinot grigio demonstrates that not all of this kind of Italian white wine has to be bland and boring

The Wine Curmudgeon’s long-standing antipathy for pinot grigio is rooted in sampling too many bottles of the Italian white wine that were overpriced, tasted like club soda, or both. So when I can rave about something like the Tiefenbrunner pinot grigo, more the better.

That’s because the Tiefenbrunner pinot grigio ($14, purchased, 13%) is more than another wine made for focus groups, bereft of flavor and character. It speaks to where it’s from in northern Italy, as well as to a grape that can make aromatic and subtly fruity wine if someone takes the time and trouble to do so.

Which is what happened here. Look for almost floral aromas, plus a little citurs that might seem more likely in an Oregon pinot gris. It’s not quite stone fruit when you taste it – more pear-like. One reason the flavor is so difficult to describe is that pinot grigio rarely tastes like this. Plus, it retains the hint of minerality that even the most bland of its brethren always seem to have.

Highly recommended (and it was a huge hit with my El Centro students). Pair this with almost anything spring related, and especially salads and shellfish.

Winebits 532: Rose is still hot, Coke’s new booze, and grocery store wine

roseThis week’s wine news: Rose growth continues, plus Coke is launching alcopop in Japan and on-line grocery store wine sales

Bring on the pink: Rose shows no signs of slowing down, despite what some curmudgeonly wine writers might think. This post in a trade publication calls it a “category killer,” which means its sales are growing much, much faster than other wines. According to Nielsen, rose is outpacing overall U.S. wine growth and still growing at double digits – “a rate unheard of in other categories.” I’m convinced (and ignoring the hip factor, which has played a role) that’s because rose represents one of the last values in wine – a quality product at a fair price that tastes like it should.

One more time: Coke, whose failure in the wine business 30 years ago was almost as big a debacle as New Coke, is launching an alcoholic beverage in Japan – call it alcopop. The BBC reports that Coke wants to take advantage of “the country’s growing taste for Chu-Hi — canned sparkling flavored drinks given a kick with a local spirit called shochu.” The products, sweet and fizzy, have about as much alcohol as beer, three to eight percent. Chu-Hi is especially popular with younger women.

Directly to your door: A European consultancy says U.S. supermarkets will boost wine sales via on-line and home delivery – shocking news for those of us who have watched the three-tier system have the opposite effect. But a Rabobank report says its “relative irrelevance will not last long. We firmly believe it will develop into the most important driver of on-line alcohol sales.” The reason, says the report, is that alcohol delivery will benefit from projected growth in increased grocery store delivery, piggybacking on its increase. It also cites a huge boost in Google searches for “alcohol delivery.” Which is all well and good, but there’s a long way from a Google search to actual on-line delivery.

Craft wine: Does it exist? Can it exist?

craft wineCraft wine shouldn’t be about the size of the winery, but about the quality of its products. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The news that a group in Oregon has started a craft wine association raises a question that has been discussed in wine for years: Does craft wine exist? Is it even possible?

The Craft Wine Association thinks so, and has established strict requirements for craft wine based on the size of the winery. But is that enough? Or is craft wine more complicated than that? Or is it a good idea but one with little relationship to reality?

There’s no doubt that the word craft makes consumers turn somersaults, as the craft beer business has demonstrated. But that doesn’t necessarily mean craft is a legitimate term; witness how many members of the craft brewers association are billion dollar companies that make millions of bottles of beer. Or the many lawsuits filed against craft distillers whose business model – buying their product from a corporate distiller – isn’t very crafty.

In fact, as noted here before, the word craft and its derivatives, like hand-crafted and artisan, have little meaning in terms of wine production. For one thing, no one one has yet invented a machine that can make wine. For another, despite the welter of laws regulating wine, beer, and spirits in the U.S., there aren’t any that define the term craft and its derivatives.

That’s why Delicato, the sixth-biggest producer in the U.S., can make a brand called HandCraft Wines without the slightest tinge of guilt. Or that Target can sell California Roots, “carefully crafted with premium, California-grown grapes,” even though the wine is made by Trinchero, the fourth biggest producer in the U.S.

In other words, a form of greenwashing, where a company makes claims for its products that make it sound wonderful and natural – and which is perfectly legal – but where the claims are disingenuous at best. And why not? Do we expect Big Wine, Big Beer, Big Spirits, and their retailers to tell us just how corporate their production practices really are? How much inventory would that move?

Hence attempts by groups like the Craft Wine Association to remedy the problem. The catch, though, is that size isn’t the issue. Quality is. Bigger does not necessarily mean worse or more evil, and smaller does not always translate into manna from heaven. According to the Craft Wine Association’s size rules, Ridge – perhaps the best quality producer in the country – isn’t eligible to join. And neither is Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon, which is about as crafty as a U.S. winery gets. Both are much too big, even though they aren’t big at all compared to Big Wine.

On the other hand, almost every tiny regional producer that has ever made me gag – and there have been hundreds – can join. How will that solve anything?

The point here is not to flambé the craft wine group for trying to do the right thing. Rather, it’s to point out that the doing the right thing is more difficult than it seems. Tom Wark wrote a couple of years ago that there may not be a way to “describe a small, hands-on, privately owned, high-quality oriented winery.” And I don’t know that anything has changed since then, despite everyone’s best intentions.

The catch – and I find myself writing this more and more these days – is that the wine business, big and small, has sold itself for years as wonderful and natural, and that most consumers buy into that. Factory farms are for pigs and chickens, not wine. There is still a sense, even among sophisticated wine drinkers, that winemaking remains a solitary effort – the winemaker in the barrel room, swishing wine in the glass, a studied look on his or her face. That most of the wine we drink is made in industrial plants to specific formulas isn’t how we understand wine. And until that changes, nothing else will.

What was James Mason doing making a Thunderbird TV commercial?

The distinguished actor was taking his place in the long failed history of TV wine commercials

James Mason was one of the greatest actors in a generation that included Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Deborah Kerr. So what was he doing making a Thunderbird commercial? Yes, that Thunderbird.

It’s all part of the long, failed history of TV wine commercials.

This 21-second black and white ad, apparently shot in 1964, exhibits every failing of TV wine advertising for as long as it has existed. It’s phony and pretentious; about the only thing missing is the hot chick. And it would be snotty even if it didn’t pitch Thunderbird, best known as the drink of choice for people who desperately need high octane at little cost. My favorite part? That the ad calls Thunderbird an aperitif. Which, of course, it isn’t, and is a concept that few consumers 50 years ago would have understood. But it sounds classy, so why not?

Mason, according to many reports, was often short of money, and did this for the cash. You can sort of tell that by the look on his face as he tastes the product.

So, no, petting the roo is not the worst TV commercial ever made. It’s just another in a long string of six decades of wine TV ad failures.

Video courtesy of AmberVon, via YouTube

Says the Internet: Corks are the greatest wine closure ever; why use anything else?


After I get the car started, I’m buying wine with a cork. Because of the romance.

Because corks are 19th century technology, and I don’t use a hand crank to start my car, do I?

The Wine Curmudgeon stands corrected. How could I have ever been so wrong about corks, and especially given how how much the cyber-ether loves corks these days?

How could I not see that corks are “the bodyguard of wine, more than a closure?” Or that corks are essential “when it comes to opening a treasured bottle… . the time-honored custom of pulling that cork and savoring the perfume as it escapes from the bottle.”

And some wine drinkers actually wonder why people make fun of us.

It’s the 21st century; corks are 19th century technology. That they’re still used on 70 percent of all wine speaks to how out of touch the wine business is with the 21st century. After all, do we still use a hand crank to start a car? It’s certainly more romantic than a key – or even, heaven forbid, a push button.

Much of the current kissy face for corks is apparently the result of another PR offensive from the cork business (none of which, for some reason, ever seems to include me). We get these periodically, to remind us that we should appreciate a closure that fails as much as five percent of the time and that requires a special tool. Because, of course, that’s part of the romance.

And some wine drinkers actually wonder why people make fun of us.

This is usually the part of my cork posts when the cork aficionados in the audience get red in the face, mutter under their breath, and cancel their subscription to the blog. How dare he criticize corks? Doesn’t he understand screwcaps may be OK for the junk he drinks, but that real wine requires a cork?

We’ll ignore the real wine crack. I’m used to it after all these years. But the biggest fallacy about corks is that they’re the only closure that ages wine properly. Because, as this study shows, screwcaps can age wine, too. They just do it differently.

Which brings us to the point that every cork marketing push overlooks. And why not, since it shows how irrelevant corks are in the 21st century? Almost all of the wine the world drinks – most estimates are more than 90 percent – isn’t made to age. Most wine is made to drink for dinner that night. So the closure, as long as it keeps the wine fresh and from spilling out of the bottle, doesn’t matter at all. But do we use the easiest, most convenient closure? Of course not. We’d lose the romance.

And some wine drinkers actually wonder why people make fun of us.