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Winebits 379: Big Wine, diet soda, regional wine

• Big and getting bigger: Wine sales in the U.S. were mostly flat last year, which makes the growth in E&J Gallo’s various brands. including Barefoot, all that much more impressive, reports Read More »

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Arsenic and cheap wine

David K. TeStelle may be a terrific trial attorney, a tremendous human being, and a snappy dresser. But he apparently knows little about logic and even less about wine. “The lower the Read More »

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Mini-reviews 70: Ponzi, white Rhone, lemberger, pinot blanc

Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. • Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Read More »

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Great quotes in wine history: Sgt. Schultz

Sgt. Schultz has just discovered that Col. Hogan and his men have devised the most ingenious plan ever to make wine accessible and easy to understand for anyone who wants to drink Read More »

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Wine of the week: Caposaldo Chianti 2012

Who thought the Wine Curmudgeon would ever have anything nice to say about an Italian wine made with merlot? But that was before I tasted the Caposaldi Chianti. This Italian red from Read More »

Winebits 379: Big Wine, diet soda, regional wine

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big wineBig and getting bigger: Wine sales in the U.S. were mostly flat last year, which makes the growth in E&J Gallo’s various brands. including Barefoot, all that much more impressive, reports Shanken News Daily. Total U.S. wine sales were 321.8 million cases in 2014, and 17 million of those were Barefoot — more than five percent of the total. Given the thousands of wine brands in the world, that one brand, and especially one that isn’t sold in many wine shops, accounts for that much wine is difficult to imagine. It speaks to Big Wine’s ability to put product on store shelves and to market it onces its there. It also illustrates the divide in the wine business between what we’re told we’re supposed to drink and what most of us do drink.

Is diet soda dead? Which matters to wine drinkers because the sales of diet Coke, Pepsi, and so forth appear to have started an irreversible slide, down 20 percent from their all-time high in 2009. The reasons are many, reports the Washington Post, but center on health, including the artificial nature of diet soda. So where will diet soda drinkers go next? It’s not soft drinks, which are also declining in sales, again for health reasons. The Wine Curmudgeon could offer wine as an alternative, pointing to the growth of Barefoot and what are considered wine’s heart health benefits. But that would mean the wine business is interested in attracting non-wine drinkers through education and outreach, something that we know isn’t true. Ah, missed opportunities.

The next Napa Valley: During my many years working with regional wine, the one thing that has always made me crazy is hearing someone from a U.S. region talk about how they wanted Texas or Colorado or Virginia (or wherever) to become the next Napa Valley. To which I always asked: Why do you need to do that? Why can’t you be the best Texas or Colorado or Virginia (or wherever)? Turns out I’m not the only who feels that way. Rob McMillan at Silicon Valley Bank writes that he sees the same thing all the time, and with California wine regions. “Do you really want to be like Napa?” he asks. The post is a little technical for consumers, but the point is well made. If you can’t make world-class cabernet sauvignon, why would you even think of being like Napa, let alone build a region behind that goal?

Arsenic and cheap wine

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arsenicDavid K. TeStelle may be a terrific trial attorney, a tremendous human being, and a snappy dresser. But he apparently knows little about logic and even less about wine.

“The lower the price of wine, the more arsenic you are getting,” said TeStelle, one of the lawyers suing Big Wine for knowingly selling arsenic-laced wine in the class action lawsuit that has the wine business all atwitter (pun fully intended).

The Wine Curmudgeon will assume that TeStelle was misquoted or taken out of context, since to assume that all cheap wine is stuffed full of arsenic and that all expensive wine is pure and virginal is silly. Logical fallacies, anyone? Did we stop driving cheap cars because the Yugo was a piece of junk? My Honda Fit certainly isn’t. Are Mercedes and BMW models never recalled?

The testing behind the lawsuit apparently didn’t check the arsenic level in any expensive wine, which takes the rest of the logic out of TeStelle’s argument. Maybe BeverageGrades, the lab that did the testing, didn’t want to to spend the extra money, and it was easier to buy Two-buck Chuck since there are three Trader Joe’s in Denver. Or that the Big Wine companies that make most of the cheap wine in the lawsuit have deeper pockets than a $40 brand that makes 25,000 cases. One can’t get damages out of a company that doesn’t have money to pay for damages.

Besides, and I can’t emphasize this enough, none of my wines — the three dozen or so in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame — are on the arsenic list. This speaks volumes about the difference in quality in wine, cheap or otherwise, and something that I have repeated and repeated and repeated throughout my wine writing career. It’s not the price that matters — it’s the honesty of the wine. Does the producer care about quality and value, or is it just making wine to make wine? Which is just as true for $100 wine as it is for $10 wine.

That’s something that everyone who is being snarky about the quality of cheap wine in the wake of the lawsuit (including people I like and whose opinions I respect) should remember. Quality, as well as safety, isn’t something that can be measured by price. It’s something that depends on integrity, and no amount of money can guarantee that.

Mini-reviews 70: Ponzi, white Rhone, lemberger, pinot blanc

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wine reviews PonziReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Gris 2014 ($17, sample, 13.2%): Needs more time in the bottle, but when this Oregon white is ready in a couple of months, it should be classic, elegant Oregon pinot gris — fresh tropical fruit, rich mouth feel, and long finish.

• Dauvergne-Ranvier Côtes du Rhône Vin Gourmand 2012 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Uninspired white French blend that was overpriced and lacking in anything to make it interesting. A hint of viognier (peach?) and not much else. We do this kind of wine much better in Texas.

Weingut Schnaitmann Lemberger 2012 ($15, sample, 13%): Unfortunately for those of us who like lemberger, a red grape that’s hard to find, this isn’t the answer. There’s lots of red fruit, but this German wine is disjointed and needs something more than just the fruit.

Rudi Wiest Dry Pinot Blanc 2012 ($12, sample, 12%): This German white was delightful, with candied lime fruit, fizzy acidity, and just a touch sweet. It was everything I hope it would be; the catch being that availability is limited.

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