Category Archives: Wine news

Winebits 364: Corks, liquor stores, restaurant wine


restaurant wineWhen will they learn? The cork business, as has been noted previously, doesn’t understand wine in the 21st century. And their problems with quality control haven’t helped, either. Hence yet another new cork campaign, as related by the Los Angeles Times. to reassure the world that their product is still relevant. Which makes all the same mistakes. The biggest? That the cork people continue to insist that only crappy wine is closed with a screwcap: “Any wine worth its grapes deserves natural cork.” Which hasn’t been true for decades, and is no more true today. This is a very well-done piece of reporting by the Times’ David Pierson, and includes the best numbers I’ve seen on cork’s share of the wine market: Down from 95 percent to 70 percent over the past decade, with screwcaps at 20 percent and plastic cork around 10 percent.

Bring on the liquor chains: Want more competition for your wine dollar? Then you’ll be glad to hear that a Canadian retailer called Liquor Stores N.A. wants to add to stores and states to the 36 locations it has in Kentucky and Alaska. Shanken News Daily reports that the company has identified possible sites for expansion, and has hired executives away from Walmart and Total Wine and More to oversee the process. The chain expects to carry as many as 8,000 wines in its new stores. If Dallas is any indication, another national retailer with deep pockets will help keep wine prices low.

Where’s the wine list? The Chicagoist website looks at restaurant wine lists, why they’re rarely mentioned in reviews, and the idea of restaurant wine in general, and includes this: “Let’s face it, there are a few too many wine professionals out there who come across as being pompous and arrogant (if not full of shit).” And this: “This is why we need intelligent wine writers to help guide us and give us some tips. And most importantly, we need writers to remind us to forget trying to know everything but, rather, to have an open mind and experiment and enjoy. Which are just two of the highlights in the interview the site’s John Lenart does with Chicago restaurateur Tom MacDonald. It is honest, accurate, and speaks to the problems wine has in restaurants. Would that people in the wine and restaurant business paid attention to it.

Winebits 363: CDC, lawsuits, Big Wine


CDC excessive drinkingSaving us from ourselves: The Centers of Disease Control is at it again, reassuring those of us who drink too much that there is hope. Says the head of the health agency’s alcohol program: “Many people tend to equate excessive drinking with alcohol dependence. We need to think about other strategies to address these people who are drinking too much but who are not addicted to alcohol.” This strikes me like being sort of pregnant, but what really matters is that the CDC’s definition of excessive drinking is wine with dinner, and this fact doesn’t appear in the story. For which the Wine Curmudgeon must call out Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times for repeating that assertion. Which, as near as I can tell after doing the reporting, is scientifically unfounded.

When is Champagne not Champagne? When it’s the name of a wine writer, reports Decanter, the British wine magazine. Hence the lawsuit filed by France’s Champagne trade association against Australian Rachel Jayne Powell, who goes by Champagne Jayne. Since Powell also writes about other sparkling wine, the Champagne group says her name violates European Union rules. Their logic? That Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, so a writer who uses Champagne as a name can only write about Champagne. The case is scheduled to go to trial next week in Melbourne, believe it or not, and Decanter reports that it could set precedents. The Wine Curmudgeon, whose aversion to silly lawsuits like this is well known, has a suggestion: Settle by letting Powell call herself champagne Jayne with a small C, since every wine geek knows Champagne only comes from Champagne with a capital C.

Yet another million case producer: One of my goals with the blog is to help consumers understand that most of the wine we drink doesn’t come from artisanal producers, but from Big Wine — the multi-million case producers who dominate the business. That’s why this two-part interview with someone I’ve barely heard of is worthwhile. In it, Vintage Point’s David Biggar talks about his company’s 17 brands, the best known of which is Layer Cake. In this, what the wines taste like barely comes up, though there is plenty of discussion about pricing, distribution and the three-tier system, and margins. Which is what the wine business really is, and not all that foolishness that the Winestream Media would have you believe.

Diane Teitelbaum, 1946-2014


Diane TeitelbaumThe next Dallas Morning News wine competition will see many changes — new name, new people in charge, new format. But the biggest change will be that I won’t drive Diane Teitelbaum to the judging.

Diane died this morning, and there is no way to express how much she will be missed. I might still be an ex-sportswriter looking for something to freelance about if not for Diane, and I’m not the only person she helped. She was a force in the wine business — not just in Dallas, but internationally — for some 40 years, whether as critic, judge, consultant, buyer, confidant, and retailer. She answered questions, offered advice, and listened to complaints, and always with an open mind and a keen intelligence.

She was a professional, and I know of no higher compliment. She cared about wine, and she cared about helping others love wine as much as she did; that’s a much rarer quality than it should be. Drinking wine with Diane was both a treat and a revelation. Her palate was impeccable, and not just because she could taste something I couldn’t. It’s because she understood how the wine fit together, and she could explain it so that something that was usually lost in winespeak and gobbledygook made perfect sense.

I tasted 26 pinot noirs with Diane two summers ago for a freelance story. In the process, I got a history lesson about red Burgundy, pinot noir from France; details about how the wine import business worked; and insights into how pinot noir had changed over the last couple of decades. All of that was wonderful, but the best part was that she helped me figure out the wines in a way I never would have by myself. Her patience for those $10 pinots, most of which were very ordinary, was remarkable, as was her sense of humor as we slogged from wine to wine. I wrote a better story because of her, and I’m a better wine writer because of her. I’ll never be able to thank her for that.

The other thing to know about Diane is that she always spoke her mind. When you were right, she told you so. When you were wrong, she told you so, and many of us over the years were forced to listen, often sheepishly, as Diane explained how we had screwed something up. I never resented this, because I appreciated her honesty. Diane was a woman in the wine business when there weren’t many, and she would not have done all that she did if she had not stood up for herself.

And why did I drive Diane to the Morning News competition? Because she was famous worldwide for her inability to get anywhere on time. We both knew that if I didn’t pick her up (“and tell her you’ll be there 15 minutes before you will be,” everyone who knew her always said), there was a 50-50 chance she might not make it at all. Which would be a damn shame, because judging with Diane made every competition that much better.

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