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Category Archives: Wine news

Winebits 396: Investing in wine, Scottish wine, Bill St. John

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investing in wineTulips, anyone? The Wine Curmudgeon rarely passes up an opportunity to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald on one of his (and my) favorite subjects: “You know, the rich are different from you and me.” How else to explain this story about investing in wine from the New York Times? It talks about how the wealthy borrow money against their wine collections the way the rest of us do against our homes (assuming, of course, we even own one). Says the founder of one such lender: “Whether it’s real estate or wine, it doesn’t make sense to accumulate assets with pure cash. With wine, you can borrow and not put your home or some other important asset at risk. You can finance toys with toys.” And the tulip reference? The Dutch 17th century economic crash brought on by flower speculating — not that I’m making comparisons.

Not this vintage: Remember the Monty Python bit about the Scotsman who has to defend Wimbledon’s honor? It came to mind when I read this piece about what is apparently the first vintage ever of Scottish wine — admirable and a good try, but “undrinkable.” The wine, a white made with cold-hardy grapes, is apparently oxidized, a not uncommon problem for inexperienced regional winemakers working with odd grapes in untested climates. Still, if we can do it in Texas, there is hope.

One of the best: I only met Bill St. John a couple of times, but I read him regularly and appreciated his skill as a wine writer. Bill was someone who cared about quality and value, and he wrote for his readers in clear and concise language. He has retired from the Chicago Tribune, and his final column says it all: “By and large, we take wine and especially winemaking way too seriously. We’ve made of winemakers what we’ve made of chefs — superstars and entertainers. … We’ve let winemaking and so much folderol about wine — buying, storing, collecting and bloviating — get in the way of our wine.” Bill will be much missed.

 

Winebits 395: Prosecco shortage, sweet wine, label fraud

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Prosecco shortagePlenty of bubbly: The Wine Curmudgeon has not mentioned the news reports over the past several months heralding a Prosecco shortage, mostly because the “shortage” made my reporter’s stomach hurt. It’s the just the kind of “news” that offers an excuse for price increases — coincidentally, as the euro drops — and it turns out my hunch wasn’t far from the truth. The head of the Prosecco consortium, which oversees production of the Italian sparker, told Wine Business Monthly that supply increased almost 18 percent in 2014, and that there is no shortage. “We call on those who write, market and educate people about wine to do their part to inform the public about what Prosecco represents as a specific wine of place year,” he said.

Deciding what is sweet: Sweet wine is making an impression in Canada as well as the U.S., as Bill Zacharkiw writes in the Montreal Gazette: “There still seems to be some confusion about the role of sugar in wine, as many of these emails ask what the relationship is between residual sugar and quality. But there are other interesting questions as well.” Which he answers quite intelligently, noting the same thing that I have found. It’s not sweetness itself that is the problem with sweet wine, but how badly made too many sweet wines are. Says Zacharkiw: “I cast no judgment here. In the end, you choose what you want to drink. I simply want people to know the facts, and believe you should have access to all the information in order to make an informed choice.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Fix the label: Remember how those “artisan” spirits were going to fight to the bitter end the lawsuits accusing them of not being especially artisan? Templeton, the Iowa producer using whiskey from Indiana, has settled, and I would expect more settlements to follow now that a precedent has been set. The Templeton co-founder said his whiskey’s marketing “should have provided more clarity,” in one of those wonderful understatements that I so enjoy. Hopefully, the wine industry, with its artisan and hand-crafted claims for brands that make hundreds of thousands of cases, is paying attention.

Winebits 394: Rose, wine apps, Chateau Frank

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wine appsIt’s official: The most Winestream of the Winestream Media has anointed rose, which means it’s now safe for the rest of us to drink. Shanken News Daily, the wine business new service owned by the same company that owns the Wine Spectator, reported last week that “Rosé Boom Shifts Into High Gear.” And how do we know this? Because an important New York City retailer is selling lots of expensive rose, while an importer is going to bring us what the story calls a “pocket-book friendly” rose for $35. That the rest of us who have been drinking $10 rose, and who are responsible for the huge growth in rose reported in the story, really doesn’t matter to our wine betters, does it?

Statistics and wine apps: According to the wine app Delectable, grower Champagne is becoming very popular, and we’re drinking more of it because “it seems like suddenly all these chefs and sommeliers are drinking these Champagnes that I’ve never heard of. I want to try that, too.” That grower Champagne (an artisan-style, small production bubbly) accounts for less than five percent of U.S. Champagne sales, and that all sparkling wine is only about 20 percent of the total U.S. wine market speaks volumes about how little wine app users reflect the typical U.S. wine drinker. This is not to knock the app, which has been well received, but to note how crappy most reporting is about wine trends. Now, if Delectable had figures on sweet red wine consumption. …

Happy birthday: One of the best U.S. wine producers celebrated its 30th birthday last week, and that it is Chateau Frank in upstate New York makes the occasion that much more enjoyable. The Frank family, father Konstantin and son Willy (who started the winery), helped improve the quality of not just New York wine, but of wine made everywhere in the U.S. that wasn’t on the West Coast, and showing that it was possible to make quality wine in a part of the country that the experts laughed at. The Drink Local movement would have been impossible without the Frank family.

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