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Category Archives: Wine news

Winebits 350: Three-tier, wine prices, wine marketing

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three-tier systemNo love for three-tier: The Wine Curmudgeon has much respect for the Wine Folly website, which does great work educating wine drinkers. Its recent post on the dreaded three-tier system was no exception, detailing what it was and how it worked with quality graphics and clear writing. I don’t know that it gave enough credit to Prohibition in three-tier’s formation, but it did discuss its beginnings in the late 19th century, which I didn’t know. And it did impressive work tying the cost of wine to the inefficiencies of the system. My only complaint: That it forecast the coming demise of three-tier, based on direct shipping, the Internet, and flash sites. It’s not that I don’t want three-tier to go away, but it overlooks three things — three-tier’s constitutional protections, which the Wine Curmudgeon has lamented many times, the system’s immense clout through campaign cash, and that direct to consumer sales account for less than five percent of wine sales in the U.S. That’s hardly eroding the system.

“A giant sinkhole”: W. Blake Gray writes about the media’s immense joy in forecasting rising wine prices, which seems to happen every six months or so whether it’s true or not. The most recent example came after the Napa earthquake, even though the region produces just a tiny fraction of the world’s wine. Gray writes: “People just don’t have a sense of how enormous and international the wine business is — that if Napa Valley or Mendoza, Argentina or Barossa Valley, Australia fell into a giant sinkhole tomorrow, we would all be the poorer for it, but overall world wine prices would still not be much affected.” He also notes that many media types figure only rich people drink wine, and so deserve higher prices. I’m not so sure about the second; many of the media types who still get paychecks in this post-print world aren’t exactly paupers. My hunch is that it’s mostly crummy reporting. When a Washington Post writer proclaims that wine prices are skyrocketing when they’re not, and the Post is supposed to be one of the world’s best newspapers, it’s no surprise that everyone else misses the point, too.

It’s not about the marketing: Producers in the French wine region of Bordeaux are running around in a panic because sales are down, and this report discusses how it will try to solve the problem through better marketing – some €3m worth (about US$3.8). The Wine Curmudgeon, out of his great respect and admiration for Bordeaux wine, has a cheaper and simpler solution: Stop overcharging for your wine. It’s one thing to sell the best wines for hundreds and thousands of dollars a bottle, but when the everyday stuff costs $15 or $20 — and isn’t any better than $10 wine from California, Spain, or Italy — you’re not going to sell it, no matter how much you spend on marketing. One retailer, when I asked him why this was happening, attributed it to Bordelais greed. “If they can get it from the Chinese, they figure they can get it from the rest of us,” he said. Obviously, that isn’t the case any more.

WC returns to Grapefest next week

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wine curmudgeon grapefestThat’s three days of appearances at Grapefest — at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 13 and noon on Sept. 14. We’ll talk wine, the cheap wine book, and Texas wine as part of the People’s Choice Awards, one of the largest consumer-judged wine festivals in the country.

I’ll be at the Palace Theater in historic downtown Grapevine. In air conditioning, always a plus this time of year. Stop by, ask questions, buy books, and talk about wine.

Winebits 349: Wine ingredients, 60 Minutes, wine judging

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wine ingredientsEwwwwww: The Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated ingredient labeling for wine, despite intense opposition from the industry (including many of my friends, who tell me I’m crazy). Still, as the blog’s travel and resort correspondent recently emailed me: “I was offered a glass of wine from a box, from which I happened to read the fine print. It says ‘ascorbic acid added as a preservative’ and there is something added called Allura Red Dye #40 for ‘color stabilization.’ This must be a killer wine because it has other cool stuff, too: pectins, acetaldehyde, ethyl acetate, esthers, benzoic acid, and keytones. I remember keytones from college – they’re a sort of hallucinogen, not unlike mushrooms. The only thing that is a little concerning is a warning that says ‘added catechins and other phenols may combine with aluminum, barium and cadminium creating benzaldehyde – a known carcinogen.’ But let’s not worry about that. Man, I can’t wait to try this stuff.”

The French Paradox: One reason why I’m here to write this, and you’re here to read it, is because the “60 Minutes” television program ran a story in November 1991 about why the French — who smoked, drank copious amounts of wine, and ate red meat — lived relatively long, healthy lives. The program concluded that the reason was red wine, and the U.S. wine boom — which is still going on — began at almost that moment. The International Food & Wine Society website has a short piece discussing the “60 Minutes” episode, with a clip. Can it really have been 23 years ago? Have wine’s health benefits really done a 180 since then?

Keep it in context: Dan Berger adds welcome perspective to the debate about wine judging with this article. Unfortunately, given the size of many competitions, judging is about pace almost as much as quality. That  means, Berger writes, that “the faster the evaluation, the more often showy wines take the spotlight. As a result, subtlety rarely is rewarded in today’s wine-tasting world.”

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