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Category Archives: Wine news

Winebits 324: WC favorites edition

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Winebits 324: WC favorites edition

Will empty tables force restaurants to change the way they approach wine?

Because the things that fascinate me about wine and that consumers need to know — and which rarely include toasty and oaky — keep making news:

Distributor clout, once again: When in doubt, they get out the checkbooks, reports an Ohio newspaper group. The state’s beer and wine wholesalers donated $146,000 to Buckeye state lawmakers around the time the Ohio legislature passed a bill — apparently, without anyone knowing — that made it illegal for the world’s biggest brewer to buy more distributorships in the state. In addition, said the story, “both Republicans and Democrats benefited from the wholesalers’ cash. And donations sometimes rose noticeably around the time a key vote was scheduled.” My favorite part of the article is the quote that says the distributors, who have a constitutionally-protected monopoly that all but guarantees them profits, were saving Ohioans from the nefarious actions of an evil multi-national beer company. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Restaurant sales still slow: The restaurant business continues to struggle, says this story from Nation’s Restaurant News, and no one is quite sure why. Is it the result of the worst winter in 40 years? Is it a hangover from the recession, which never really ended for all but the most high-end restaurants? Is it a fundamental shift in the way Americans eat? The restaurant business matters in wine, as regular visitors here know, because restaurants go out of their way to hurt wine. And the slump in restaurant sales, which has lasted more than five years, may force changes in the way restaurants deal with wine, which means better quality and lower prices. Or so some very smart analysts have told me.

The biggest wine companies: Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist looks at disintermediation, an economic term that refers to the specialization of labor. In this case, it’s about the number of employees needed to to make a case of wine. Not surprisingly, the formula is not as simple as it sounds, and speaks to the way post-modern business works — outsourcing, contractors, and the like. Many of the biggest wine companies don’t own vineyards or even wineries; one company, Castle Rock, produced 550,000 cases with just nine employees. “With product chain disintermediation, the number of people actually employed by a winery can be surprisingly small with that tiny workforce specializing  in coordinating the various firms and contractors that make up the links in the chain,” wrote Veseth. What this means for consumers? Less expensive wine, of course, since disintermediation lowers the cost of production.

Image courtesy of Berenika, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license

Francis Ford Coppola, wine, and family

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Francis Ford Coppola, wine, and family

“I like to drink wine.”

Francis Ford Coppola spoke for 2 1/2 hours in Dallas last week, a monologue that covered his Academy Award-winning film career, his very successful wine business, and his grandchildren. But perhaps the most impressive thing was his modesty.

“I like to drink wine, but I don’t make wine,” he told the audience of 150 or so. “I don’t know how to do it. I suppose I’ve learned how it’s done, but that’s not why I do this. I like to drink wine.”

Which, in my 20-plus years of talking to celebrity winery owners, was the first time anyone has been that forthright. Talk to the entrepreneurs, actors, and musicians who get into the wine business, and they throw winespeak around like heart-shaped cards on Valentine’s Day, assuming that’s how they can make their bones. But Coppola didn’t say brix or clones, never mentioned scores or critics, and spent more time showing pictures of his family — and singing about them — than almost anything else.

More, after the jump:

Take heart: Charles & Charles has three great cheap wines

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Take heart: Charles & Charles has three great cheap winesTake heart, everyone who loves cheap wine. Charles & Charles has not only released its new, always excellent, rose, but a white and red as well.

“We try to have fun with the labels, and we want people to have fun drinking our wines, but that doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention when we make them,” says Charles Bieler, who was in Dallas this week to promote the inexpensive Washington state wines he makes with Charles Smith. “We couldn’t be more serious.”

In this, Bieler is as passionate as the labels are unconventional — think 30-something winemakers as urban music superstars. Our discussion covered the costly winemaking techniques not usually used for cheap wine but found in Charles & Charles wines; high alcohol, and why the Charleses don’t like them; the changing face of the wine business and the need to attract new wine drinkers; and that rose is quickly becoming an acceptable wine to drink in a way that I never thought it would be (and for which Bieler didn’t treat me like a cranky old man).

Most importantly, we tasted the wines, which are priced at $13 but can be found for as little as $10 (and all were samples):

 • Charles & Charles Rose 2013 (12.6%): This is consistently one of the best roses in the world, fresh and crisp with red fruit, and the 2013 is no exception. The best news is that production almost doubled for this vintage, so there should be plenty of wine to go around.

 • Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2012 (13.3%): Bieler emphasized the wine’s French style, but I saw more Washington state, with a touch of oak, rich fruit, and a subtle balance. It’s practically subversive, given what most cheap chardonnays taste like.

• Charles & Charles Post No. 35 2012 (13.6%): This red blend, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, was my favorite of the three. It’s a stunning wine for the price, dark and interesting but with telltale Washington state black fruit and amazing tannins. The catch? The 50,000 cases are almost gone, thanks to a 90-point review in the Wine Spectator. How dare it deprive us of such a wonderful wine.

Finally, consider this irony: We met at a restaurant where there was only one wine on the list that cost less than $30, and most were overpriced and quite ordinary. Maybe I should have mentioned the Charles & Charles to someone there?

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