Category Archives: Wine rants

The end of the wine business as we know it?


wine businessThe one consistency about the wine business, as we celebrate the blog’s eighth birthday, is that the big get bigger, and that there isn’t any room for the small. Or, as a distributor friend of mine put it the other day, “It’s all about consolidating or dying in this world of global megacorps.”

Gone are dozens of companies that made wine that I enjoyed — producers that were bought or folded or absorbed by other companies, many of which are also gone. Remember Hogue, which made a quality $10 sauvignon blanc in the 1990s? It was purchased by the Canadian Vincor, which was soon gobbled up by Constellation. That entire process, three complicated financial transactions worth tens of millions of dollars, took place in just five years.

The difference these days is that the big are bigger than ever, and today’s  small companies used to be considered big. The 10 biggest wineries in the U.S. account for about 71 percent of all the wine sold, based on figures from 2014 from Wine Business Monthly, and this  amalgamation is happening on the distributor side, too, with the 10 biggest wholesalers controlling two-thirds of the market.

Throw in consolidation among retailers, and Big Wine will soon be selling to Big Retail through Big Distributor, and a handful of companies will control what we drink — the prices, the quality, even what it’s supposed to taste like. It will be the end of the wine business as we know it.

More, after the jump:

Four things that would make wine more fun to drink


“Why didn’t the label say this was a sweet red wine?”

Four things that would make wine more fun to drink after a summer and fall spent traveling and tasting, because I really don’t want to have so many wine complaints:

• Better restaurant wine pricing. I mention this yet again not because I expect it to change, but because so few people in the restaurant business truly understand. I had a restaurateur approach me at a recent event to tell me how wonderful her wine list was. “We’re the only restaurant in this area that cares about wine,” she said. The list? Not awful, and even a couple of interesting bottles, but every wine, even the $8 Big Wine riesling, was marked up at least three times. This restaurant in a tiny town in Arizona was charging $40 for crappy grocery store wine, and the woman was proud of the list. How am I supposed to answer that?

• Back label honesty. I did a tasting this week for cheap holiday wines for a Dallas publication, and what struck me — besides how awful so many of the wines were — was how little the back label description had to do with what the wine tasted like. Soft, syrupy cabernet sauvignons without any tannins were described as elegant, while chardonnay made with so much fake oak that it hurt to swallow were said to be rich and full bodied. How about truth in labeling: “We made this wine to hit a certain price, and it really doesn’t taste like much, but what do you expect for $8?”

If the wine is sweet, call it sweet. Why does the wine business insist on confusing consumers by leaving sweet off the label when the wine is sweet? I realize that the industry has taught “real” wine drinkers that sweet wine is inferior, and that only old ladies with cats drink it. But I’m tired of tasting wine labeled as dry that is sweet, and I have heard from many consumers who feel the same way. Besides, isn’t it possible that sweet wine labeled sweet would sell better?

• Lidl can’t get to the U.S.too soon. The German discount grocer, known for its quality cheap wines, broke ground on a U.S. distribution center last month, and should start opening stores in the next couple of years. If Lidl does wine in the U.S. the way it does in Europe, those of us who care about cheap wine will have an alternative to the wines in the second item in this post. Or, as my brother emailed me during a trip to Europe, “Love Lidl — great wine selection.”

For more on making wine more fun:
Wine education: Four things you don’t need to know about wine
Five things that make me crazy when I buy wine
Five things the wine business can do to help consumers figure out wine

Bacon, wine, and what we eat and drink

bacon causes cancer

Yes, this much bacon at one sitting will probably kill me. No, I don’t eat that much.

That World Health Organization doctors have found that bacon causes cancer should not be surprising. It’s no different than highway engineers announcing they need to tear down homes to wide a highway that we don’t want widened. It’s what they do, no matter how much we don’t like it, and it would be more strange if they said otherwise, be they doctors or highway engineers.

That’s because, like the various federal assaults on drinking, the news about processed meat is nothing more than physicians trying to keep us healthy. It’s what doctors do, and it’s important to remember that it’s what we want them to do. But since most of the easy health fixes are decades long past, like clean drinking water, the polio vaccine, and antibiotics, they’ve turned to lifestyle issues to save us from ourselves. How else, for those of us who live in western industrialized democracies and don’t smoke, are we going to live longer?

Which is the rub. I long ago gave up desserts, eat just two eggs a week, only have red meat four or five times a month, and plan meals around beans, rice, and leafy green vegetables. But my doctor, a smart and funny guy, always asks when I’m going to start eating better.

It’s also the irony. Most Americans, by several measures, are living healthier lives. We’ve gone a long way toward ending smoking, we have made significant progress in cutting refined sugar, and, compared to the rest of the world, we’re practically teetotalers when it comes to booze. And even those who aren’t probably know they shouldn’t eat bacon every morning for breakfast, with a BLT chaser at lunch. That they still do speaks to other societal problems that have nothing to do with health.

But, like the highway engineers who want to plow over a historic neighborhood to build an expressway that we don’t really need, that’s not enough for our doctors. They want to know when we’re going to start eating better. It’s up to us to remind them that many of us already are, and that — as Julia Child always said — everything in moderation. My doctor could do worse than listen to her advice.

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