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Category Archives: Wine terms

Is Fetzer’s Zipz glass the answer for portable wine?

fetzer zipzIs the Fetzer Zipz glass the answer for portable wine?

As usual, the answer depends on how much you pay for the wine. If you have to pay some concessionaire bandit $11 at a baseball game, absolutely not. But if you can find the wine in the plastic glass for $3 at a grocery store, and you’re not fussy about what it tastes like and you want the convenience, you could do worse.

The Zipz effort has 187 milliliters of wine, about one glass (one-quarter of a bottle). It’s a PET product, made with the kind of plastic commonly used for bottled water containers.

The Zipz looks like a wine glass, if a little clunky. It’s sealed with wrapping around the rim and stem, a plastic top, and pullback foil over the wine. The idea behind Zipz is to sell wine in places where it’s impractical for bottles and glasses, like ball games, concerts, and the like. Or, consumers can buy it at retail and take it camping or on picnics.

In this, the Zipz was surprisingly easy to open, even when I did it the wrong way the first couple of times. Tear the wrapping at the strip, gently pry the top off, and pull back the foil. I only spilled a little wine once. Plus, it was easy to chill.

The problem is that the wine is not Fetzer’s best effort. Something like House Band, a similar concept, is better made. The Quartz White (sample, 12%) was the better of the two, an apple-ly, sweet and sour blend made with more than six grapes and that tasted of moscato, though there was more chardonnay than anything else. It’s a bit sweet, which helps to cover some of the bitterness from what could be unripe grapes.

The Crimson Red (sample, 13.5%) is a lot of what turns people off of red wine – tannic and bitter, despite a slight sweetness. Both glasses I tasted seemed oxidized, and I wonder if the PET handles heat (which is one cause of oxidation) as well as glass. Or maybe both were just stored badly.

The wine has fake oak, zinfandel and syrah (plus at least four other grapes), but the blend is not greater than the whole. Having said that, if I’m at the beach, grilling burgers, only drink red wine, and I’m not picky, it’s OK. Adding an ice cube won’t hurt.

All the wine statistics you’ll ever need

Wine statsThis ties in nicely with the various Big Wine discussions we’ve had on the blog over the last month, and it also puts many of the numbers that I’ve reported over the years in one place — wine consumption, wine production, and most popular wines according to grape variety. The chart is courtesy of the Statistic Brain website, compiled in August; just ignore the misspellings.

Pay careful attention to the most popular restaurant wines, listed near the bottom of the chart, which is as Big Wine as it gets. Click here for a PDF — it's the only way I could get the chart on the site and make it readable.

Big Wine: 5 companies, 60 percent of sales, 200 brands

Call it serendipity. Shortly after my blog posts about Big Wine at the end of last year, a Michigan State study offered even more data about how Big Wine works and how it has changed the business.

The paper, “Concentration in the U.S. Wine Industry,” was compiled by Phil Howard, an associate professor who studies consolidation. After doing soft drinks and beer, he told me, wine was the next logical step.

“And even I was surprised by what I found,” Howard said. “Wine was much different than what I thought. If you go to the stores, it seems like you have all these choices, because the shared ownership is not very apparent. We wanted to help consumers understand what they were really buying.”

The study consists of two parts – third-party sales data and store visits from Howard and his graduate assistants. The former, displayed in some very nifty charts on the study website, paints a fascinating picture of market share as well who owns what labels. Three companies – E&J Gallo, The Wine Group, and Constellation Brands, account for more than half of wine sales in the U.S.

This is my favorite chart. For example, you can see how important Cook’s champagne is to Constellation Brands (about as much as Robert Mondavi, believe it not), and that Bronco, which makes Two-buck Chuck, has a bigger market share than much larger companies like Diageo and Altria, which owns Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The store visit results were even more fascinating.  Howard and his graduate assistants counted wine at 20 Michigan retailers, where they found more than 3,600 unique varieties (where chardonnay was one variety, merlot another, and so forth). Those wines came from more than 1,000 different “companies,” although, as the study noted, the ”top firms each contribute to an illusion of diverse ownership by offering dozens of brands (and hundreds of varieties), many of which do not clearly indicate the parent company on their label.”

The reason for that, said Howard, is not difficult to figure out: “A company known for producing cheap wine and not quality wine does not necessarily want to be identified with a premium, high-end brand.”

Other key points:

• The only unique varieties of wine found in more than half the retailers were Clos du Bois chardonnay, from Constellation, and Cavit pinot grigio. In other words, wine has no national brands, in the way every retailer in beer carries Bud Light and Coke and Pepsi are in every store that sells soft drinks.

• Half of the stores carried the same six varieties – Blackstone merlot, Ravenswood zinfandel, and Woodbridge chardonnay, all from Constellation, and Apothic red, Barefoot chardonnay, and Ecco Domani pinot grigio, all from Gallo. What this says about retailer selection, customer preference, and distributor clout is worth a second study.

• The top six wine companies in the U.S. accounted for more than one-fifth of the varieties found in the stores. That it’s not higher speaks to retailer determination to carry other brands, something else not seen in soft drinks or beer.

• Howard said that the variety and number of wines, as impressive as it is, would probably be even more impressive in states that are less regulated than Michigan, which has one of the tightest three-tier systems in the country.

Finally, though Big Wine isn’t as top-heavy as Big Beer, it may be headed that way, said Howard. He said the wine business resembles the beer business in the 1950s, when 30 companies dominated the market. Today, just two beer producers — AB InBev and Molson Coors — account for three-quarters of all sales.

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