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Category Archives: Wine trends

Wine of the week: Torbreck Woodcutter’s Semillon 2010

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Torbreck Woodcutter'sThe Torbreck Woodcutter’s ($15, purchased, 14%) is more than just a steal at this price. It’s an example of how wine ages, and why you should sometimes buy a wine to age, even if you think aging is too wine geeky for you.

I first tasted this Australian white, made with semillon, two years ago, part of a group of samples. I liked it, but it wasn’t anything special, according to my notes: “Intriguing wine that had some richness not unlike chardonnay, but without any chardonnay fruit. Just some pepper and a little apricot or peach.”

Last month, when I needed a bottle to pair with pork shoulder braised with Mediterranean spices and chickpeas, what did my pal James McFadyen recommend? The Torbreck Woodcutter’s, and he couldn’t have been more spot on. The difference, as the wine become more complex from aging, was impressive.

The fruit had evolved into an almost honeyed apricot, close to the fig that you’ll find in the textbook definition of semillon. “Some richness” had turned into a rich and full mouth feel, and it didn’t taste like chardonnay at all. Through all of this, the Torbreck Woodcutter’s was bone dry, and with an almost chalky finish. I couldn’t believe the transformation, and the wine was delicious.

Highly recommended, and another reason why wine is about trying as many different kinds as possible. Otherwise, you’ll miss a treat like this.

Wine reviews still matter

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wine reviews

The conventional wisdom in the wine business over the past decade that wine reviews — unless you’re the Winestream Media, writing for an audience that desperately needs to know that its $28 wine got 93 points — are becoming irrelevant. I’ve written this, and I mostly believe it. For example, the majority of the reviews on the blog are among the least read.

The irrelevancy of review comes from new technology, whether Facebook, texting, phone wine apps, or CellarTracker, that gives wine drinkers the ability to recommend wine to their friends and read their friends’ recommendations without the need for a traditional wine reviewer.

So imagine my surprise when the new Wine Market Council study, detailing the behavior of U.S. wine drinkers, found that reviews still matter.

“I think it is to be expected that people who have not been around wine for years and years are a bit more interested in reading about wine and getting input from knowledgeable sources,” says John Gillespie, the council’s president. And he has some intriguing numbers to back that up.

More than half of Millennials and almost half of Gen Xers who drink wine frequently said reviews were extremely or very important in deciding what to buy. This is twice the number of Baby Boomers who said they valued reviews, and three times the number of the oldest group surveyed, born before World War II.

If that still doesn’t seem a lot, consider this: I located two surveys about film criticism that showed much lower numbers — six percent in a poll on ComicBookMovie.com said reviews were important, and a survey of Indian audiences in 2011 found that just 17 percent said the star rating was important. Yes, these aren’t exactly comparable to the Wine Market Council results, but it’s close enough to make me think wine reviews are still relevant.

The one thing not surprising about reviews in the Wine Market Council survey? The Winestream Media’s grip on its captive audience. Two-thirds of high-end wine buyers who drink wine frequently rated reviews extremely or very important. Which is why they’ll always be a Wine Spectator.

Are Americans going to drink more wine?

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wine market councilOver the past decade, U.S. wine consumption has set all sorts of records, and most observers expect that to continue. This year’s Silicon Valley Bank report called for a 14 percent increase in high-end wine sales, while a study commissioned by the VinExpo trade show said U.S.wine drinkers will power world growth.

But not everyone is convinced.

It’s not that I’m not optimistic, it’s that the reality of the market when you look at the hard data of total table wine sales over the past three years following the recession,” says John Gillespie, the president of the Wine Market Council, which tracks U.S. wine drinking habits. The group released its 2014 report last week, and it seemed to be at odds with what the others have been reporting.

Gillespie’s point: After more than a decade of substantial growth, in which per capita wine consumption in the U.S. finally passed that of the early 1980s, sales coming out of the recession were nothing like the previous 15 years. Perhaps, says Gillespie, this more or less flat growth is the new normal, the sign of what economists call a mature market.

Which raises two questions: Why is this happening, and what does it mean for wine drinkers? Gillespie says it’s difficult to know why consumers do what they do, but that the Wine Market Council figures suggest some of us are drinking less wine and more craft beer.

My theory isn’t as nuanced (and doesn’t have Gillespie’s experience or data to support it) and should not be surprising to regular visitors. It’s about price; consumers don’t want to pay the higher prices the industry is trying to impose, and aren’t happy with the quality they’re getting at lower prices. Hence, they’re looking for something else to drink. The Silicon Valley Bank report said producers are focusing on premiumisation, the idea that better quality wine should cost more money. In this, they want consumers to trade up from their $10 and $12 bottles to $18 and $20 bottles.

Could the flat growth that Gillespie sees be consumers rejecting premiumisation? Will we start to look elsewhere, like craft beer, for value? If so, the wine business could face problems over the next decade, since producers expect pre-recession growth. If growth is flat, we’ll have more wine, and especially more high-priced wine, than there is demand for, and prices could collapse again, just like they did during the recession.

Which may be welcome news for consumers, but hardly anything the wine business wants to hear.

More about the Wine Market Council reports:
The 2013 Wine Market Council report
The 2012 Wine Market Council report

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