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Category Archives: Wine trends

What’s wrong with California expensive wine?

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California expensive wineNothing, actually. But what happens when one of the world’s top wine writers picks only a handful of California labels as her best expensive wines in the world for 2015? If you’re a California expensive wine devotee, it’s time to panic, and many did on Twitter and elsewhere. If you have a little more perspective, Elin McCoy’s choices speak to how much great wine is made in the world, and how even those who buy pricey wine sometimes don’t understand the need to try something different.

McCoy’s list of the 50 best wines for $50 or less in 2015 had just seven wines from California. Excluding the six Champagnes on the list, that meant 7 of 44 — just 16 percent of the best expensive wine in the world — came from California. Is it any wonder so many howled so loudly? It’s one thing when I criticize California for making such ordinary, grocery-store cheap wine. But expensive wine? That’s the Napa and Sonoma reason for being, and if those regions don’t dominate lists like this, their supporters figure something must be wrong.

But as McCoy said when I asked her about it, “Those seven wines were more than from any other place but France, so I guess I don’t feel I neglected California too much.” And, she added, the list doesn’t have any wines from Chile, Argentina, and Washington state, which also make great wine.

Hence perspective, something too many American wine drinkers lack. Because it’s not enough to have 17 percent — it must be 50 or 60 percent or even more. Because, dammit, expensive California wine is the best wine in the world. Everyone knows that. And if you don’t, you don’t know anything about wine (and no, I’m not going to link to the blog posts that say that — no need to start the new year with a flame war).

Which is that lack of perspective. I’ve written many times that California makes the best wine in the world, cheap or expensive, but only when it wants to. The rest of the time, it’s content to make wine other people think it should make, be it a focus group or the Winestream Media. And if anyone complains, we get the speech in the previous paragraph.

Or, as one noted wine competition judge told me when we discussed this, “California wines have gotten boring, for the most part. Same ole, same ole, year in, year out. … I can appreciate the box they have built for themselves. Why mess with success? But no one wants to discuss it because we are all so close to those people and that industry, but the reason I love Old World wines so much is that they are interesting, with unexpected, often delightful, surprises. And every year, they are different.”

And difference brings perspective.

What does the Gallo wine survey mean?

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gallo wine surveyWhat does the Gallo wine survey mean? That even the world’s biggest wine company can’t untangle the confusion that is the post-modern wine business.

The survey, which E&J Gallo released last week, asked 1,000 frequent U.S. wine drinkers, ages 21 to 64, about their wine drinking attitudes and behaviors. The biggest contradiction in their answers stands out like a red wine stain on a white table cloth.

Our “wine fears” are minimal, Gallo says of the results, because only-one third of us feel awkward when we order wine at a restaurant and two-thirds of us aren’t worried that others will make fun of the wine we drink. And why not? The survey asked respondents to identify the wines they buy from 40 well-known brands, Gallo and otherwise, across a range of price levels. We picked an average of three, which pretty much explains the fear answer. How can we be scared of what we drink when we drink the same wine every time?

Or that 35 percent of survey respondents identified themselves as “wine adventurers,” who want to “explore options and to have new experiences with wine.” Which doesn’t exactly jibe with the three out of 40 brands answer, does it?

Or that 37 percent of survey respondents said box wine is a convenient option and about half said they would consider keeping a box in the refrigerator to have wine on hand. So why does box wine account for only three percent of U.S. sales?

Also complicating the picture — Gallo defines a frequent wine drinker as someone who drinks wine on more than one occasion per month and has at least one glass of wine per week. That means its frequent wine drinker is more or less the average U.S. wine drinker, who has one bottle of wine a month (and where four glasses equal a bottle). In other words, not very frequent at all. The typical French wine drinker has four times as much wine as that.

This is not to say that American’s aren’t drinking more wine, that we don’t appreciate wine more than ever, or that Gallo jiggered the results. Rather, it speaks to how difficult it is to get quality information about wine drinking in the U.S., which is something I have lamented for years. Wine is so terrifying that consumer surveys like this run into a fudge factor — the answers to the questions may not always be accurate (to be polite) and those being surveyed too often say what they think they should say rather than what they really think.

Because, after all, this is wine.

Holiday wine trends 2015

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Holiday wine trendsHoliday wine trends in 2015? Red wine — lots and lots of red wine.

That’s the consensus from the retailers I’ve talked to over the past 10 days. The red blends boom, combined with an upsurge in interest in pinot noir, has shoppers going for what Chris Keel, who runs Put a Cork in It in Fort Worth, calls “a bigger style in red blends.”

That was born out by numbers from Wine.com, where two-thirds of the wine sold over the past year were red. Mike Osborne, the web site’s founder and and vice president of merchandising, reports that the leading red wine categories, including merlot, have grown by double digits.

Interestingly, prices seem stable, particularly on the high end, and we’re still looking for value. But we’re also willing to pay for a holiday splurge, says Nick Vorpagel of Lake Geneva Country Meats. “They’re generally OK with $15, especially for domestic wine,” he says, noting the difficulty in finding quality for $10 from U.S. producers. “And I think consumers have decided that wine is an integral part of their meal and they’re OK with paying a bit more for a quality bottle of wine.”

Among the other holiday wine trends this year:

• Rose is still popular, even though it’s not rose season. Wine.com is selling more rose than merlot, which is as welcome a development as it is hard to believe.

• “Customers are looking for wine recommendations that fit their palate, not just a generic ‘best pairing’ recommendation,” says Vorpagel. “I’m having more customers come in and say, ‘I don’t like pinot noir; what other reds will go with turkey?’ It’s great because people are getting more comfortable with their palate to say ‘I’m not going to drink something I don’t like just because an expert recommends it.’ ” That sound you hear is the Wine Curmudgeon’s sigh of pleasure.

• Oak is not going away, no matter how much I want it to. Those of you who like it are still buying it, and especially in chardonnay, and producers have launched several wines in the $15 to $20 range for these wine drinkers.

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