Category Archives: Wine trends

Wine availability, and how it drives readers crazy, too


Wine availabilityThe email from the reader (paraphrased here) was direct: “I put together a list of 15 of your recommendations and searched online at two big West Coast chains, two of our local retailers, and was only able to find 4 out of the 15 wines. That’s mostly the same experience I’ve had with recommendations from the wine magazines. The wines just aren’t available for ordinary folks. What’s going on with how you determine wine availability?”

Ouch. “Mostly the same experience with the wine magazines”? “Not available for ordinary folks”? So much for 20-plus years of writing about the wine that most of us drink.

Welcome, once again, to the horror that is wine availability, the bane of my existence as a wine writer. I’ve written about this many times, and despite the changes in the wine business over the past 20 years, wine availability has not gotten any better. As this reader noted, it may actually have gotten worse.

How can this happen in the age of the Internet, where we have more retail choices than ever? Much of the blame lies with our old friend three-tier, which requires producers to do more work than they want to do — or are capable of doing — to sell the same wine in each of the 50 states. But that’s not the only reason:

• That there aren’t any national wine retailers, the way there are for supermarkets. The biggest chains, like Total Wine, are only in 15 states, so what does someone do in the other 35 if I write about a wine I bought at Total?

• That there aren’t any national brands in wine, like there are in other consumer goods. Every grocery store in the country is going to carry Heinz ketchup, but there is no brand similar to Heinz in wine. Even Barefoot, the best-selling U.S. wine, isn’t in every supermarket.

• The growth of private label wine, and especially in grocery stores and the largest chains. If they’re carrying more private label, there is less room for the wines that I write about, which are almost always not private label.

• The idea that European imports are less available as one moves west across the country, so that Italian, French, and Spanish wine is going to be more difficult to find in California than in New York.

So all I can do is to keep making the effort. I buy wine at supermarkets like Kroger, specialty grocers like Whole Foods, large retailers like Total, independent retailers in Texas, and national chains like World Market. My approach is that if the producer makes enough wine that I can buy it at one of those stores, it should be generally available in a decent-sized city with quality retailers. This way, I have the best chance of avoiding the 800-case wines that the Wine Spectator seems so fond of. And the first question I always ask when I get samples? “Who is the distributor?”, because if it is too small or too niche-driven, the wine won’t be easy to find.

But this, as the reader noted, is no guarantee. My only consolation? That if Franz Kafka had been a wine writer, we’d have a new definition for Kafkaesque.

More about the dilemma of wine availability:
Wine availability: Whose fault is it anyway?
Wine availability: How to find what you’re looking for when it’s not on the shelf
Eric Asimov and the dilemma of wine availablity

Liquor delivery apps: Are they the future?


Liquor delivery appsLiquor delivery apps, which allow you to order wine, beer, or spirits on your phone the same way you order a car from Uber, are supposed to be the next big thing in the liquor business. You’ll be able to get whatever you want, whenever you want, and without stepping foot into a retailer. How can anyone not think that will turn into the next Internet, mega-billion dollar success story?

Which is why the Wine Curmudgeon is here, because anything that sounds that good has to have a catch or two, right? And especially if it deals with liquor delivery and the three-tier system, which regulates how liquor is sold in the U.S. My story in the current issue of the Beverage Media trade magazine talks about what retailers need to know if they want to work with the apps, much of which consumers need to know as well.

In addition, I tried one of the apps in Dallas, with mixed results. The highlights of the story, plus my research, are after the jump:

Wine, ingredient labels, and what’s next

Wine ingredient labels

“I not, I not, I not want ingredient labels.”

More news last week that the food business is embracing ingredient transparency, and this included grocery stores — hardly the most progressive part of the food business. So why is wine still so adamant in opposing wine ingredient labels?

Panera, the high-end sandwich chain, said it would eliminate a variety of artificial preservatives, flavors and colors, as well as different kinds of sweeteners, reported the New York Times. This followed news that Nestle, which has been on the wrong side of many of these discussions, would eliminate artificial flavorings and colors from Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, and Nesquik. Meanwhile, Simon Unwins, former chief marketing officer for British mega-grocer Tesco, said it was time for his business “to be seen as leading the fight for less processed foods, on behalf of their customers.” And the woman at the deli counter at my local Kroger spent a couple of minutes telling me how the chain was eliminating fillers in its private label sandwich meat.

Said an expert quoted in the Times story: “To me, this has gone way beyond anything that could even be remotely considered a fad and become a powerful trend.”

Unless, of course, you’re in the wine business. Then you hold your breath, stomp your feet, and pound the table, shouting, “No, no, no, no!” when you do take a breath.

Which doesn’t accomplish much. As the expert noted, ingredient transparency is here to stay, whether the wine business wants it or not. Over the next couple of years, Big Wine will add ingredients and nutrition facts to its wine, thanks to the new voluntary program, and reap the benefits. And, as the rest of the wine business holds out for reasons that no one who isn’t in the wine business understands, consumers will start to wonder if wine has something to hide. The industry squeezed through the arsenic scare, but only because the people doing the scaring were so dodgy. What happens when the next scare comes from a consumer watchdog like the Center for Science in the Public Interest or the federal Centers for Disease Control, hardly well disposed toward wine? Or even the FDA?

Good luck squeezing through then.

One final note: It is possible, despite industry protestations to the contrary, to include nutrition facts on a wine bottle without the world coming to an end. This link shows how Toad Hollow did it on its Risque sparkling wine, which needed nutritional information because it was less than seven percent alcohol. Amazing how easy that was, isn’t it?

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