The Wine Curmudgeon’s Arizona wine adventure

Five things I learned during a weekend of Arizona wine, where I visited six wineries and spoke at regional meeting of the American Wine Society: • The technical quality of the wine Read More »


Get out of your wine rut

The only rule of wine that counts — really, the only rule there should be — is to drink what you want, but to be willing to try different kinds of wine. Read More »


Wine of the week: Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Line 39 is one of five labels owned by Cecchetti Wine, which makes it a sort of Big Wine company brand. In this, the sauvignon blanc can teach the rest of Big Read More »


Winebits 407: Blue Apron wine, arsenic, airline wine

• The future of wine? Blue Apron, the home food delivery service, has added wine to what it does. This means that when the company sends you the recipe and ingredients for Read More »


Once more about wine clubs: Wine Insiders

The Wine Curmudgeon’s antipathy toward most non-winery wine clubs is well-known; too many of them sell mysterious wine for too high prices, and the wines are picked by “experts” who are rarely Read More »

Winebits 407: Blue Apron wine, arsenic, airline wine


blue apron wineThe future of wine? Blue Apron, the home food delivery service, has added wine to what it does. This means that when the company sends you the recipe and ingredients for dinner, it will (for an additional charge) send wine to complement the meal. This is revolutionary, and could be the beginning of a change in the way Americans see wine — something several of my wine writing colleagues are hoping for, and have taken me to task for criticizing. Why so? Because Blue Apron sees an opportunity, despite the regulatory hurdles, to sell wine to food people, which has always been one of the sticking points in making wine more mainstream. Food people generally care more about kale — or whatever is au courant — than they do about wine, and if we can get them to see wine as part of the meal, we’ve made huge progress. I know someone using Blue Apron, and will report back after she does it for a while to see if we’re on to something here.

Wine in arsenic: The wine and arsenic lawsuit has not gone away, reports Wines & Vines magazine, and the plaintiffs have “tweaked [it] to seek billions of dollars in civil penalties, among other damages.” They are using a California state law designed to protect consumers from what the magazine calls noxious substances, and the amended lawsuit days that “just a glass or two of these arsenic-contaminated wines a day over time could result in dangerous arsenic toxicity to the consumer. …” Also worth nothing, and something I haven’t seen before: That most of the wines that the Denver lab tested that were the focus of the lawsuit “suggest that most wines meet the standard for drinking water, and all of the wines fell below 50 parts per billion, as did the beers that were the focus of similar concern in 2013.” Most international standards for arsenic start at 100 parts per billion. Was this, then, as many suspected, nothing more than ambulance chasing?

Flying the wine skies: Every year, there are rankings of the best airline wine, which somehow don’t include the little bottles that we all know and don’t get excited about. Instead, the rankings are for first- and business-class wine lists on airlines that most of us don’t fly. This year’s rankings feature Singapore and Emirates, which never seem to show up when I have to go to Denver to judge. So read it, marvel at the wines, and then stick your knees up under your chin because the slob in the row in front of you has pushed his seat all the way back, and the last thing you want is wine.

Once more about wine clubs: Wine Insiders


wine clubsThe Wine Curmudgeon’s antipathy toward most non-winery wine clubs is well-known; too many of them sell mysterious wine for too high prices, and the wines are picked by “experts” who are rarely identified. And none of this takes into account the clubs’ shipping charges.

Nevertheless, I am always checking to see what’s new, which is what any good reporter should do. Hence my recent order from a company called Wine Insiders, which claims that it approves only five out of every 100 bottles that its experts sample and offers a double satisfaction guarantee (whatever that is).

The come-on? Six bottles of wine, advertised through an insert in one of those mailed to the house coupon things, for 40 percent off the $14.99 price plus 1-cent shipping. Sends like a hell of a deal, even though I don’t know what I’m getting save that the wines are “Delicious reds and refreshing whites.” I know, I know. I’m trying to keep an open mind, too, since the first rule of wine writing is not to make any judgments until you taste the wine. But that $14.99 sounds like grocery store pricing, where the club/member price is $12.99, the sale price is $10.99, and the six-bottle price is $8.99.

Which is why I’ll write more after I taste. Still, this reminds me of the record clubs that were so popular when I was kid. You got tapes (or vinyl, even, if you’re an old white guy) for pennies, the catch being what was called negative option billing, which made you liable even if you didn’t order the music after the first shipment. And the music after the first shipment came with higher than retail prices and expensive shipping costs. As one clever reporter wrote: “Record clubs may have introduced several generations of America’s youth to the concept of collection agencies. …”

Wine Insiders doesn’t do negative option billing (though some wine clubs do, or something similar where you have to buy a certain amount of wine). Still, the concept is eerily familiar, with the very cheap introductory offer and then what seem to be very high prices for the wines you can buy after the first time, like a $25 cava and a $23 rose. The former is from a producer who does a similar $15 cava, while the latter is apparently made by the same Provencal winemaker that does this $9 rose.

But always an open mind, and I would like nothing better to be wrong. Because then I got six great wines for $36, and those are Wine Curmudgeon prices.

For more on wine clubs:
Wine clubs: Are they worth the effort?
Wine through the mail: The do’s and don’ts of direct shipping
“Our panel of experts”


Texas wine developments: 2015


texas wineSome thoughts after driving some 900 miles through the Texas High Plains in search of Texas wine:

• It’s not so much that this year’s harvest was plentiful, or that quality looks to be good. Rather, it’s that growers who normally had a couple of tons of grapes to sell have six or eight. Or 10. That means wineries may have more grapes than they know what to do with — something that could only happen in Texas, where short harvests have been the norm for a decade. Hence, there may not be anywhere to store the extra crushed grapes, and I don’t even want to think about what it will do to grape prices over the next couple of years. The good news? That there will be almost no excuse to sell Texas wine that doesn’t carry a Texas appellation, a practice long common here and which has generated huge controversy.

• Even I get tired of ragging on Dallas restaurants that don’t carry Texas wine, but after eating in three Lubbock restaurants that do Texas wine justice — the Pecan Grill at the Overton Hotel, La Diosa, and West Table — Dallas restaurants have no excuse for not carrying Texas wine. If they can do it in Lubbock, why can’t we do it here? We are supposed to be more cosmopolitan than Lubbock, aren’t we?

• Neal Newsom, a west Texas cotton farmer who planted his first grapes 30 years ago and today grows only grapes, says his fellow cotton farmers used to heckle him — literally — over that decision. Because what kind of self-respecting cotton farmer would grow something as silly as grapes in a part of the country where cotton is king? Today, though, says Newsom, they’re practically jealous, given his success. “I got more people asking me about growing grapes last year than I did in the previous 29 years put together,” he says.

• The less said about my experiences in Post, about 50 miles southwest of Lubbock, the better. Who knew driving through a small town, no bigger than five minutes from north to south, could cause so much aggravation, and both times I went through it?

• The best wines I tasted? A tempranillo from Llano Estacado (which I’ll use in my American Wine Society seminar about Texas wine in November) and the McPherson rose. The former had varietal character — some earthiness, a bit of orange peel — but tasted of Texas, with more red fruit than a Rioja and more balanced acidity. It’s about $15 for people lucky enough to have an HEB in their town. The rose, about $10, is sold out in much of the state, but a couple of restaurants in Lubbock still had it. That it sold out so quickly speaks to how well it’s made — juicy strawberry fruit and a crispness that makes me smile when I write about it — as well as how much Texas wine drinkers have changed. Just a couple of years ago, to paraphrase my pal John Bratcher, you couldn’t sell rose here if you left it outside the liquor store with a sign that said free for the taking.

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