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Once more into the Super Bowl breach

One of the biggest shocks in the 8 1/2 year history of the blog is that Super Bowl Sunday is the worst day for visitors every year. It’s worse than Christmas and Read More »

Blue-Apron-Wine

Blue Apron wine: Disappointing and depressing

This was going to be a glowing post about the wine program at Blue Apron, the home delivery service that supplies recipes and ingredients for home cooks who want to try something Read More »

wineofweek

Wine of the week: Chapoutier Bila-Haut 2014

It’s probably an exaggeration to call Michel Chapoutier of the renowned Rhone winemaking family France’s version of Fred Franzia, the man the U.S. wine business loves to hate. But the two have Read More »

winenews

Winebits 423: Kroger wine, direct shipping, Bordeaux

• The big get richer: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kroger wants to contract management of its wine and beer departments to Southern Wine & Spirits, the biggest distributor in Read More »

winerant

Fred Franzia and the future of the wine business

Fred Franzia, the man the California wine business loves to hate, reminded us why last week when he spoke to the wine industry’s most important trade show. “One billion bottles of Two-buck Read More »

Is the U.S. wine boom over?

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U.S. wine boomThat’s the question that the annual Silicon Valley Bank state of the wine business report addressed last week, and the answer? It does look like the U.S. wine boom is over — for now, anyway. And though Rob McMillan, who writes the report, was optimistic that the slump may be short-lived, the fact that he cut through the usual pom poms and short skirts that pass for wine business analysis speaks volumes about how serious the situation is for anyone who loves wine.

The report predicts a decline in U.S. per capita wine consumption after more than 20 consecutive years of growth, and while overall sales in dollar terms will increase slightly, sales measured by the amount of wine sold will remain flat for the fifth year in a row. That is also the end of a two-decades-old trend; after sales bottomed out in the early 1990s, they increased annually, even through the recent recession.

McMillan points to three reasons for the change:

• The collapse in sales for wine that costs less than $6 a bottle, the boxes and jugs of Almaden and Carlo Rossi that have been some of the biggest cash cows in wine retail history. “That market is gone,” he said during the report’s webcast last week, “and it’s not coming back.” Yes, consumers are buying more expensive wine, but not as many of them are buying wine overall, and premiumization seems to stop at $15. There is little evidence that anyone is trading up higher than that.

• Competition from craft beer and spirits, which are more appealing to younger consumers. The report didn’t go into detail about why they’re more appealing, but as a 20-something woman told me the other day (and she worked in a wine shop): “Wine is such an anachronism.”

• Generational change, and McMillan said what few others in wine want to admit publicly. The Baby Boomers who powered the 20-year wine boom don’t drink as much as we used to, and we’re going to drink even less as we age. Meanwhile, the Gen Xers and Millennials aren’t making up the difference, whether because they’re drinking craft beer or can’t afford to. I talked to McMillan after the report came out, and he was blunt: “The Millennials are not going to spend the money on wine that the Baby Boomers did.”

In fact, most news reports of the study downplay that bit about the Millennials, who are supposed to be the wine business’ savior. But anyone who is clear-eyed about the economy understands that that may not be possible. First, this isn’t the 1990s, when the gross domestic product grew three to four percent a year. Second, the Millennials, for all the talk about peak earning years, don’t have access to the same high-wage jobs the Boomers did 20 years ago. And third, without those high-wage jobs, they will have even more difficulty paying off an unprecedented $1.3 trillion in college loan debt. All of which means it’s more likely they’ll buy a $5 craft beer instead of a $15 bottle of wine.

Wine of the week: Vionta Albarino 2014

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Vionta albarinoA couple of years ago, about the only people who knew about albarino were the ones who made it. And since they were in Spain, the idea of albarino didn’t bother most American wine drinkers.

Today, though, you can find albarino, a white wine, in a surprising number of U.S. wine retailers, a development that makes the Wine Curmudgeon smile. And why not? The Vionta Albarino ($14, purchased, 12.5%) is a welcome change of pace, existing somewhere between chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigo. Think of the relationship as a wine-related Venn diagram.

The Vionta albarino is an excellent example of how the grape does that — fresh lemon fruit (Meyer lemon?), a little something that comes off as earthy, and fresh herbs. It also offers, as quality albarinos do, a touch of savory and what aficionados call saltiness (since the wine is made near the sea).

The Vionta albarino is a food wine — pair it with rich, fresh, grilled or boiled seafood, so the flavors can play off each other. Highly recommended, and something I’ve bought twice since the first time. Who says all $15 wine is overpriced?

Winebits 422: Wine thefts, wine writers, wine reviews

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wine thefts• He knows his wine: A New York man has been arrested after stealing wine from restaurants and retailers throughout the northeast, posing as an interested consumer with high dollar tastes. Among his targets — a 1990 Chateau Petrus, one of the most expensive wines in the world at $4,000 a bottle and almost impossible to find. There’s a video at the link with surveillance footage; if nothing else, the suspect looks like the Wine Curmudgeon when I check out the wines on display at restaurants I visit.

Drunk or not? The Guardian, a British newspaper, decided to call the country’s government on its claim that all drinking was bad by asking its wine writers how much they drank to do their job. The story is funny and cheeky and sad in that particularly English way, and my favorite comes from Michael White: “When I was a young reporter on the London Evening Standard, covering anything from murder to Miss World, lunch on the early shift consisted of three pints and a cheese omelette at the Globe across the street at 11 a.m. It’s what Americans, still prohibitionist puritans at heart, call a ‘British lunch.’ ” The English know us so well, don’t they?

Cash upfront: New Zealand wine writers are in an uproar over some of them taking money to write favorable reviews, something that is so reprehensible that it shouldn’t even be worthy of discussion. But, since this is wine writing, one so-called marketing expert defended the practice, telling an Auckland newspaper that “this didn’t mean such reviewers wouldn’t be honest.” Which is why I use the phrase so-called, because what kind of idiot would take someone’s money and then write a review that the client didn’t like?

Cartoon courtesy of the drinks business, using a Creative Commons license

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