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wineofweek

Wine of the week: Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014

Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm is perhaps the most subversive person in the wine business, and one sip of his rose, the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, shows why. On the one Read More »

fscottfitzgerald

Winebits 396: Investing in wine, Scottish wine, Bill St. John

• Tulips, anyone? The Wine Curmudgeon rarely passes up an opportunity to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald on one of his (and my) favorite subjects: “You know, the rich are different from you Read More »

winetrends

Helping The Daily Meal understand local and the best U.S. wineries

How do we know that regional wine is firmly part of the wine mainstream? When a hip and with it on-line magazine, edited by Colman Andrews — one of the most influential Read More »

winereview

Mini-reviews 75: White wine for summer

Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. Th month: white wine Read More »

artificialintelligence

Let the computer write the wine reviews

Could artificial intelligence make writers obsolete? Because I’m not the only one who wonders. Barbara Ehrenreich, writing in the New York Times, firmly believes that “the business of book reviewing could itself Read More »

Winebits 395: Prosecco shortage, sweet wine, label fraud

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Prosecco shortagePlenty of bubbly: The Wine Curmudgeon has not mentioned the news reports over the past several months heralding a Prosecco shortage, mostly because the “shortage” made my reporter’s stomach hurt. It’s the just the kind of “news” that offers an excuse for price increases — coincidentally, as the euro drops — and it turns out my hunch wasn’t far from the truth. The head of the Prosecco consortium, which oversees production of the Italian sparker, told Wine Business Monthly that supply increased almost 18 percent in 2014, and that there is no shortage. “We call on those who write, market and educate people about wine to do their part to inform the public about what Prosecco represents as a specific wine of place year,” he said.

Deciding what is sweet: Sweet wine is making an impression in Canada as well as the U.S., as Bill Zacharkiw writes in the Montreal Gazette: “There still seems to be some confusion about the role of sugar in wine, as many of these emails ask what the relationship is between residual sugar and quality. But there are other interesting questions as well.” Which he answers quite intelligently, noting the same thing that I have found. It’s not sweetness itself that is the problem with sweet wine, but how badly made too many sweet wines are. Says Zacharkiw: “I cast no judgment here. In the end, you choose what you want to drink. I simply want people to know the facts, and believe you should have access to all the information in order to make an informed choice.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Fix the label: Remember how those “artisan” spirits were going to fight to the bitter end the lawsuits accusing them of not being especially artisan? Templeton, the Iowa producer using whiskey from Indiana, has settled, and I would expect more settlements to follow now that a precedent has been set. The Templeton co-founder said his whiskey’s marketing “should have provided more clarity,” in one of those wonderful understatements that I so enjoy. Hopefully, the wine industry, with its artisan and hand-crafted claims for brands that make hundreds of thousands of cases, is paying attention.

Expensive wine 76: Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003

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Chateau Pontet-CanetHow silly are Bordeaux wine prices? The Big Guy, who bought the Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003 (13%) almost 10 years ago, should have kept it in case he needed to top up his grandchildren’s college fund. The wine has doubled in value since he paid $60 for it at a Dallas wine shop.

Wine as investment is an alien concept to the Big Guy and I. We buy wine to drink, which is why any review of the Chateau Pontet-Canet has to take into account its ridiculous run-up in price. What’s the point of a $120 wine, even from a producer as reputable as Pontet-Canet — a fifth-growth estate in the 1855 Bordeaux classification that’s often compared to second growths — that doesn’t make you shiver? Because, as well made as it was, and as well as it has aged, and as much as we enjoyed it, it was worth $120 only if the person buying it wanted to flip it like a piece of real estate.

Which you can’t tell from its scores — proving, sadly, that the idea of the Emperor’s New Clothes is never far from wine and that scores can be as corrupt as a Third World dictator. That’s because the only way to keep the market going is to keep throwing lots of points at the wine, which seems to have happened here. I found lots of mid-90s, with nary a discouraging word.

If you get a chance to try it, the Chateau Pontet-Canet has more fruit in the front (blackberry and raspberry) than you’d expect, and which explains Robert Parker’s fondness for it. The tannins were very soft, and the acidity was muted, almost an afterthought. If you sniff really hard, you can smell graphite, which makes the pointmeisters go crazy. The finish is long, but not extraordinarily so, and the impression is of a quality wine that would be a steal at $40 or $50. But memorable, as one reviewer described? Hardly, unless you’re marveling at the demand for a $120 wine that was made 12 years ago.

Again, this is not to criticize its quality, but to note how little the Bordeaux market has to do with reality. You could buy four terrific bottles of Chablis for the same price; three bottles of a Ridge zinfandel, maybe the best value in the U.S.; or two bottles of Pio Cesare Barbaresco, one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

If and when the French understand this, they’ll understand why 90 percent of the world is priced out of Bordeaux. Until then, I’ll somehow live without it.

Has sweet red wine taken over the U.S. wine market?

winetrends

sweet red wineIs it possible that sweet red wine sales totaled one-third of all the chardonnay sold in the U.S. over the past year? And did slightly better against cabernet sauvignon? Or that sweet red wine outsold syrah, zinfandel, and malbec over that time period, and almost overtook merlot?

Hard to believe, but apparently true. A leading wine industry analyst, working with proprietary data, has estimated sweet red wine sales in the 52 weeks ending April 25 were about $534 million. That means, besides outselling syrah, zinfandel, and malbec, sweet red also did better than moscato — the current next big thing — and missed sauvignon blanc by just a couple of percentage points.

The analyst — call him Smart Wine Guy — asked not to be identified because his figures are based on that proprietary data, and legal problems could ensue if I used his name. But he has worked in the wine business for most of his life, including stints in retail and for Big Wine.

Smart Wine Guy used sales figures for red blends that cost between $7.50 and $15.49 a bottle and are sold in grocery and liquor stores. That includes most of the wine we think of as sweet red — those blends, like Apothic and Menage a Trois Red, that have more residual sugar than traditional dry red wine. It also includes red blends like 14 Hands Hot to Trot that aren’t identified as sweet red in most sales surveys, even though they’re as sweet as Apothic. Hence Smart Wine Guy’s total is three times bigger than Nielsen’s sweet red total, which is the accepted sales number but which probably undercounts sweet red sales.

The other things to know about these figures?

• Some 80 percent of sweet red wine is sold in grocery stores. By comparison, about two-thirds of cabernet sauvignon in the U.S. is sold in supermarkets. This should scare the hell out of liquor stores that assume sweet red drinkers don’t matter.

• Sweet red’s success is just five or six years old, dating to Apothic’s debut. There has always been sweet red, of course, but Apothic was the first brand to treat it like real wine, with a proper bottle, better quality, and well-designed label. In those five years, sweet red has become the one of the top six categories in U.S. wine.

• Sweet red sales increased about 20 percent last year, even though the overall wine market was flat, chardonnay declined almost one percent, and cabernet grew just four percent.

• Apothic, Menage a Trois Red, and Cupcake Red Velvet account for about half of the sweet red wine sold in the U.S. Not coincidentally, all are Big Wine products. If anyone who doubts the power of Big Wine still needs to be convinced, this is it.

• The best-selling sweet reds are just slightly sweet, and aren’t the over the top sweet bombs that many people expected when the sweet red market was developing. This says something about U.S. wine drinkers, who want wine, even if sweet, but not a soft drink.

• Sweet red wine has done all of this without any help from the Winestream Media, which speaks to how little most of us who write about wine understand about what Americans drink.

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