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Winebits 349: Wine ingredients, 60 Minutes, wine judging

• Ewwwwww: The Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated ingredient labeling for wine, despite intense opposition from the industry (including many of my friends, who tell me I’m crazy). Still, as the blog’s Read More »

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Labor Day 2014

The blog is mostly off today for the holiday, but will return on Tuesday with our usual features. That includes an update later in the week on the Wine Curmudgeon’s annual visit Read More »

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Mini-reviews 64: Muscadet, Stoller, Prosecco, Villa Maria

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. This month, four more wines Read More »

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Labor Day wine 2014

Labor Day weekend marks not just the end of summer, but the Wine Curmudgeon’s annual appearance at the Kerrville Fall Music Festival to talk about Texas wine (and to drive 5 mph). Read More »

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The Wine Curmudgeon’s annual Kerrville Texas wine extravaganza

And with a cheap wine book signing this year, as well. The wine panel at the Kerrville Fall Music Festival is at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 30, where we’ll talk about Texas Read More »

Winebits 348: Wine press release edition

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wine press releaseThis year, the Wine Curmudgeon has been overwhelmed with some of the most bizarre wine press releases ever. That I have not written the greatest rant in the blog’s history is because cooler heads prevailed. As several people said, “Jeff, no one cares about this but you.”

Perhaps. But several recent releases are worth noting regardless:

State stores forever! New Hampshire is one of 17 control states, where the government sells beer, wine, and spirits or some combination thereof, and there aren’t privately-owned retailers. This has always seemed odd given the state’s almost libertarian politics — “Live Free or Die,” after all — and that contradiction does not bother the state’s liquor board. It dispatched a release touting the Washington Post’s endorsement of New Hampshire as “the best state in the country for wine drinkers.” That it was one man’s opinion, and not the newspaper’s, and that the piece had several errors (wine prices are not skyrocketing) didn’t seem to bother the board either. Or that you can buy wine in a grocery store from 6 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week in California. Or that Segura Viudas cava costs one-third less in Texas than it does in New Hampshire. My question: How much money did the board spend on the release, when it could have spent the money on cutting wine prices? (Hat tip to Tim McNally for sending this my way, who lives in New Orleans and knows a few things about the best states to drink in.)

Roll out the barrels: The battle over oakiness in wine seems over, and those of us who prefer restraint seem to have won. Nevertheless, multi-national Diageo sees a market for very oaky wines, and has launched a brand called Woodwork — “delivering prominent oak influence.” Overlook the writing (the wine “celebrate[s] those who work hard to endlessly pursue their passions”) and this release is a revelation. Diageo admits the wine is made with wooden staves instead of an oak barrel, a common practice in cheap wine but rarely acknowledged. In this, the point of the wine is not winemaking, but adding wood flavor. That honesty is as refreshing as it is unbelievable. (Hat tip to W. Blake Gray for sending this my way; he expects the wine to be a big seller.)

It’s EPICA! Does someone really get paid for writing this stuff? “EPICA Wines, the adventurous brand that inspires epic lifestyles, has announced the launch of the 2013 Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. Aimed at millennials, EPICA Malbec was created to capitalize on the growing interest for the Argentinian grape.” Who knew malbec was an adventurous grape? Or that there was growing interest in it? I always thought it was one of the most popular grapes in the world, the fifth biggest import to the U.S. and one that has been around for decades. But then, my lifestyle is hardly epic.

Big Wine and crowdsourcing

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Big wine crowdsourcingColumbia Crest is owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, part of a one-half billion dollar company. La Crema is part of Jackson Family Wines, also a one-half billion dollar company. So why is each using a form of crowdsourcing, letting its customers make key winemaking decisions for one of its wines?

Because it’s not enough to make piles of money in the wine business anymore. You also have to be seen as local and accessible, and these multi-nationals (the eighth- and ninth-biggest producers in the U.S.) see crowdsourcing as the way to make them cuddly and artisan-like. Ask your customers for their advice about making wine, and how can they — and the rest of the wine world — not love you?

The Wine Curmudgeon can’t decide if this is incredible marketing or one of the most cynical things I’ve ever seen in the wine business, where cynical things are a dime a dozen. On the one hand, it’s a clever use for social media, which big companies have a hard time doing well. There aren’t too many opportunities for cute pet pictures on a multi-national Facebook page. And the crowdsourcing is certainly no scam — the companies have been honest and upfront about what’s going on.

On the other hand, it could be malarkey to make P.T. Barnum proud. Columbia Crest is making 1,000 cases of high-end cabernet sauvignon from its effort, not much when you consider its annual production is almost 2 million cases and it normally does 5,000 of this particular wine. La Crema churns out almost 1 million cases a year; it hasn’t announced how much the project will produce. First its crowd has to decide between chardonnay and pinot noir.

Plus, given the odds that each crowd could decide to make really crappy wine even with the best of intentions, how much input will it really have? Yes, each company says its winemaker will do exactly as instructed, but given how little most of us know about winemaking and how complicated it is, what are the chances of that happening? Because Columbia Crest and La Crema could turn into the wine industry’s version of New Coke if the wine turns out to be undrinkable, and one doesn’t get to be one of the 10 biggest producers in the U.S. by doing a New Coke.

There is one thing I am thankful for, crowdsoucing veteran that I am. At least the companies didn’t ask for cash to help pay for production, which is the most typical use for crowdsourcing — Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the like. That would have been too much to deal with, even for the Wine Curmudgeon.

Expensive wine 66: Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuissé Tri des 25 ans 2005

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Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuissé Tri des 25 ans 2005Great wines have great stories to go with them, even if the stories can be embarrassing. Such is the case with the Guffens ($80, purchased, 13%), although the story isn’t about the wine as it is the people involved.

Jay Biletti has been a long-time supporter of Drink Local Wine and an advocate for Arizona wine. I’ve judged with him many times, and he is a smart wine guy who is always fun to taste with. Several years ago, when Jay and I were judging the late Southwestern Wine Competition, we ordered a bottle of white Burgundy. It tasted and smelled quite funky. “It’s corked,” said Jay, who could plainly smell wet dogs and damp basements. “Oh no,” I said. “It’s just funky. White Burgundy can do that.” We went around with this for a bit, and Jay almost believed me. So we asked Diane Teitelbaum, whose wine knowledge is immeasurable and who was eating dinner with us. She took one whiff, and gave me a firm look. “Of course it’s corked, Jeff. What were you thinking?”

Hence the Guffens, which Jay brought to dinner in honor of that night when he was in Dallas this summer. Which was not corked. Really. It’s classic white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, in this case the Pouilly-Fuissé part of Burgundy). It’s still very young, and won’t reach its peak for at least another couple of years. The fruit (apple-ish?) is way in the back, and you’ll taste more white pepper and minerality than anything else. The oak is hovering over all, in exactly the way oak should hover.

Jay and I enjoyed the wine, and he was very nice when we told the corked story to the other guests. They didn’t even laugh too hard.

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