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 »


Texas wine developments: 2015

Some 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 Read More »


More insight into the gibberish of wine back labels

Mark Allan Thornton, the Harvard PhD student who has done groundbreaking work trying to make sense of the gibberish that is wine back labels, has done it again. His second study has Read More »


Wine of the week: Straccali Chianti 2014

The retail market, despite years of producers wishing otherwise, is still awash in cheap Chianti, the Italian red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany. Most of it, save Read More »

Wine of the week: Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2014


Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognierHow impressive is this California white wine blend? For one thing, it has its own website, and how many $10 wines can say that? For another, some retailers — who apparently have no shame — charge as much as $15 for it. Is it any wonder the Wine Curmudgeon is so curmudgeonly?

The other thing you need to know about the Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier ($10, purchased, 12.5%)? That it is, as always, one of the great cheap wines ever made, combining the qualities of each grape to produce something greater than the whole. Given how much stupid label, fake oak, sort of sweet cheap white wine gets foisted off on us, this is a revelation. And that it’s made with two grapes that don’t get much respect makes the Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier that much more interesting.

In addition, the Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier is different each vintage, something that also rarely happens with cheap wine. The 2014 has less citrusy sauvignon blanc character than the 2013 (something you can get from chenin blanc), with more steely chenin minerality and a dollop of white fruit (peach?) from the viognier, as well as an almost floral aroma.

Drink this chilled on its own, or with any end of the summer dinner. It’s a fried seafood wine, too — clam rolls, anyone? Highly recommended, and sure to take its place again in next year’s $10 Hall of Fame.


Winebits 404: Restaurant wine, distributors, direct shipping


restaurant wine One person’s inexpensive: One more example of how restaurants are out of touch with their customers when it comes to restaurant wine prices. This new Dallas restaurant is boasting about its reasonably-priced list, because, said a restaurant official, “We have a low mark up on our wines, so we’re priced fantastic.” That would be a wine list with most wines supposedly costing less than $100 (no website for the restaurant yet, so I couldn’t check). What would the official have said if there had been really expensive wines on the list? Is it any wonder, unless there’s a special reason to go, that the Wine Curmudgeon has all but abandoned Dallas’ restaurants? Besides, it’s more fun eating at home.

Bigger and bigger: It’s not just wine companies that are getting bigger, but distributors as well. Wine Industry Insight reports that the 10 biggest distributors in the country control more than two-thirds of the wholesale business, which makes the group more or less as dominant as Big Wine. Why does that matter to consumers? Because, thanks to three-tier, every wine sold to a retailer or a restaurant in the U.S. has to pass through a distributor, which tacks on as much as 25 percent to the cost of the bottle for their effort. Fewer and bigger distributors means less competition, which means that percentage won’t get any smaller any time soon.

Best practices: Want to know how to help your wine survive shipment, whether it comes directly from the winery or from an online or local retailer? This list, from Entrepreneur magazine, hits the highlights nicely, emphasizing how little wine likes heat, vibrations, and being left on a delivery truck all day. One overlooked point: Give the wine, particularly the pricier bottles, a chance to recover from the trip. The bottles need to rest after being bumped across the country, and letting them sit in a cool, dark room for a week or so isn’t a bad idea.


Post-modern wine marketing

wine marketing

Wine marketing is not just about shelf talkers anymore.

Wine marketing, like the rest of the wine business, has always been done the same way — some junk written on the back label, mostly useless, and the cute labels that have been the biggest innovation over the past couple of decades. Otherwise, unless there is a shelf talker (the printed card attached to the shelf under the wine with a score or description of the product), you’re on your own.

That was always fine with the wine business, which assumed that anyone who went into a store was going to buy a bottle, so what was the point otherwise? There is even a term for this — “building a brand,” in which the distributor and retailer work together to sell you certain wines.

This is one reason why there has traditionally been so little advertising, TV or otherwise, for a $40 billion industry. Ketchup ads are everywhere, even though the ketchup market is 1/80th the size of wine.

All of which is changing, thanks to our friends at Big Wine. They understand, in a way that their forebears did not, that wine has become just another category in the food business, and it needs to be marketed like ketchup. We may not see TV spots with fresh young things touting wine the way they do yogurt, but we’re going to see more and slicker efforts to get us to buy specific wine brands.

Perhaps even more important, these ads will focus on consumers who don’t buy wine in the small retail shops that have traditionally been the backbone of the wine business. As an executive at one of the biggest wine companies in the world told me a couple of weeks ago, the future of wine retailing is Costco, Total Wine, and grocery stores, so expect Big Wine to target consumers who shop there. This is revolutionary for wine, where it has always been about making a decision on brand in the store. You may want red wine for dinner, but which red wine? Big Wine, knowing no one is around to help you pick a specific red wine at a supermarket, wants you to decide on their brand before you go to the store. It’s all about brand loyalty, the same way it is with Heinz and Tide.

Hence, these two marketing efforts, which are just the beginning. This spring, Little Black Dress, the $8 brand owned by Fetzer (which itself is owned by Chile’s $1 billion Concha y Toro), did a spa day sweepstakes, where “entrants will be asked to tell Little Black Dress about their best friend and why she deserves a day of pampering for a chance to win two $300 gift cards to a local spa.” I can’t imagine too many of the Winestream Media’s favorite “oaky and toasty, redolent of cigar box aroma” wines doing this.

Or baseball wine. Seriously. Nineteen teams have official wines, made by some company called Wine by Design and part of the “MLB® Club Series wine collection.” Who cares what the wine tastes like? It has my team’s logo on it, so let’s buy a case.

Again, this is about cutting the tie between retailer and consumer, which has always been essential to selling wine. Big Wine doesn’t need the traditional retailer, and it’s going to do everything it can to usher in post-modern wine marketing.

For more on wine marketing:
Chateau Ste. Michelle, wine marketing, and wine blogging
Diet wine, and why we’re stuck with it
When Blue Nun ruled the world

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