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wineofweek

Wine of the week: Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum Rose 2014

Forget all this foolishness about brose and the hipsters drinking rose and the Wine Magazines giving 90-plus scores to rose. We’re coming up on Labor Day weekend, and what better way to Read More »

winenews

Winebits 401: Randall Grahm crowdfunding, grape diseases, craft wine

• Crowdfunding success: Randall Grahm, the Bonny Doon impresario, raised $167,857 in his crowdfunding attempt to develop 10,000 new grape varieties, beating the $150,000 goal. Which isn’t quite the same thing as the Read More »

great quotes

Great quotes in wine history: George Harrison

George Harrison’s reaction when he is asked what he thinks of a well-known member of the Winestream Media, whose word he is supposed to take as gospel about what to drink. And Read More »

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Mini-reviews 76: Four $20 (or so) wines worth buying

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 whites Read More »

winetrends

Oregon and pinot noir

Or, how a state that everyone laughed at when it first started making wine has turned into one of the best regions in the world for pinot noir. That’s the subject of Read More »

Winebits 399: Wine packaging, craft wine, vinho verde

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wine packaging

Stack those bottles: The Wine Curmudgeon rarely gets to offer advice to big-time financial reporters, but Charles Passy at the MarketWatch website should check out this post about wine packaging. Or this one. Consumers aren’t much interested in wine that comes in containers that aren’t 750-milliliter bottles. That should temper his enthusiasm for something called XO G wines, four 187-milliliter bottles that come stacked on top of each other. He waxes poetic about the packaging, even though there has traditionally been little interest in this kind of bottle. Interestingly, Passy says it doesn’t matter that XO G can best be described as “not horribly offensive,” since wine drinkers will buy the product because the packaging is clever. I wonder: Would he have written that sentence about any other consumer packaged good, advising us to buy not horribly offensive ketchup because the bottle was cute?

Do grapes matter? A Tennessee craft spirits producer whose motto is “booze for badasses” will expand into wine, so perhaps they should read Friday’s post about craft wine. It’s one thing to buy grain to make whiskey; it’s something completely different to buy grapes from California to make wine in Tennessee (to say nothing of the difference in production techniques). As the line gets blurred between craft products, expect to see more of this happen. How successful these endeavors will be will depend on whether the companies are serious about it, or whether they see it as as nothing more than marketing. In which case they’ll be stuck with a lot of unsold Tennessee chardonnay made with California grapes.

Lots of green wine: Vinho verde, the cheap and simple and often satisfying Portuguese wine, sold more than one-half million cases in the U.S. last year, an amazing total for a product with no marketing, little brand recognition, and limited distribution. The story doesn’t seem to know why this is happening, though it does make an effort to include premiumization in the explanation even though most vinho verde costs less than $10. That people are buying vinho verde because it isn’t expensive, tastes slightly different from white wine at that price, and is fun to drink has apparently escaped them.

Celebrating without Champagne

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champagneEven before the Champagne business adopted Stormtrooper 101 as its business model, its product was too expensive for almost all of us who buy wine. A decent bottle costs at least $30, and it’s probably closer to $40 by the time you find something interesting. So what’s a wine drinker to do who wants to celebrate with sparkling wine, but doesn’t want to buy Champagne?

Consider these alternatives (and if you’re confused, check out the blog’s sparkling wine FAQ):

• Look elsewhere in France: Champagne isn’t the only part of the country that produces sparkling wine, and the values elsewhere can sometimes be astounding. These wines, called cremant, include Louis Bouillot Brut Rose ($18, purchased, 12%). The Bouillot is from Burgundy, where there is no question of quality, and it’s made with the same kinds of grapes as Champagne. Look for tight bubbles, a little caramel, and muted strawberry fruit. Highly recommended.

• Go domestic: Big Wine comes through here, with Domaine Ste. Michelle from Washington state (the same company that does table wine as Chateau Ste. Michelle). These sparklers are made in the Champagne style, so that the second fermentation is in the bottle, cost about $12, and are available in what seems like every grocery store in the country. If they aren’t complex wines, they usually deliver more than $12 worth of value.

• Spend a couple of dollars more for a better quality Prosecco: The surge in Prosecco’s popularity means a lot of ordinary wine is selling for $15, which can make it difficult to find value. Still, it’s out there, like the Valdo Prosecco Brut ($11, sample, 11%). It was much better than I expected, with more depth and character, a touch of yeast, and some sweet lemon fruit.

• Cava is your friend: Regular visitors know how the Wine Curmudgeon feels about cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, but it’s worth repeating — it may be the best wine value in the world. The Casa Pedro Domecq Cava Gran Campo Viejo Brut Reserva ($10, purchased, 11.5%) is a serious cava, with lots of apple fruit and lots of bubbles, and it will be gone before you know it.

The craft wine dilemma

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craft wine dilemma

Which is craft wine and which isn’t?

How do you describe a wine that isn’t made by a multi-national and that doesn’t sell millions of cases? Is craft wine the proper description? And, if it is, how do you prevent the multi-national from describing its product the same way?

That’s the craft wine dilemma, as producers try to find terms to separate their wine from mass-produced grocery store plonk — even if their wine isn’t all that different.

There is no legal definition of craft wine, and borrowing the term from beer doesn’t help. Craft beer, which is assumed to be made by small, independent producers, is driving what little growth there is in the beer business, but craft beer includes Shiner and its 6 million cases and Boston Beer’s Sam Adams and its $2.9 billion in sales. Both belong to the Brewers Association craft beer trade group, demonstrating how empty the term is. Consider (and allowing for a 24-can case of beer vs. a 12-bottle case of wine) that Shiner would be tied for 12th on Wine Business Monthly’s top 30 U.S. producers list, just ahead of Bogle, and Boston Beer would be among the top three or four biggest wine companies in the country by sales.

The Brewers Association trade group guidelines don’t help much either, offering lots of PR speak (“Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy”) and little else. Also complicating matters: The rash of lawsuits over the past year from disgruntled consumers suing craft brewers and distillers because their craft products don’t seem to be that much different from the products made by multi-nationals, save for higher prices. No wonder there was such a spirited discussion on Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog this summer about the subject, looking for the best way to describe what Wark calls wine made by a “small, hands-on, privately owned, high-quality oriented winery.”

The craft wine dilemma reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” If an 8 million case producer like Delicato Family Winery uses the term hand-crafted for some of its wine, does hand-crafted have any meaning? On the other hand, can a producer that mostly fits Wark’s definition be called a craft winery if its idea of quality is to make an overoaked fruit bomb designed to get 98 points and cost $100?

Establishing legal (or even trade group-agreed) definitions for craft and similar terms is the obvious solution, but most of the wine business will burn down the blog and carry me off with pitchforks for suggesting it. Still, given that some plaintiffs have won their craft definition lawsuits, maybe that idea is worth considering. Otherwise, it will be a long time before anyone solves the craft wine dilemma.

 

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