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Winebits 382: Liquor reform edition

• Ontario does its duty: The Canadian province has made major changes in the way it sells beer, wine, and spirits, something that seemed hard to believe in a province with the Read More »

winetrends

Restaurant wine prices: A better way

What better way to follow up this month’s very popular post about escalating restaurant wine prices than with a story about restaurants that charge reasonable prices and sell more wine — and Read More »

winetrends

The Wine Curmudgeon’s first wine prices survey

One of the difficulties with writing a wine blog that focuses on price, and that most of my colleagues don’t have, is that there is no standard for wine prices in the Read More »

winetrends

Premiumization: Are wine drinkers really trading up?

That’s the top trend in wine this year, that we’re feeling better about the economy and trading up: Buying more expensive wine than the wine we bought during the recession, moving from Read More »

wineofweek

Wine of the week: Château Martinon 2011

Dear Bordeaux wine wise guys: You’ve been moaning and wailing that Americans have abandoned your wines, and you claim to be baffled why. Fortunately, the Wine Curmudgeon is here to explain. Your Read More »

Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux

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winespeakBecause the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Wine Curmudgeon:
You use the term structure for wine, which sounds like a lot of jargon to me. What does structure mean?
Confused by language

Dear Confused:
Think of a wine’s structure like the structure of a house. A house has to have a foundation, a floor, and a roof. Leave one of those things out, and you don’t have much of a house. A wine, regardless of price, needs structure, too, and that includes tannins, fruit, and acidity in the proper proportions. Leave one of those out, and it’s like a house without a crappy roof — livable, but why would you want to?

Hey Curmudge:
Where do you buy your wine? I know you try to find wines that are available, but how do you do it?
Curious consumer

Dear Curious:
I’m one of the few wine writers in the country who buys wine to review, and it’s probably more than half the wines I do. The rest come from samples that producers send, and that number has fallen significantly since the recession. I shop for wine at least once a week in two or three places. I go to grocery stores like Kroger and Albertson’s, independent wine shops (Jimmy’s and Pogo’s are two of the best), chain wine shops (we have Spec’s and Total Wine in Dallas), and specialty stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and World Market. That way, I can compare prices, see who has what, and talk to retailers and customers. I enjoy this, not only because it’s part of a job that I like, but because I come from a long line of retailers, and learned to appreciate this stuff when I was a kid.

Jeff:
I have tried a few red Bordeauxs, and most are not very good in the $10-$20 range. I like many California cabernet sauvignons and red blends, and am not put off by the “earthiness” of French wines. But most of the Bordeauxs I’ve tried are just harsh and bitter. Any suggestions for reasonably priced Bordeaux would be appreciated.
Searching for French value

Dear Searching:
You aren’t alone — Bordeaux has priced most wine drinkers out of its market, whether from greed, infatuation with China, or French stubbornness. It’s almost impossible to find quality red Bordeaux for less than $20 a bottle, as you note (Chateau Bonnet and one or two others being the exception). Instead, we get poorly made wine, whether with unripe grapes or raw tannins — just like the bad old days. Ironically, we talked about this in my El Centro class last week, that the wines that most Americans used to drink to learn about wine are now too expensive for most Americans to drink.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine
Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews
Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, mold

The most popular restaurant wines

winetrends

restaurant winesOr, to phrase it more accurately, why the most popular restaurant wines aren’t wines that most of us drink. Which is not surprising, given the way too many restaurants treat wine drinkers.

The tipoff, of course, is price: Only one of the top 10 wines in the annual Wine & Spirits poll retails for less than $20, so by the time you add restaurant markup, we’ve passed that all-important $20 threshold. That’s the price that 95 percent of Americans who buy wine won’t cross. The average price for the top wines are ridiculous: $103.50 a bottle, up more than 20 percent from last year, and almost $13 a glass. That means one bottle is almost enough double the price of dinner for two at a nice restaurant, and who wants to do that?

Is it any wonder, then, that restaurant wine sales have not returned to pre-recession levels, and that one restaurant executive has criticized what he called restaurant complacency, adding “We see early warning signs for wine in the restaurant business. We may say, ‘wine is best with food,’ but that isn’t what our customers are telling us.”

Which is what the Wine Curmudgeon has been saying for years; that someone in the restaurant business agrees with me is welcome news. But does it matter, or is that complacency too much to overcome? I’d argue for complacency, based on the poll results. Eight of the 10 best-selling wines are the same as they were 10 years ago, which is hardly different or unique. And, to add insult to injury, the best-selling sparkling is Veuve Clicquot, about as hip and with it as I am.

Also depressing: Sommeliers, both here and elsewhere, keep insisting that they’re trying to make restaurant wine lists more interesting, but that doesn’t come across in the survey. Gruet, the sparkling wine from New Mexico but which is now made with California grapes, hasn’t been interesting for years. But it’s the third best-selling bubbly by the glass, as if the cava and Prosecco revolutions had never happened.

In this, restaurant wine is the trendsetter in just one thing: That wine is becoming increasingly splintered, with the focus on selling to the elite and leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Wine of the week: Domaine des Cassagnoles Côtes de Gascogne 2013

wineofweek

cassagnolesThis white blend from southern France gives the Wine Curmudgeon a chance to do two of his favorite things: Praise the genius of the winemakers in Gascony, who do what so few others in the world seem capable of – make great cheap wine without any embarrassment; and criticize wine scores. Is it any wonder Gascon wine makes me so happy?

This vintage of the Cassagnoles ($10, purchased, 11.5%) has less citrus and more white grapiness than previous years, which is my preferred style. That gives the wine more balance, and it tastes less like sauvignon blanc and more like the intriguing cheap wine that it is. Ah, the wonders of the colombard, ugni blanc, and gros manseng grapes.

Best yet, this style makes the Cassagnoles even more refreshing and fruity, truly a bottle that is empty before you realize you have drunk the whole thing. Highly recommended, and it will return to the $10 Hall of Fame next year. My only regret? That we can’t buy it in the U.S. in the 10-liter box (the equivalent of 13 1/3 bottles) that it is sold in in France.

Yet someone, somehow, managed to give the wine 82 points on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory app), claiming that it was like pinot grigio and didn’t have any taste. If this wine is only worth 82 points, I’ll drink a bottle of overoaked, too alcoholic California chardonnay, which is probably what that person thinks is tasty.

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