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Tag Archives: Champagne

Winebits 319: Malbec, health, Champagne

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Winebits 319: Malbec, health, Champagne

“Bring on the cheap malbec!”

“Après moi, le déluge“: Which would be the price of malbec after the collapse of the Argentine peso in January. Malbec is the national grape of Argentina, and its economic crisis will not only force down the price of its malbec, but prices of malbec regardless of origin as well as most cheap red wine. Because that’s how the law of supply and demand works. Or, as Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight wrote: “Think Australian invasion before the U.S. screwed up the value of its currency and sent the Aussie dollar soaring.” This is another example of why it’s so difficult to predict when wine prices will rise — too many moving parts to take into account. How can a company charge more for ts California grocery store merlot when the competition is dumping something similar, like malbec, in the U.S. thanks to a currency flop?

How much did all that wine really hurt? Englishman Chris Chataway, one of the world’s great distance runners in the 1950s and who helped Roger Bannister break the four-minute mile in 1954, died in January. His New York Times obituary reported that Chataway ran a 5:48 mile when he was 64, 41 years later, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with the effort. One possible explanation: Chataway told a friend he had smoked 400 pounds of tobacco and drank more than 7,000 liters of wine (almost 10,000 bottles) since the 1954 race. Which demonstrates that he was not only a world-class runner, but a pretty funny fellow who enjoyed his wine, and which is also why this is blog-worthy despite the ban of health-related wine news.

The power of price: Asda, the British grocery store chain, wasn’t selling much of its private label Pierre Darcys Champagne over the holidays. So it cut the price from £24.25 to £10 (from about US$40 to US$17). No surprise what happened next, is there? A British trade magazine reports that the supermarket sold almost £8 million worth (about $US13.4 million) of Pierre Darcys in the 12 weeks ending Jan. 4. That made the brand the fifth-best selling Champagne in Britain over the holidays, beating top names like Piper-Heidsieck and Taittinger — despite being sold only at one retailer. This, of course, is the other component in wine pricing: How do we account for the power of consumers?

The revolution in sparkling wine

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Sparkling isn't just for weddings anymore.

Sparkling wine isn’t just for weddings anymore.

Add another change to the wine business, and one that may be even more surprising than moscato and sweet red wine or cheap pinot noir: The popularity of sparkling wine that isn’t from Champagne.

Because, for most wine drinkers for most of the last 60 years, there were only two kinds of sparkling wine — French Champagne and the very cheap U.S. stuff that tasted like flat 7-Up (and that still dominates U.S. sales). There was bubbly from elsewhere, of course, but quality was poor and there wasn’t much of available, even if someone wanted to try it.

That has changed over the past couple of years, as I wrote in a story in this month’s Beverage Media trade magazine — and just in time for the holiday bubbly season, when we drink as much as half of all the sparkling wine sold during the year. In this, it’s not so much that Champagne fell out of favor; rather, improvements in quality, increased availablity, and very good prices helped introduce consumers to the Spanish-made Cava, the Italian Prosecco and even fizzy moscato. And, as with sweet red and cheap pinot, consumers discovered they liked the wines.

Or, as one very perceptive retailer told me: “They really don’t care where it’s coming from, as long as it’s different. They aren’t the same old, same old California sparkling wines or the same Champagne. They’re not the same wines that have been around now and forever.”

The story’s highlights and a few other thoughts, after the jump:

Expensive wine 54: Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut NV

273702The occasion required a sparkling wine for celebration, and it required more than cava. So the Wine Curmudgeon, spotting the Heidsieck ($56, purchased, 12%) on the shelf at a local wine bar, opted for Champagne. And why not? How often does the Cheap Wine Book go on sale?

Champagne has long been one of the great contradictions in my wine drinking life. I love Champagne, but I have little use for the Champagne business. It embodies everything that makes me crazy about the way wine works – little regard for consumers, pricing that bears almost no relationship to reality, and the idea it can operate like it’s 1953 and not 2013.

But they do make nice wine, and the Heidsieck is no exception. Look for lots and lots of caramel at the front, giving way to layers and layers of flavor, including white fruit and a mineral finish that has been described as almost iodine by some of my colleagues. This is not a subtle or especially elegant Champagne, and bears more than a passing resemblance to the mass Champagnes, like Veuve Clicquot, that I don’t much care for. But it is incredibly well made and a perfect example of this style. And we had a fine time celebrating the book.

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