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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?

Winebits 233: Restaurant wine, Geyser Peak, private labels

What do diners deserve? Not all that much, writes Jeremy Parzen in the Houston Press. It just seems a lot, given the sad state of restaurant wine service. His 10-point diner’s Bill of Rights includes such basics as “The right to request that a wine server open a new bottle of a by-the-glass selection if the wine has been open since the day before.” Which we all know restaurants – even ones that know better – want to do about as much as the Wine Curmudgeon wants to run naked down the street.

New owners for old favorite: Geyser Peak, about as dependable a $10 wine as there is, has been bought by Accolade Wines, an Australian group that has become the world’s fifth-largest wine company. The deal included two smaller labels, Atlas Peak and XYZin, and seems to be part of a continuing shakeout in the wine business caused by the recession, the slump in wine sales, and overextended wineries. The Australians said all the right things about Geyser Peak, but when anything like this happens, the fate of the acquired company is also a mystery.

Winery boss rips retailers: Or, as the Aussies, put it, “launched a spray.” The occasion was an industry function Down Under where one of the country’s most influential producers criticized Australia’s leading retailers for “flooding their stores with private-label wines that he said were hollow, copycats and masquerading as real brands.” I mention this here because private labels and store brands have become increasingly important for retailers in the U.S. – the Total Wine that just opened in Dallas has so many private labels I had trouble finding the branded wine – and we may soon be seeing the same sort of reaction from U.S. producers.

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