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Winebits 381: Direct shipping, consolidation, Prosecco

winenews

direct shippingLots of kinks to work out: Direct shipping, despite its successes over the past decade, is still a tiny part of the wine business, just single percentage points of the $17 billion in sales. One reason for that, of course, is three-tier, which makes it difficult for wineries to ship to consumers in different states. And three-tier has more to it than even those of us who think we know it can imagine; witness the lawyer suing Illinois wineries for not charging sales tax on shipping fees. This is perfectly legal in Illinois, where the law allows private attorneys to recover unpaid taxes on behalf of the state. Much of the coverage has been critical of the attorney, but that misses the point. Illinois law is vague on whether sales tax should be charged on shipping fees, so how how can direct shipping ever become more than a niche business if laws crucial to its success are as vague as the Illinois law? Because, given three-tier, this is certainly not the only vague, poorly written, or unclear law dealing with the subject.

Retailer buyout: Majestic Wine, one of the biggest retailers in the United Kingdom, has bought another British retailer, Naked Wine. This is bigger news than it seems, since Naked Wine has a trendy U.S. division that sells what can best be described as craft wine on-line at discounted prices to its members. It means that Majestic, facing tremendous competition from grocery stores, is trying to find wine that consumers can’t buy at grocery stores. Given the increasing importance of supermarket wine sales in the U.S., this may be a sign of things to come in this country (within the confines of three-tier) as retailers look for exclusive products to fend off grocery stores. It’s also another indication that retailers want to get bigger to fend of the Costcos, Walmarts, and Aldis of the world.

Nuts to Champagne: Prosecco has passed Champagne in sales at British grocery stores in news that is so shocking — given the British love affair with Champagne — that it should worry not only the Champagne business, but retailers around the world. If the British are buying Prosecco, the Italian bubbly that is at least half the price of Champagne, what does that means for retailers elsewhere? Has Champagne priced itself out of some markets? Do consumers prefer the softer, sweeter taste of Prosecco? Or are grocery stores playing a role in what’s going on? Even the story, from a British trade magazine, had a panicked tone.

 

New Year’s sparkling wine 2014

wineadvice

New Year's sparkling wine 2014The Wine Curmudgeon won’t be drinking Champagne on Wednesday night or Thursday; the Champagne trade association has taken wine lawsuit foolishness past the point where it’s silly, turning it into a free speech issue. This is the Champagne Jayne case, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago and which has made an Internet splash in the week or so leading up to New Year’s.

The trade group is suing Champagne Jayne, an Australian wine writer named Jayne Powell, because she also writes about other sparkling wine. Her name, says the group, violates the EU’s trade agreement with Australia and if she is going to write about cava or Prosecco, she can’t call herself Champagne Jayne. And the French wonder why they have so many public relations problems.

Fortunately, there’s little need to drink Champagne for New Year’s anymore, given the revolution in sparkling wine. Yes, it may be the best bubbly in the world, but it’s priced out of reach for most of us and the alternatives are better than ever. Hence this year’s recommendations, after the jump, focus on those affordable sparklers that don’t offend the First Amendment.

Lamberti Rose Spumante Extra Dry NV ($12, sample, 11.5%): Fresh and  floral, with red fruit and surprisingly bubbly, this pink Italian is not too sweet or too fizzy. It was a revelation, given how crummy so many cheap spumantes can be.

J Brut Rose NV ($38, sample, 12.5%): This is always one of my favorite California sparklers, and this edition is one of the best in years. There are layers of flavor, with yeastiness, strawberry fruit, and minerality. Given how overpriced so many $40 Champagnes are, this is a steal.

Mas Fi Brut Natura Reserva NV ($10, sample, 11.5%): This Spanish wine is more dry and more elegant than many cavas, thanks to a slightly different winemaking process. Look for more white fruits than apple flavors (a welcome change), and a very long finish. Yet another example of how far cava has come.

Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blanc 2009 ($24, sample, 12%): The former Kluge winery in Virginia makes some of the best sparkling wine in the U.S., and it’s even available in states other than Virginia. This is a chardonnay-based wine, with crisp green apple fruit and more richness than I expected.

How serious am I about my Champagne boycott? I have a $150 sample of Champagne in the wine closet that I’m not going to drink.

More about New Year’s sparkling wine:
Wine terms: Champagne and sparkling wine
New Year’s sparkling wine 2013
New Year’s sparkling wine 2012
Wine of the week: Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva NV
Wine of the week: Adami Prosecco Brut Garbèl NV

Winebits 362: Wine sales, Cava, imported wine

winenews

u.s. wine salesMore wine: We’re continuing to drink more wine than ever in the U.S., up about 1 million cases in 2014 over the previous year, reports Shanken News Daily. The percentage increase isn’t much, just 0.3 percent. But that there is growth, despite the after-effects of the recession, shows that wine may have finally established itself in this country as something more than a niche product. As the Shanken story notes, “consumption has increased nearly 80 percent over the past two decades,” and per capita consumption has finally risen past its 1970s levels. 

Bring on the sparkling: Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, has long been a Wine Curmudgeon favorite, but it faces intense competition from Prosecco, the similarly-priced bubbly from Italy. The latter is typically sweeter and fruitier, and the Italians have parlayed that into double-digit growth over the past several years. Freixenet, the biggest Spanish producer and the top imported sparkling in the U.S., saw sales fall four percent last year. Why does that matter? Because exports account for around two-thirds of global Cava sales. Hence concerns that competing with Prosecco on price alone could lead to what happened with Australian shiraz and Argentine malbec — lots of cheap wine of varying quality. I’m not sure that Freixenet’s plan to add more expensive wines to differentiate itself from Prosecco is any better, given that Cava quality is so good at $10 and $15 there is little reason to trade up.

Bring on the imports: How global has the the U.S. wine consumer become? Imports account for about one-third of the wine we drink, and that figure is expected to increase over the next two decades to as much as 45 percent. In the first half of 2014, though, we drank less imported wine than in the previous year (but the dollar value of the wine we drank increased by five percent). The biggest winner in those six months was New Zealand; the biggest loser was Australia. Sales from Italy and France, the top two exporters to the U.S. were mostly flat, though the dollar amount of what they did sell increased eight and six percent.

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