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Tag Archives: wine advice

How to buy wine at the grocery store

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grocery store wine tips

The supermarket Great Wall of Wine is the Rubik’s Cube of wine buying, with hundreds and hundreds of bottles to choose from, confusing pricing, and no one to ask for help. But it is possible to buy quality wine at the grocery store, and you don’t even need to know much about varietal or region. Just keep these grocery store wine tips in mind:

• The cuter the label, the more simple the wine. This means there is little balance or interest. Instead, they’re what producers call easy to drink — red wine with lots of sweet fruit and almost no tannins, and white wine with almost honeyed fruit and the minimal amount of acidity necessary to make it palatable. Whether these wines are good or bad isn’t the point; rather, is this the kind of wine you want to buy (or avoid)? If it is, then these labels are a clue.

• Who makes the wine? This is almost impossible to tell, since most of the wine in the grocery store usually  comes from a dozen or so producers — our friends at Big Wine — and they would prefer you don’t know. So look for something like “Produced and bottled. …”, “Vinted and bottled. …”, or “Imported and bottled. …” The location that follows usually identifies the parent company, so that many Gallo-owned brands say Modesto, Calif. The “imported” line may have a company name similar to the name of the multi-national that owns the brand, so that CWUS is part of Constellation Brands. A more complete list is in this post.

• Decipher the back label. Pay attention to the choice of words, and not what they mean. Simple, less interesting wines rarely describe themselves as fresh, clean, or earthy. Rather, they use terms like rich, plush, luscious, and even roasted. Also, chocolate and caramel show up more often than not, especially in very ordinary red wine, along with badly written homages to oak — vanilla bean is one of my favorites.

• Beware older vintages with steep discounts, especially if the wine wasn’t made in the U.S. This is often a sign the wine has been sitting in a warehouse, sometimes for years, and is more likely to have gone off. The supermarket, which may have bought the wine for pennies on the dollar, doesn’t care if it’s spoiled; who returns bad wine to the grocery store? One rule of thumb: Be wary of white wine older than two years and red wine older than three.

Shark Tank wine

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Shark Tank wineDear Shark Tank Masters of the Universe:

The Wine Curmudgeon does not pretend to be a financial genius; witness my inability to make any money off the blog. But your recent foray into the wine business — Zipz single-serving wine and Beatbox flavored wine — is about something I know. For smart guys, you’re doing dumb things with your money.

Know just two things about the wine business, which should put these investments in perspective:

First, that three-quarters of all wine sold in the U.S. is traditional wine that comes in a 750-milliliter bottle, just as it has been for decades. There is no evidence that that Americans are clamoring for single-serving wine or flavored wine sold in a box, no matter how cool each product may be. If you doubt that, wait in line (or have a minion do it for you) at a World Market, where the single-serving bottles are lined up for impulse purchases. Count how many people buy them. Yes, not all that many.

Second, that wine is not sold like other consumer goods, but through the three-tier system. This means that your entrepreneurs can’t sell their product to a retailer like Costco. The law in all 50 states requires them to hire a distributor to sell their product to the retailer. If they can’t find a distributor, and distributors are notoriously picky about what they represent, then it will never be sold in a store. I should also mention, thanks to three-tier, that it would be even more difficult to sell Zipz (which isn’t all that tasty) and Beatbox in Pennsylvania and New York, two of the largest wine markets in the country. The former doesn’t have any independent wine retailers, and the latter doesn’t allow wine sales in grocery stores.

I hope this helps the next time someone pitches a Shark Tank wine deal. And no need to thank me — it’s enough to know that I’m helping incredibly rich people not waste their money.

Sincerely,
The Wine Curmudgeon

Nine silly wine facts

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wine factsNine silly wine facts you probably didn’t know — or didn’t know you needed to know:

1. Two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk has as many calories as one glass of wine, around 125. Knowing this, I expect the federal Centers for Disease Control to propose higher taxes and more regulation for sweetened condensed milk, as well as strategies to wean us off the stuff.

2. The Romans, the world’s second great wine culture, had wine writers (which no doubt hastened the collapse of the empire). Pliny the Elder, one of the most famous, wrote that second-rate wines “cannot properly be termed wines.” It’s a good thing he didn’t know about scores.

3. That no one but the super-rich can afford the best French wine is nothing new. In 1845, Fraser’s Magazine quoted a Bordeaux wine merchant, who complained that the leading French wines were not only too expensive, but that he wasn’t able find any to buy.

4. The French, whose wine industry was almost destroyed by the phylloxera pest at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, probably discovered phylloxera — though they didn’t know it. French colonists in 16th century Florida were never able to grow grapes; the vines always died, and the descriptions of what happened seem to have indicated phylloxera.

5. The U.S. attitude toward regional wine — “I don’t need to drink it to know it isn’t any good” — may have its roots in 19th century English wine. Wrote Punch, a popular humor magazine: English wine needed four people to drink it: One victim, two to hold him down, and one other to pour the wine down his throat.

6. It sounds like an urban myth, but there does seem to be something called oenophobia — a fear of wine. Symptoms include anxiety, nervousness, embarrassment, or slight perspiration. In other words, everyone who drinks wine has probably suffered from it at one time or another.

7. The Code of Hammurabi, generally acknowledged as the first written set of civil law (around 1800 BC), included penalties for shady wine retailers: they were to be drowned. Maybe the three-tier system isn’t so bad after all.

8. The Greek philosopher Plato seems to have had the Wine Curmudgeon in mind: He said wine in moderation was important until 40; after that, you can drink as much as you want to cure the “crabbiness of old age” and “soften the hard cast of mind.”

9. The most important fruit crop in Napa Valley after World War II was prunes, and its cash value was higher than grapes as late as 1960. You may make of that what you will, given Napa’s standing as the epicenter of U.S. wine snobbery.

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