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Winecast 22: Jerry Lockspeiser, wine guru

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Jerry LockspeiserJerry Lockspeiser has done many things during his wine career in the United Kingdom — producer, negociant, consultant, salesman, and writer. Through much of it, his focus on been on cheap wine and what Lockspeiser calls the normal wine drinker; those of us who want to buy a bottle to have with dinner and who don’t want to mess with any of wine’s foolishness.

The biggest lesson in wine over the past decade? That consumers discovered “they didn’t need to pay a lot of money for a good drink,” he said. That’s preaching the gospel, no?

Lockspeiser and I talked about:

• The improved quality of cheap wine, and that the improvement was led by the Australians and Californians.

• Why the wine business insists on selling expensive wine and trading up perfectly happy wine drinkers. Hint: It’s about money.

• How winespeak is one of the biggest problems facing consumers, and why the wine business doesn’t understand the problem.

• Some of the best advice I’ve seen for negotiating the Great Wall of Wine at the grocery store (yes, they have it in Britain, too), including tips on pricing.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 16 minutes long and takes up almost 8 megabytes. The sound quality is very good, with only a couple of squeaks and hisses even though Lockspeiser was in London. Skype — the unofficial VoIP provider for the blog — was in exceptionally fine form.

Winebits 351: Wine glasses, wine laws, and economic growth

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wine news wine glassesDo wine glasses matter? The answer is no, says the Vinepair website in a post that includes the sentence, “Any industry that marries the existence of experts, the spending of cash, and the words ‘acquired taste’ as exquisitely as the wine industry does is bound to intimidate the uninitiated.” Which was a guarantee the Wine Curmudgeon would write about it. The post dismisses the idea that different shapes matter — a Bordeaux glass, a Burgundy glass, and so forth — and cites several studies and zings Riedel, the big glass company, repeatedly. Most of which makes sense, since I’ve never been convinced spending $100 for a glass is going to make all that much difference. The difference comes, I think, in whether you use well-made glasses instead of poorly-made ones. I buy the Forte from Schott Zwiesel, about $10 a glass, and am content. That’s about the twice the price of Libbey glasses, but the expense seems worth it.

Hell no, we ain’t reformin’: Pennsylvania’s state-controlled liquor store system has been the subject of much controversy as well as repeated demands for privatization. Reform seems as far away as ever, despite all the effort, and I’ve discovered the reason: Money. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which runs the stores, is a $2.24 billion business. Which is damned big — almost twice the annual sales of Crate & Barrel and only one-sixth the total of Whole Foods, even though the upscale grocer is a national company with more than 360 stores. How many state legislators, regardless of political persuasion, are going to throw away that much money? I’m not even sure I would.

Not just rich people drink wine: There’s a long and surprisingly boring post on Forbes discussing whether wine sales can predict economic growth. If someone can figure out what it actually says, let me know. As near as I can tell, it says that high-end wine sales are a predictor of U.S. economic health, which is not true and seems a silly thing for someone at Forbes to say. Because only five percent of the U.S. population buys wine that costs $20 or more, and the average price of a bottle of wine is about $10. So what the price of vineyard land in Napa Valley has to do with economic growth is beyond me. Which is probably why I do this and don’t write for Forbes.

Cheap wine can be intimidating

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Cheap wine can be intimidating

OMG, $5 wine!

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? That cheap wine can be intimidating, given that cheap wine’s reason for being is that it’s approachable in a way more expensive wine isn’t. But too many wine drinkers who won’t buy a wine because it’s too expensive are also wary of buying a wine because it doesn’t cost enough.

The Wine Curmudgeon saw this again over the weekend, when a couple of old pals came to visit. They are far from wine snobs, and revel in finding value in cheap wine. But when I recommended the $5 Vina Decana from Aldi, one of them looked at me and asked, “But it only costs $5. How can it be any good?”

Fortunately, I am resilient in the face of adversity (as well as very stubborn). We went to Aldi, bought the wine, tasted it, and all was well. This experience reminded me, despite all of the progress we have made with cheap wine over the past decade, how much wine business foolishness we still have to overcome.

Yes, many of us have spent years proselytizing for cheap wine, and the improvement in cheap wine quality has been well documented. But we’re bucking a 50-year-old system that told wine drinkers that cheap wine wasn’t worth drinking, and that very cheap wine was even less worthy of their attention. This has been the point of wine education since the first wine boom in the 1970s, that price equalled quality. It was only sometimes true then, and it’s even less true today. Which is why it’s more important than ever to taste the wine before you judge it, no matter how difficult that may be.

Hence the idea of $4 or $5 wine, despite the success of Two-buck Chuck, is still something pink and sweet that comes in a box and is bought by old ladies with cats. That this isn’t especially accurate any more doesn’t seem to matter in the rush to upsell consumers to $15 and $20 wine that doesn’t necessarily taste any different, but is more hip and with it. Chloe, anyone?

Also, the continued need for people like me, as much as there shouldn’t be. Fortunately, I enjoy the work.

Image courtesy of Hagerstenguy via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license

 

 

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