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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.

Winebits 346: Lawsuits, drunks, cheap wine

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wine lawsuitsGet off my horse: Chateau Cheval Blanc, the top-rated Bordeaux producer whose wines can cost thousands of dollars a bottle, is suing Domaine du Cheval Blanc, a small family-owned Bordeaux winery that hardly anyone has heard of, claiming the latter must change its name. The Wine Curmudgeon mentions this because of his interest in wine lawsuits and their inherent foolishness, in which the biggest companies pursue legal action for no other reason than they can. Because, honestly, who would confuse this wine with this wine? But not this wine with this wine? Wine-Searcher.com reports that Chateau Cheval Blanc, which lost the case once, won on appeal and has returned to court to force Domaine du Cheval Blanc to pick a new name. The story is complicated, as most are for those of us who aren’t trademark attorneys, but the upshot is that it looks like Chateau will win. And people wonder why I get so cranky.

Turn up the Beethoven: Commit lots of alcohol-related crimes in London? Then you’ll be forced to wear ankle tags that monitor the levels of alcohol in your sweat. Yes, it’s all very “Clockwork Orange,” but London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has other concerns. Drunks deter “law-abiding citizens from enjoying our great city, especially at night.” The impetus for the idea? The success of similar ankle systems with drunk drivers in the U.S. So glad the British can learn something from us, especially after all they have given this country.

Drink that cheap wine: English wine consultant Jerry Lockspeiser writes in Harpers, a British trade magazine, that consumers are perfectly happy buying cheap wine, noting that there is no correlation between price and wine people like. Then he asks: If consumers are happy, why does the wine business try so hard to sell them expensive wine? The Wine Curmudgeon practically swooned when he read that. The interesting bit, of course, is the question, which he answers in two parts: That the business is convinced it will make more money off pricey wine, which may or may not be true, and that they’re snobs: “… we pity the poor souls who have not see the light. We know, because we are chosen.” I should send this guy a cheap wine book, no?

Winebits 246: Alcohol laws, wine blogging, moscato

Think it’s bad here? Andrew Jefford in Decanter talks about wine laws in Europe, where there seems to be a more civilized approach than what we manage in the U.S. with the three-tier system. At least, writes Jefford, it’s more civilized most of the time: “The European scene doesn’t smell quite so strongly of market control, but the dream of direct shipment from producers to consumers within the European Union remains precisely that: a dream.” In fact, the state-controlled retailing system in Sweden and Finland doesn’t sound all that different from the infamous Pennsylvania state stores.

Must-read wine blogs: And, of course, the Wine Curmudgeon is not among them. Fortunately, the compiler has the wisdom to mention the award-winning Italian Wine Guy. It’s a good thing that I have such high self-esteem; otherwise, all this being ignored would send me to a dark room, where I would lie on the bed and whimper. And, as long we’re talking about being ignored, there’s a long story in the Northwestern University alumni magazine about NU types in the wine business – which also doesn’t include me, Medill class of '79. There are some really important people, though, like Stephanie Gallo (yes, of those Gallos) and Dr. Vino.

Mixing moscato and cognac: Am I the only one who doesn’t understand what’s going on with moscato? Or big booze companies? Shanken News Daily reports that Beam, the multi-national drinks company, is introducing Courvoisier Gold, a blend of Cognac and moscato  — yes, moscato, the sweet white wine. And they expect consumers to pay $25 for it, too. Here’s what’s confusing: If consumers won’t pay $25 for a bottle sweet wine, and the story notes that consumers aren't buying as much Courvoisier as before, why would anyone buy a blend of the two?

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