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Winebits 336: Wine competitions, restaurant wine, and lawsuits

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wine news restaurants competitons lawsuitsDo wine competitions work? Tim Atkin, a British expert, says they do, and paraphrases Winston Churchill: “Competitions are the worst way to evaluate wine, except for all of the others.” Which is something I wish I had thought of, given I have a poster of Churchill hanging in the office. Atkin’s take on competitions is thoughtful and makes several good points, including whether price should matter, quality of the judges, and that sometimes, wines do get lucky. His comments are most welcome given the current controversy over competitions, and that I’ll be judging two of them in the next couple of weeks.

Restaurants dropping wine from lists: Remember all those giddy articles about the progress wine was making with mid-priced chain restaurants, and how it meant they were finally going to take wine seriously? We might have spoken too soon. A new study has found that eight of the 10 biggest casual chains cut their wine selections by 17 percent in the eight months ending in March. The chains, including Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, and Ruby Tuesday, may have decided that wine isn’t worth the trouble, but that craft beer and spirits are, says the study, calling the shift unprecedented. My guess? That, since the recession especially pummeled these kinds of restaurants, they did what they always do – relegate wine to what they consider its rightful place, out of sight and out of mind. Because wine is just too much trouble.

Bring out the lawyers: The Wine Curmudgeon loves a good wine lawsuit, and this one looks to be a doozy. A Napa Valley producer is suing  wine consultant for $1.6 million, claiming the latter didn’t do a good enough job making a $200 wine. The article, in the Napa Valley Register, is so full of giggles that I can’t do it justice here. My favorite? That the consultant went on vacation during a crucial part of the winemaking process.

Winebits 329: Legal affairs edition

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Winebits 329: Legal affairs editionBecause the Wine Curmudgeon is always amused by the legal side of the wine business:

Blame it on Utah: The Wine Curmudgeon has first-hand experience with Utah’s liquor laws, thanks to a story I wrote about the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But not even I was ready for this excellent piece of reporting by Nancy Lofholm in The Denver Post. How about eight different liquor licenses? Or that some establishments have to have a barrier between customers and the bartender, and that others don’t — even if they have the same license? But don’t worry too much. Says one Utah tourism official: “We are not the only state with peculiar liquor laws.”

Scores don’t matter: Or, did a New York judge tell a wine drinker that a high score can’t be the basis for suing about wine quality? There are many ways to interpret the decision, in which a Manhattan judge dismissed a lawsuit (requires free registration) in which a consumer wanted a refund from a wine store because he didn’t like the six bottles of 91-point wine he bought. The judge wrote that wine taste is subjective, and so can’t be the basis for a lawsuit. I know the wine in question, a decent enough bottle of Rioja, but one that’s probably not worth the $12.99 the consumer paid. Damn those scores anyway.

Questioning three-tier? Or so says this post from the Libation Law blog, analyzing a New Jersey court decision that said “New Jersey’s liquor control laws and regulations must be administered in the light of changing conditions.” Which, of course, is what those of us who want to reform the three-tier system have been saying for years: That a system put in place at the end of Prohibition to keep the mob out of liquor has outlived its reason for being. The decision, which dealt with distributors and how they paid commission, is esoteric, but Ashley Brandt at Libation is optimistic that it “strengthens the argument that a vigilant regulatory system can uncover and prohibit the practices that people claim the three-tiered system was meant to forestall.” The Wine Curmudgeon, with his vast legal experience (a semester of First Amendment law in college) isn’t quite so sure, but who am I to ruin a good mood?

Winebits 328: Scottish wine, wine marketing, lawsuits

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Winebits 328: Scottish wine, wine marketing, lawsuits

Scottish wine for a Scottish dish, haggis

Talk about terroir: A Scottish winemaker — yes, that’s correct — says climate change has made it possible to make wine in his country. Christopher Trotter, a chef and food writer, wants to grow six acres of grapes in eastern Scotland, and says that the warmest weather in centuries will make it possible. One caveat: It’s still cooler than most of the world’s wine regions, so he has to use grapes that are cold hardy and that don’t necessarily make great wine. The article, from the Bloomberg news service, is also an excellent look at how warmer temperatures around the world will affect the wine business.

A glass of Chloe, please: The Wine Group, which gave the world Cupcake, is making another marketing play, this time with a brand called Chloe. As Robert Joseph writes, the company’s approach has nothing to do with wine per se, but with how it is sold to the public. Chloe is being marketed like jewelry or perfume, costing about one-third more than the $10 to $12 Cupcake. This is The Wine Group’s particular genius, and which is rarely seen in wine, that it can position its brands as lifestyle products and get a premium for what will almost certainly be a very ordinary bottle of Italian pinot grigio (given the quality of its other wines). But, as many have noted, the people who buy these kinds of wines aren’t buying them for what’s in the bottle.

Bring out the lawyers: The Wine Curmudgeon has always enjoyed watching companies sue each other over labels and brand names, and this one is particularly enjoyable. Beverage Digest reports that Diageo, the world’s largest drinks company, says family-owned Heaven Hill is trampling on its intellectual property in Canada with a product called Admiral Nelson spiced rum, which too closely resembles Diageo’s Captain Morgan spiced rum. How many billable hours will this require? The article discusses — seriously, I suppose — that one issue in the lawsuit will be how similar the character of Nelson, the greatest hero in British naval history, is to Morgan, who was a pirate. Sadly, wigs are no longer worn in Canadian courts, or this would be even more fun to watch.

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