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Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 378: Box wine, South African wine, nutrition labels

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box wineBring on the cartons: Box wine, since it’s too awkward for most store shelves and because consumers are confused about its quality, has been little more than a niche product in the U.S. But all that may be about to change with the news that E&J Gallo will sell a $20, 3-liter box called Vin Vault, which works out to $5 a bottle for something that will be the quality equivalent of $10 grocery store merlot. If Gallo — perhaps the best judge of consumer sentiment among Big Wine producers — figures the time is right for box wine, it probably is (witness the success of Barefoot and Apothic). Look for big-time promotions and price cutting for Vin Vault when it debuts next month, which should also spur price-cutting for Black Box and Bota Box, the brands that dominate the better-quality box wine market.

Whatever happened to Sebeka? The $10 brand all but disappeared in the U.S. after Gallo gave up on it a couple of years ago, realizing how difficult it was to sell South African wine in the U.S. The wine itself was OK, but as the Wine Curmudgeon has noted many times, South African wines have many problems in this country that don’t include quality. But Sebeka’s new owner figures the time is right to try again, though I have my doubts given this assessment from a Sebeka official: “We don’t know what will be the next big thing but hopefully it’s chenin blanc or pinotage. It just needs that one breakthrough that everyone writes about.” I don’t know what the next thing will be either, though I do know it won’t be pinotage or that anyone in the Winestream Media will figure it out. They’re still unsure about sweet red wine.

Ingredient labels: The recent arsenic scare is about more than contaminated wine; my take is that it’s just one part of the long battle over ingredient labels for wine. So the news last week — and before we found out we’d all been poisoned by cheap wine — that Big Wine producer Diageo would add calorie and nutritional information to its wine is worth mentioning. The company, whose brands include Chalone, Rosenblum, and Sterling, said it wants consumers to know what they’re drinking. In this, reports the Harpers trade magazine, Diageo is the first drinks company to offer the labels. Would that more producers, large and small, had that attitude.

Winebits 377: Wine rant, direct shipping, wine police

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stuart piggott There’s ranting, and then there’s ranting: Stuart Piggott, an English wine writer who lives in Germany and champions riesling, has had quite enough of overoaked, high alcohol chardonnay, thank you very much. His screed takes on Kistler, one of the most popular (and expensive) of those wines; imagine Monty Python meeting GoodFellas. It’s funny, spot on, and contains a couple of words we don’t use on the blog for those of you who worry about those things. Most importantly, Piggott doesn’t dismiss all chardonnay because of some, but points out that chardonnay that’s varietally correct is still one of the great wines in the world.

A long way to go: ShipCompliant, which helps wineries with the maze that are federal and state liquor laws. notes that we still have a long to go before out-of-state retailers can ship wine to most consumers. Currently, only 14 states allow retailer shipping, and that doesn’t include the biggest markets in the country, like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, and Florida. The Wine Curmudgeon, who has often been accused of disparaging direct shipping, mentions this not for that reason, but to note that until three-tier changes, most of us will not be able to legally order wine from an out of state retailer, no matter what the hype.

Turn it into bio-fuel: How out of touch with reality are liquor cops and health officials? Consider this, from South Africa, where cheap pinotage has been accused of causing one region’s drinking problems. The Western Cape premier wants producers to turn their grapes into bio-fuel instead of wine as one way to combat the problem, but apparently failing to note that there is no feasible method to do that and that other booze, like ale, is substantially cheaper than wine. Said a wine industry spokesman: “We accept that alcohol abuse is a very big problem in the Western Cape, but we believe that there should be a focus on illegal traders and [unlicensed bars] — some of whom even sell alcohol on credit.”

Winebits 376: Apothic, restaurant wine, wine consumption

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apothicA revolutionary product? Gallo’s Apothic, which revolutionized sweet red wine when it was introduced in 2007, may be doing it again. The company has released Apothic Crush, a slightly sweet red wine with 14.5 percent alcohol. In this, it appears to be the first sweet high alcohol wine that actually admits to being sweet and high in alcohol. For most of wine’s history, sweet table wines had less alcohol than dry wines not only because that’s how fermentation worked, but because no one thought consumers would drink a high alcohol sweet wine. But that has changed, first with the trend toward riper, more alcoholic wines, and second, with improvements in winemaking technology. In this, who knew Robert Parker, who has championed riper, higher alcohol wines, would pave the way for a Gallo product? Or, as the noted philosopher Mick Jagger has said more than once, “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometime you find/You get what you need.”

Less hope for wine lists? Is the end coming for the independent restaurant? That may be one of the conclusions from a recent study, which found that the number of independents fell by two percent in the U.S. in 2014, and that the number of full-service independents dropped three percent. Chains, meanwhile, continued to grow in the low single digits. Why does this matter to wine drinkers? Because those independents, and especially the full-serves, are the last best hope for improved restaurant wine lists. Chains usually don’t care about wine and make decisions in a corporate office based on price, which means they have the crummiest and most overpriced wine lists. Independents, for all their problems with wine, generally do a better job than chains. So any drop in the number of chains should be worrisome for wine drinkers who want choices that aren’t from Big Wine.

Beer, wine, or spirits? This chart, from Ghost in the Data, should answer all questions about whether the U.S. (or any other country in the world) is a wine drinking country. We’re not — it’s still beer. In fact, save for part of western Europe, the world is mostly indifferent to wine. This is something my colleagues in the Winestream Media should pay more attention to, instead of patting themselves on the back because we drink more wine than any other country in because we have more people than France and Italy.

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