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Tag Archives: wine trends

The most popular restaurant wines

winetrends

restaurant winesOr, to phrase it more accurately, why the most popular restaurant wines aren’t wines that most of us drink. Which is not surprising, given the way too many restaurants treat wine drinkers.

The tipoff, of course, is price: Only one of the top 10 wines in the annual Wine & Spirits poll retails for less than $20, so by the time you add restaurant markup, we’ve passed that all-important $20 threshold. That’s the price that 95 percent of Americans who buy wine won’t cross. The average price for the top wines are ridiculous: $103.50 a bottle, up more than 20 percent from last year, and almost $13 a glass. That means one bottle is almost enough double the price of dinner for two at a nice restaurant, and who wants to do that?

Is it any wonder, then, that restaurant wine sales have not returned to pre-recession levels, and that one restaurant executive has criticized what he called restaurant complacency, adding “We see early warning signs for wine in the restaurant business. We may say, ‘wine is best with food,’ but that isn’t what our customers are telling us.”

Which is what the Wine Curmudgeon has been saying for years; that someone in the restaurant business agrees with me is welcome news. But does it matter, or is that complacency too much to overcome? I’d argue for complacency, based on the poll results. Eight of the 10 best-selling wines are the same as they were 10 years ago, which is hardly different or unique. And, to add insult to injury, the best-selling sparkling is Veuve Clicquot, about as hip and with it as I am.

Also depressing: Sommeliers, both here and elsewhere, keep insisting that they’re trying to make restaurant wine lists more interesting, but that doesn’t come across in the survey. Gruet, the sparkling wine from New Mexico but which is now made with California grapes, hasn’t been interesting for years. But it’s the third best-selling bubbly by the glass, as if the cava and Prosecco revolutions had never happened.

In this, restaurant wine is the trendsetter in just one thing: That wine is becoming increasingly splintered, with the focus on selling to the elite and leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Four things college students taught me about wine

jeff unt1

wine educationFour things college students, including my El Centro viticulture and enology class and two University of North Texas classes, taught me about wine this semester. Call it Wine Education for Curmudgeons 101:

• Regional wine matters to people who didn’t help start a regional wine group. I don’t know why this always surprises me, but it does. Maybe because when I mention it to too many adults, they look at me as if I want them to drink castor oil? But when I talk about regional and Texas wine to students, they understand the idea of local wine and its relationship to local food, and they’re more than happy to try it. Enjoy it and buy it, even.

• The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and he doesn’t look too good naked. We did a Napa and Sonoma tasting in my El Centro class, five wines that cost at least $40 (that I brought from samples in the wine closet). The students were not impressed, noting how commercial they tasted, how overpriced they were, and how they expected a lot more for what the wines cost. Even more surprising: They came to these conclusions on their own, without any help from me. All I do in a tasting is pour the wines, talk about who made them, and ask the students what the wines taste like. We don’t even discuss price until the end.

• The world does not revolve around cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and merlot. As someone who never met a grape, no matter how odd, that he didn’t want to try, this always makes me feel better about the future of wine in the U.S. People my age, faced with a grape they don’t recognize, tend to glaze over. The North Texas students, on the other hand, were fascinated with a dry riesling.

• People like wine I don’t like. I know this is true, but it always helps to see it in action. We did a Washington state grocery store merlot, full of fake oak, gobs of sweet fruit, and winemaking sleight of hand at North Texas. When I asked who liked it, as I always do, almost everyone did. Which reinforces the most important (and only) rule about wine: If you like it, it’s a good wine, and it doesn’t matter what wine writers, even the one teaching the class, think. Just be willing to try different kinds of wine to see if there is something else you might like.

Slider photo courtesy of Leta Durrett

The new truth about oxidized wine

winetrends

oxidized wineWine will oxidize — that is, become brandyish and taste funny — within 24 hours after you open the bottle. Oxygen gets into the bottle, and the same thing happens to the wine that happens to a cut apple. This has been true for decades, and the wine preserver industry, including Coravin, nitrogen systems, and vacuum pumps, has become a multi-million dollar business because of oxidized wine.

But what if post-modern winemaking technology has made oxidation less likely? What if the wine business has discovered how to keep wine from oxidizing with 24 hours, so that it will last days or even a week? In fact, this seems to have happened, and especially with bottles from Big Wine. That has been my experience over the past 18 months — bottles, red and white, left on the counter for several days and closed only with their cork or screwcap, tasted just as fresh as they did when I opened the bottle.

So I checked with a well-known and award-winning California winemaker, and he said I was right. He asked not to be named for this post, given that he was letting us behind, as he called it, the wizard’s curtain. “The science of wine has advanced immeasurably in the last 20 years,” he told me. “And, in part, that is why a $6 bottle of wine does not taste like crap anymore.”

There is lots of science in his explanation (“build stronger chains of anthocyanins and phenolic compounds”); more than we need here. But wine is oxidizing less quickly because:

• Grapes are riper than ever when they’re harvested. This has led to more stable phenolics, which is the compound in grapes that adds color, taste, and helps preserve it.

• Adding more tannins to the wine, either oak, grape-derived, or from other exotic hardwoods. I actually have a bottle of liquid tannins in a desk drawer that I got at a trade show. If your wine isn’t tannic enough, you can dump it in.

• These added tannins, combined with a technique called micro-oxidation, which adds oxygen to the wine at certain times during the winemaking process. This means, said the winemaker, better wines with improved color, richer flavors, and better shelf life. “This is a novel idea,” he said with a laugh, “since the industry has for so many years maligned oxygen and taught the exact opposite. But oxygen is good.”

Is this true with all wines? Probably not. But for the majority of wine that most of us drink, oxidized wine is apparently one less thing to worry about.

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