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Tag Archives: wine trends

Spanish wine may offer the best value in the world — part I

winetrends

Spanish wineThis is the first of two parts discussing why Spanish wine may be the best value in the world today. Part II, with reviews of some of Spain’s best-value wines, is here.

The reasons are many, and they add up to the same thing: Spanish wine, whether red, white, pink, or bubbly, probably offers the best value in the world, and certainly for the cheap wine that we celebrate here.

Count the reasons:

•  Continuing political and economic unrest in Spain. The Eurozone’s inability to recover from the recession, combined with Spain’s particular problems (including 25 percent unemployment), have devastated the domestic wine market. Hence Spain’s need to export at very competitive prices.

• Spanish wine staying the province of Spanish companies, as opposed to multinationals buying or taking over Spanish producers. This has allowed Spanish companies to focus on Spanish wine, instead of Spanish wine being one small part of a larger company.

• Spanish producers focusing on Spanish varietals that taste like Spanish wine, saving us from the spectacle of Spanish chardonnay. This switch to the so-called international varietals has been a problem elsewhere, even though the Italians refuse to admit it.

• Improvements in technology, winemaking, and grape growing. This is part of the revolution seen elsewhere in the world, and the Spanish have not been left behind.

• Spain’s relative anonymity in the U.S. market, which means that its wines have to be better and offer more value — not only to attract consumers, but to convince distributors and retailers they’re worth carrying. If you’re going to take shelf space away from cash cows like Kendall Jackson, Yellow Tail, and Barefoot, you’d better be pretty good.

• Some of the best importers in the world, who can find the wines that fit these requirements. I regularly rave about Ole Imports; Hand-Picked Selections is also excellent, and Eric Solomon and Jorge Ordonez have long been bringing in top-flight Spanish wines. And that’s only a handful of the best.

What the media didn’t tell you about the CDC alcohol death study

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CDC binge drinkingThis is not a critique of the science in the Centers for Disease Control study that equated drinking wine with dinner as binge drinking. I’m not a doctor or researcher. I’m also not questioning the health, emotional, and social costs of alcoholism; I’ve attended too many funerals.

Rather, this is a critique (based on a story I wrote for the Wine Business International trade magazine) of the shoddy and slipshod reporting done by most of the media, wine and otherwise, when the study was released. That is something I am qualified to do after 35 years as a journalist.

Journalism, something that I love and have spent my professional life trying to do well, is in a sorry state. How the study was covered demonstrates this all too well. Too many news organizations, regardless of size or reputation, are lazy, sloppy, and willing to accept what someone says — be it the CDC, the government, or big business — without asking questions. And journalism is about asking questions. These days, though, it’s cheaper and easier and less offensive to advertisers if you re-write a news release, throw some hyperlinks in it, and call it reporting. Or rewrite what another news organization has already rewritten.

My reason for being, even in wine, is to try not to do that. Here are the questions the media didn’t ask when the CDC study was released:

• Where did the excessive drinking standard come from? Why is the standard eight drinks a week for women and 15 for men? In fact, these come from a 2006 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and are based on the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines: “drink alcoholic beverages… in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.” Which is not exactly the same thing as excessive drinking.

• Why does this study contradict what one eminent cardiologist told me “is a reasonable certainty, based on hundreds of studies over the past decade, that moderate drinking as part of the Mediterranean diet that includes fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and wine, will benefit cardiac health. It’s the difference between partying and wine with a meal.”

• Why now? Why is alcohol suddenly in the spotlight? Note that the CDC study came in the wake of the proposal by the National Transportation Safety Board to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunken driving by one-third.

• Why these solutions — higher taxes, fewer liquor licenses for stores and restaurants, and an end to wet-dry elections and state deregulation? Will these prevent alcoholism, or will they penalize responsible drinkers?

Second annual five-day, $3 wine challenge

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$3 wine challenge

You won’t need a pile of money to buy these wines.

In which the Wine Curmudgeon puts his money where his mouth is. Each night next week, I’ll drink a $3 wine with dinner and attempt to answer the question: Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? Are the claims made by producers like Fred Franzia and the various anti-critics true, that most of us can’t tell the difference and that it doesn’t matter if we can?

Last year, when I did five $3 chardonnays, the results were mixed — mostly OK, but we expect more than OK from our cheap wine. This year, I’ll drink six merlots (yes, I know that’s one more than the days, but I’ll figure out the logistics). First, to do a red wine, and second, because merlot is the easiest red wine to make. It has fewer problems with tannins, and there shouldn’t be a problem finding quality fruit. All six wines were purchased in Dallas:

Two-buck Chuck ($2.99, 12.5%), the Trader Joe’s private label that was the first and remains the most famous of the very cheap wines. It’s a California wine from the 2012 vintage.

• Three Wishes ($2.99, 12.5%), the Whole Foods private label. It carries an American appellation, which means it’s non-vintage and at least three-quarters of the grapes used to make it were grown in the U.S.

Winking Owl ($2.89, 12.5%) from Aldi but may be available elsewhere. Also American and non-vintage.

• Yosemite Road ($3.99, 12%), a private label for 7-Eleven. The label says red blend, and is probably close to merlot. Yes, it’s $1 more, but I haven’t reviewed a Yosemite Road in five years, and this seemed like a good time. Also American and non-vintage.

Oak Leaf ($2.97, 12.5%), the Walmart private label. Also American and non-vintage.

Southern Point ($2.39, 12.5%), the Walgreen’s private label, because I always tick off someone when I do a drug store wine. Also American and non-vintage.

I’m not doing HEB’s Cul-de-Sac this year, since it’s only available in Texas. I’ll post the results of the challenge on Oct. 6, but you can keep up with the day-to-day action by following me on Twitter or checking out the Wine Curmudgeon Facebook page.

Again this year, all the wines but the Two-buck Chuck are made by The Wine Group, one of the Big Six and whose brands include Cupcake. And none of them have a screwcap, which I can’t even begin to understand. Why would anyone want to pay more for the tool that opens the wine than the wine itself?

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