Wine of the week: Zestos Blanco 2018

zestos blancoZestos Blanco, a Spanish white, is the kind of great cheap wine everyone wishes they could make

Being cheap isn’t enough to make a great cheap wine. Otherwise, the $10 Hall of Fame would be little different from a list of the country’s best-selling $8 supermarket labels. That difference can be seen in the Zestos Blanco, which is both cheap and marvelous.

How marvelous? A friend of mine, who enjoys the wines I recommend but pays little attention otherwise, tasted it the other day and said: “I’ve had this before, haven’t I? I remember it, because it’s so well made compared to the rest of the stuff I buy at the grocery store. Which all mostly tastes the same.”

The Zestos Blanco ($10, purchased, 12%) is a Spanish white made with malvar, a grape found mostly in and around Madrid. It produces a crisp, almost lime-infused, tropical sort of wine that is bone dry and has surprising body (but isn’t tart). That combination makes it an especially wonderful food wine, be it Chinese takeout or something as complicated as roast salmon.

Highly recommended, and certain to return to the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame; also, a candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Finally, a note about the importer, Ole & Obrigado. Patrick Mata, who runs Ole, is one of the smartest people I’ve met in the wine business. He is also one of the most stand-up: He returns phone calls and emails, answers questions honestly, and is unfailingly polite.

I mention this because his company, and everyone he employs, could suffer dramatically from the 25 percent European wine tariff. I’ve tried not to beat up on the tariff more than necessary on the blog, but it’s worth noting again the financial harm it could cause Ole and dozens of other small- and medium-sized importers. Trade policy is just not imperial pronouncements. It’s also the people we overlook when we’re making those imperial pronouncements.

Winebits 619: Premiumization, presidential wine, alcohol consumption

premiumizationThis week’s wine news: Another expert says premiumization is hurting wine, plus wine for world leaders and U.S. alcohol consumption

• “Doom loop:” Who knew a big-time market analyst would agree with the Wine Curmudgeon? Sonoma State’s Damien Wilson says premiumization “can be a path to ruin.” He even has charts and statistics to prove his point. Wilson, writing for Wine Business International, says “European wine market history shows that failing to recruit new wine consumers is the last thing the U.S. wine sector should be doing right now. As the number of wine consumers in the U.S. has stalled in recent years, the local wine sector should avoid profiteering in favour of new market investment. Here is where the US wine sector’s global leadership in business practices can come to the fore.” In other words, higher prices for the sake of higher prices scare off new wine drinkers and then demand slows. And we’re where we are today – flat growth and overpriced wine.

• World power wine: What does one serve the president of France and the Chinese premier at a leading international trade show? High-end French wine, of course. France’s Emmanuel Macron and China’s Xi Jinping sampled three amazing bottles – Louis Latour’s Corton Grancey Grand Cru 2010, Gérard Bertrand’s Château L’Hospitalet 2016, and the Cheval Blanc 2006. That’s about $900 worth of wine, though the Bertrand is a comparatively inexpensive $35.

U.S. booze consumption: The typical U.S. resident drinks the equivalent of about a case of wine a year, according to the OECD, an international group that tracks a variety of economic indicators. The agency’s 2019 report on beer, wine, and spirits consumption shows that the U.S. is not only exactly average for the 36 countries in the survey, but that consumption is almost unchanged from 2007. So it becomes even less clear what the neo-Prohibitionists are complaining about.

Photo: “Modern wine tasting” by kellinahandbasket is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

TV wine ads: King Solomon wine, because “Tonight … the king is in town”

This 1984 King Solomon wine commercial knows what it’s about: “33 percent more wine than the regular size”

The Wine Curmudgeon’s TV wine ad survey has found the good (very little), the bad (almost all) and now this — a 1984 spot on a local Philadelphia station for something called King Solomon wine.

This ad is odd, and not just because of its content. For one thing, Pennsylvania was a control state (and still mostly is), so the only place to buy King Solomon wine would have been a state store. And, given this is a concord wine sold because it’s cheap, it’s difficult to believe a state store would have carried it. Apparently, the company that marketed it was well known in Philadelphia, producing a variety of off-brand spirits and wines. so maybe it had some clout with the state.

The other thing I can’t figure out: What does a genie have to do with the Biblical King Solomon?

Still, the ad is on message: The wine is cheap, there’s a lot of it, and it will get you drunk — “a big, bold, two-fisted wine.” How many other TV wine ads actually say what they mean?

Video courtesy of Hugo Faces via YouTube

More about TV wine ads:
Is this the greatest TV wine commercial ever??
Hendrick’s gin: How to do a TV booze commercial
TV wine ads: John Gielgud makes a quick buck plugging Paul Masson

Four observations after shooting the Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine video

holiday wine videoGet ready for the WC’s holiday wine video later this month

We tried another tack on wine videos this week in New York, and everyone seems hopeful that it will do what our first attempt in the spring didn’t do. That is, find a way to make a wine video that people will enjoy watching.

I recorded the video with Michael Sansolo as part of the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association Store Brands USA series; his show is “Shopping with Michael.” Michael asked questions, I answered, and all seemed to go well. I even opened a bottle of sparkling wine on camera with nary a misstep.

The video should go up later this month, and I’ll update this post with the link. Full disclosure: I’m doing some consulting for the private label trade group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their store brand wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

As such, I spent a couple of days on the wine beat in New York City:

• Hotel wine prices continue to astound me. How about $56 for a bottle of $8 Chateau Ste. Michelle riesling? That seems a bit much, even for mid-town Manhattan.

• It’s always weird to walk through a New York City supermarket, and especially a well respected one in an upscale area near the UN, and not see wine for sale. But that’s our old pal the three-tier system at work. Wine shops can’t sell potato chips in New York state, and supermarkets can’t sell wine.

• We spent a lot of time talking about wine on the set, even when we weren’t shooting the video (and not to worry – “on the set” is about the only video/film jargon that I know). That’s because, as someone said, “Wine is so confusing.” It was a great joy to open a bottle of $2.99 wine for several people and explain why it cost $2.99 and why it tasted that way. In fact, one reason the PLMA wants to do the wine videos is to help supermarket shoppers who are baffled by the Great Wall of Wine.

• Welcome to the 21st century: A bomb-sniffing dog checks out your luggage when you check into the Hilton near the UN.

Ancient Rome and its surprisingly sophisticated wine business

ancient romeAncient Rome, and how its wine business dealt with natural disasters, mass production, and wine critics

Does the following sound familiar?

They refined production by using barrels and cultivation techniques that allowed them to make more for less cost. … experts estimate that a bottle was being consumed each day for every citizen.

No, this isn’t a description of Big Wine and the U.S. wine boom that lasted from the 1980s to the beginning of the 21st century. It’s the role of wine during the Roman Empire, about 1,800 years before any European had ever heard of Napa or Sonoma.

The more things change, right?

In fact, the parallels between Roman culture and 21st century California wine business are more than spooky:

• The Roman Empire’s version of Napa Valley, perhaps in and around Pompeii. The city, near what is now Naples on the Mediterranean, was a key Roman wine center. When it was wiped out in 79 when the Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted, “the vineyards were destroyed, and the cost rose so rapidly that only the rich could afford it.”

• High land values. In 92, Emperor Domitian banned new vineyards in Rome and ordered the uprooting of half of the vineyards in use so grain could be grown. Farmers had been planting vines and taking out grain to replace the vineyards lost in Pompeii. Because, of course, vineyard land had become more valuable.

• Their own Winestream Media. Pliny the Elder, who was killed in Pompeii, was among the most important Roman wine critics, and not just because he wrote: “In vino veritas (in wine there is truth).” Book 14 of his 37-volume Naturalis Historia covered wine, which included a ranking of Rome’s top vineyards. Book 17 discussed viticulture and defended the notion of terroir. And Roman critics, as I discussed in the cheap wine book, were notorious for their disdain for the wine most people could afford to buy.

Slider photo courtesy of Aveine, using a Creative Commons license

More about ancient wine:
Ancient Hebrews: “If there is any wine send it”
A brief history of wine, wine writing, and the wine business

Wine of the week: CVNE Cune Rioja Crianza 2015

The Cune Rioja, from Spain’s CVNE, is a tempranillo blend that will bring joy to anyone who loves quality cheap wine

CVNE’s Cune Rioja brings joy to my tired and worn out brain whenever I see it on the shelf. And these days, when the future of quality cheap wine is very much in doubt, that’s something to depend on.

The Cune Rioja ($11, purchased, 13.5%) is a Spanish red wine from the Rioja region, mostly made with tempranillo. CVNE is a large Spanish producer that has been around for 140 years, and its wines still taste as they should and still offer quality and value for less than $15. Crianza is the simplest of the Rioja wines, but still well made.

This vintage of the Cune Rioja is a little rounder and fuller than the 2014 – the cherry fruit isn’t quite as tart and the wine isn’t quite as earthy. But there is some baking spice and a hint of orange peel, Rijoa’s calling card. And it will pair with almost anything that isn’t in a cream sauce. As I wrote in my notes: “As it should be. One of the world’s great cheap wine values.” What more do we need these days?

Highly recommended and a candidate for the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame and 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Winebits 618: Two wine best of lists and a 100-point wine

100-point wineThis week’s wine news: A hotel chain proclaims the U.S. the best wine region in the world and the best wine book in the world is ranked ninth. Plus, if you have $100, you can buy a glass of 100-point wine.

Best regions: One reason why the Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t care much for top 10 lists is that you don’t know who is behind them. As in: Why is the Accor hotel chain proclaiming the U.S. the best wine region in the world? What does that have to with inn keeping? But there it is – the U.S., followed by France, Italy, and New Zealand. The methodology is spotty (scores from a crowd site), which devalues the results — as if there could be legitimate results for something like this. And it still doesn’t answer why Accor felt the need to do this.

Best books: The two best wine books, in terms of understanding wine and figuring out who wine works, are porbably Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World and Wine for Dummies, by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing Milligan. So how do they fare in a ranking by something called BookAuthority? Ninth and 27th. And how authoritative is BookAuthority? ” BookAuthority identifies and rates the best books in the world, based on public mentions, recommendations, ratings and sentiment.” Taking quality into account would have have been nice, but one can’t expect much these days.

Bring out the c-notes: If you have $100, then a Dallas restaurant will sell you a glass of a Robert Parker 100-point wine, the 2012 Verite La Joie Bordeaux Blend. Veritie is a Sonoma producer; the current version of the La Joie costs $400 a bottle. Still, I’ll pass, even though the restaurant is throwing in a couple of Riedel glasses. For those of you who are intrigued, the 2012 “is an incredible glass of wine featuring exuberant notes of red currant, black plum and cherry framed by subtle French oak nuances like powdered cocoa and cedar with a balanced finish.”