The Wine Industry is Headed For Self-Inflicted Decrepitude

They say that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. It seems like we’re in need of a corollary these days: you can show the wine industry signs of its demise year after year, but you can’t make people believe it.

Each year, Rob McMillan, head of the Wine Division of Silicon Valley Bank releases his State of the Wine Industry Report. It’s chock full of interesting data points about how the American wine industry feels, how business has been for the past year, and how the fundamentals of the wine economy have been performing.

The latest version of the report was released last week, and simply put, the news is not great. There are plenty of other commentators out there who have spent time picking apart the extremely detailed analysis that McMillan and his colleagues have done.

Here’s the bottom line for those without the time to read much, or who were just excited to click on an image featuring wine and zombies: two worrying trends continue unabated in the American wine industry.

The first is the trajectory of negative volume growth. While some (small) parts of the industry are growing, other (much, much larger) parts of the industry are shrinking, averaging out to fewer sales last year than the year before, and fewer sales next year than this year.

The continued weakness of wine at lower price points adds a particularly distressing edge to this trend. Wines between $8 and $15 are typically the wines a) most readily available and b) what many entry-level drinkers can afford to buy.

The second, even more terrifying trend is the stated lack of interest in wine by younger adults that are about to enter their prime drinking and buying years. Given the opportunity, younger adults of drinking age say they are more likely to reach for alcoholic drinks that they believe are more fun, less expensive, and healthier for them (think White Claw).

The writing on the wall. Courtesy of the Silicon Valley Bank 2023 State of the Wine Industry Report

It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. If the graph of your customers’ inclination to buy your product looks like the one above, you can only come to one logical conclusion: your product isn’t relevant to younger generations.

Which means you have a marketing problem.

Of course, Rob McMillan has been telling that to the wine industry for several years.

The Wine Industry is Headed For Self-Inflicted Decrepitude
The once and future customers of the American wine Industry.

But for all the facts and figures, all the stone-cold numbers pointing to the fact that the US wine industry is headed towards an unhappy future, one thing in particular in this year’s State of the Wine Industry report scared me more than any other, and truly seemed like the first dreadful knell announcing a future that none of us want to see.

You see, McMillan hasn’t been merely content to shout at the wine industry each year about how they weren’t connecting with new generations of wine drinkers. He actually tried to do something about it.

McMillan and a bunch of other industry heavyweights got together, solicited pledges of $1 million and built a plan to create a national wine marketing board using the same kind of government funding that brought us the “Got Milk?,” or “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner” campaigns.

In order for that plan to go forward, McMillan needed producers representing more than 67% of the wine industry to raise their hands and agree to pay a small tax in order to fund the effort on an ongoing basis.

But some of the wine industry’s biggest players said no. And after a year of lobbying, cajoling, arguing, and pleading, McMillan and his colleagues have given up.

That, my wine loving friends, is the most terrible news I have heard about the wine industry in a very long time.

The guy with the boat and the life preserver was sitting right there, and the swimmer, barely keeping his head up, between choking on gulps of seawater, said, “Nah, I’m fine,” and waved him off.

It’s hard to wrap my head aroun how the wine industry believes things are going to turn out when it seems content to do the same things it’s always been doing even as the market for wine weakens, sales drop, and a whole generation of drinkers builds loyalty with other beverages.

The biggest buyers of wine right now, the Baby Boomers, are dying. And those that aren’t dying are busy asking themselves whether they really need to buy any more wine, because they’re not entirely sure they’re going to be able to drink all the bottles they have in the time they have left.

If the wine industry can’t figure out how to appeal to the generation that’s going to replace them, then there’s really only one thing they can hope for. But who in their right mind wants to actually wish for a zombie apocalypse?

The Wine Industry is Headed For Self-Inflicted Decrepitude

If it doesn’t wake up and smell which way the wind is blowing, the American Wine Industry is soon going to get the customers it deserves.

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Ingredient Labeling In Prospect in the US

On the heels of new EU requirements to make ingredient and allergen information available to consumers on wine labels (enforceable from 8 December 2023), the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced on 17 November 2022 that it will issue new regulations for ingredient labeling of American wine within a year. 

Many of us in the American wine industry have long supported the idea of ingredient labeling. Since the end of Prohibition in 1933, however, alcohol has been regulated by agencies in the US Department of Treasury (rather than the Food and Drug Administration) and those bodies have not seen fit to require beer, spirits, and wine to carry the same ingredient and nutritional labels as all other food and drink in the US. That is, unless they are under 7% alcohol by volume, in which case they must adhere to FDA labeling guidelines. 

No one knows precisely the cause of the glaring exception that allows wine over 7% to escape the government’s otherwise comprehensive consumer labeling requirements, though a combination of tradition, bureaucratic inertia, and heavy lobbying by the alcohol industry have presumably played a significant role.

In 2003, the National Consumers League (NCL) and the (decidedly anti-alcohol) Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) submitted a petition to the TTB requesting that it require wine, beer, and spirits labels to include similar facts to all other food and beverage packaging, including calorie count, allergens and all ingredients and additives.

Three years later the TTB responded to this petition with the introduction of an interim set of guidelines for the voluntary use of statements about allergens and indicated that further, permanent rule-making might be forthcoming regarding other elements of the petition.

For 16 years no further regulations affecting this issue emerged from the TTB.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

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The R-Word

It’s the time of year for reflecting on the past and planning for the future. But the American wine industry finds itself wondering just exactly what that future holds.

‘A lot of people aren’t willing to use the R-word yet’, says Steve Spadarotto, chairman and CEO of Far Niente Wine Estates in Napa, ‘but in my opinion, we’re in a recession already. Some people say wine is recession-proof but I can tell you, it’s not.’ 

The American wine industry remains subject to the same swirling economic currents as every other sector of the market, plus some unique headwinds of its own, namely the lingering effects of fires in wine country and dramatic changes in both trade and consumer buying behaviours driven by pandemic lockdowns.

Producers have also still not fully recovered from supply-chain disruptions that dramatically increased their costs for goods such as glass bottles or labels. Now they are facing reduced supplies of grapes thanks to the fires, and the signs that demand may be softening even as they head into a traditionally strong month for wine purchases.

In both America and Europe the commonly accepted definition of a recession involves a decline in GDP for two sequential quarters. That’s precisely what happened to America (and many other countries) in the first half of 2022, but few if any economic commentators were willing to claim that the US was truly in a recession. In part this was because of historically low unemployment numbers. Then the economy grew again in the third quarter by 2.6%, silencing even the most pessimistic pundits who were ready to ring the recession alarm bells.

However, with the Federal Reserve continuing to raise interest rates, the cryptocurrency markets tottering towards collapse, various companies laying off thousands of workers, and consumer confidence at its second-lowest point in the past 24 months, very few people in America seem to be wearing rose-coloured spectacles.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

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The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

It’s that time of year again. It remains to be seen just how badly the hangover of supply-chain disruptions will impact this year’s holiday shopping, but that won’t stop most of us from our annual binge of commercial consumption.

Of course, that’s all besides the fact that sometimes it seems positively impossible to find a decent gift for the wine lovers in our lives. Wine lovers can be a little…. particular when it comes to what they like. And we’re not just talking about wine. This is why each year I put together what I think is the ultimate holiday shopping guide for the serious wine lover in your life.

There are always two things noticeably absent from this guide, and very much on purpose. The first is a specific bottle of wine. People shake their heads at me when I say it, but I really don’t recommend buying bottles of wine for the wine lovers in your life unless you are absolutely, positively, 100% sure that it’s a wine they adore.

When it comes to special bottles, most wine lovers would prefer to shop for themselves (which is why gift cards for wine are on my list below). Of course, if you know for sure that bottle of Soldera Brunello is going to bring tears to their eyes, go for it. But otherwise, stay away from specific bottles.

It almost (but not quite) goes without saying (especially after articles like this) that wine club subscriptions are to be entirely avoided. And don’t get me started about wine aerators. Please, for the love of all things holy, don’t buy a wine aerator. Ever.

The second thing you’ll notice missing from the list below is a fancy crystal wine decanter. That’s because while they’re easy gifts to give, generally they suck. They can be expensive as hell, they take up a ton of cabinet space, they’re a pain in the ass to clean, and most of them lack the most basic of ergonomic affordances that would make them easy to use (handles, anyone?).

As far as I’m concerned the world’s best decanter is a lemonade pitcher or a simple carafe (even a vase) that you can actually get your arm inside with a sponge and can replace easily if you drop it or chip it.

But enough about what’s not in here. Let’s talk about what I have included. I’ve got you covered from the simplest and least expensive wine stocking stuffers, to solid, moderately-priced wine gifts, to some of the fanciest, most exclusive and stylish wine-related accessories on the planet. And everything else in between. In the list below you’ll find gifts that even the fussiest and most well-stocked wine lovers in your life will appreciate.

Happy holidays.

Stocking Stuffers

When you’re looking for something inexpensive, here’s a range of gift ideas from $5 to $50 that aren’t run of the mill.

SPARKLING BOTTLE STOPPERS

Now, finishing a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, once opened, should not be that much of a problem, but occasionally everyone has one that doesn’t get finished and you want to save the last of that bubbly for another day. That’s where these handy little gizmos come in. You could shove a regular wine cork into that bottle, but there’s no guarantee it will fit, or if it does, that it will seal very well. These guys snap on with a satisfying “clack” and make sure that there’s a tight seal on the bottle so there’s the best chance of preserving the bubbles. Every bubbly lover should have at least one. $11.99 for a set of three. Buy them at Amazon.

Filtering Wine Funnel
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

I don’t use it all that often, but there are times when I absolutely need this little sucker, usually after a cork has disintegrated into the bottle. It’s billed as an aerating funnel, which is a little ridiculous since the action of pouring wine through it would aerate the wine just fine, even if it didn’t have the little sideways holes at the end. But I love the fact that the screen and the funnel are separate, which makes the whole contraption easy to clean. Made by the folks at Rabbit, you can buy it on Amazon for $24.

Simple Wine Carriers
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

I’ve got more stylish options for carrying wine around below, but I have to say that my default way of dragging a couple of bottles over to a friend’s house or out to dinner is with one of these Built neoprene wine carriers. They’re padded, sturdy, slightly insulating, and sophisticated enough that I don’t feel self-conscious at all showing up at a restaurant with one of these in tow. From $24 at Amazon.

Wearable, Insider Wine Humor
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

How do you know someone is a badass wine insider? They show up on a Zoom call wearing one of Andre Mack’s t-shirts on top, and… well, we’re never sure what they’re wearing on the bottom these days, right? Mack is a sommelier-turned-winemaker, as well as one heck of a t-shirt designer. Most people I know in the wine business have at least one of his shirts. My favorites include the Oscar Jayer (My Bourgogne has a second name, it’s J-A-Y-E-R), and Barolo King. The shirts run $25 a piece and you can check out the full selection of delicious logo jokes and other wine ironies at Maison Noir.

The Best Stemware Cleaning Device
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Washing your nice wine glasses is always an exercise in gentle deliberate movements. But that’s invariably when most delicate glasses are broken (other than being accidentally knocked onto the floor). You have to be careful when washing stemware, but on the other hand, sometimes they can be a royal pain to clean, especially if, like me, you have slightly larger hands that don’t always fit along with that brush into the bowl of the glass. This inexpensive little device, then, is your savior. Wonderfully soft and shaped perfectly for wine glasses, it makes quick work of cleaning any glass. $10. Available at Sur La Table.

Wine Writing to Inspire
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

There are are dozens of great wine books published every year, but there are few that will so universally appeal to the wine lover as this lovely compilation of the writings of Andrew Jefford. For those unfamiliar with Jefford, he is simply one of the most lyrical writers about wine working today. There isn’t a single bit of writing in this anthology that doesn’t positively sing with insight, passion, and the thoughtfulness that have long characterized Jefford’s writing. Find Drinking with the Valkyries on Amazon for $35.

Gift Certificates for Wine
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

If all else fails, I don’t know a single wine lover who wouldn’t love a gift certificate to their favorite local wine store. Not all wine stores offer gift certificates, but I’m sure you can find one in your area. If you’re looking for some suggestions, I recommend the following stores that can ship nationally:

Crush Wine Co. in New York
Flatiron Wines in San Francisco
Flatiron Wines in New York
Gary’s Wine and Marketplace in New Jersey and Napa
JJ Buckley in Oakland

More Substantial Gifts

The Essence of Wine Coffee Table Book
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

This is a fantastic book. How do I know? I wrote it. A coffee table book of photographs and essays about the many flavors and aromas of wine, it is a collaboration between yours truly and award-winning food photographer Leigh Beisch and her art director Sara Slavin. The photographs are stunningly gorgeous, and the essays aren’t half bad either. For each of the 46 different aromas profiled in the book, I offer wine recommendations that you can seek out to experience that particular flavor or aroma. The book won The Chairman’s Award at the 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards, and even the New York Times said nice things about it. If your favorite foodie or wine lover doesn’t have a copy yet, it’s a sure-fire gift that’s bound to please. $75, plus $12 for first-class shipping. Buy it from me directly.

Wine Maps
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Antonio Galloni has been building his own empire of wine criticism and resources after leaving the employ of Robert Parker in 2013. One of the more interesting, valuable, and beautiful efforts he has undertaken since then has been his work with acclaimed cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti to create incredibly detailed maps of Napa Valley and its sub-appellations, including many named vineyards. They come in handy folded formats, rolled and suitable for framing, and first-edition signed prints, costing $25, $50 and $500 respectively. Buy them at Vinous.

Masnaghetti also has an amazing set of maps for Piedmont and the Left Bank of Bordeaux, not to mention an encyclopedia of the new Barolo MGAs. You can find all of these starting at $15.95 for the maps at The Rare Wine Co.

Finally, Steve DeLong has been making excellent wine maps for years, and you can see his whole assortment, starting at $30 over at DeLong Wine.

The Ultimate Guide to Champagne
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Another book I would recommend this season is more than just a book on Champagne. It’s also a set of gorgeous maps that bring Peter Liem’s thoughtful and in-depth treatise on the terroir of Champagne to life. The book and the maps are beautifully published in a box that holds both the book and the maps, and it’s honestly one of the classiest wine books you’ll ever manage to get ahold of. Anyone, even the most die-hard Champange lovers will get something out of this atlas, analysis, and ultimately a celebration of Champagne. $39.99 in a hardcover box set from Amazon.

The Durand Wine Opener for Older Wines
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

If you’re dealing with a serious wine lover, especially one who regularly opens older bottles of wine, you can’t find a better gift for them than The Durand wine tool. Specifically designed to deal with the most fragile of corks, this handy little tool is an awesome piece of wine equipment. I use mine all the time, and it has saved me from the dreaded dissolving-cork syndrome more than a few times. It’s worth every penny of its $135 price tag. Available from The Durand.

Inexpensive Wine Storage and Racking
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

When someone is ready to start actually storing their wine (as opposed to just shoving it in some corner) the question of racks or shelving immediately arises. There are an infinite number of approaches, and almost an infinite amount of money that can be spent on the creation of a proper wine cellar, but for most mortals, something more practical is in order. That’s where these ingenious stacking wine bins come in. Now they’re not gorgeous cedar racks that showcase every bottle individually, but most people don’t have that option. Instead, these are sturdy crates that each hold 12 bottles (or 6 magnums) and that can be stacked 6 or 7 high. The handy drop-down access door allows you to pull out a bottle or three even when stacked. They’re not sexy, but they really do the trick. They start at $72 for three of them or $216 for nine. Available at DomaineStorage.

Fun With Bubbly and Friends
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Juvenile? Yes. A waste of good sparkling wine? Probably. Kinda fun regardless? Totally. This little device, the Bubbly Blaster turns any bottle of sparkling wine into a spray gun. You can shoot people from 25 feet away with a thin stream of sparkling wine. If you’re really talented or ambitious you can try to get it into their mouths or glasses, but honestly, this is just about being ridiculously conspicuous, which is why the damn thing looks gold-plated. On the other hand, the thing doubles as a bottle-stopper, which keeps your bottle fresh if you leave it in. So if you know someone who wants moments in their life that feel like a party of super-rich people at an expensive resort, then this is precisely the gift for them. There’s even (sigh) a version that comes with an iPhone mount for ‘da Gram. Starting at $99 at the Bubbly Blaster web site.

A Subscription to the World of Fine Wine
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Easily the best wine periodical in the world, each hefty, quarterly issue of The World of Fine Wine is more like a book than a magazine. Filled with great photography, fantastic writing, and top-quality wine criticism, this magazine will appeal to anyone who brings a bit of an intellectual bent to their wine appreciation. I like to think of it as Granta for wine if that analogy works for you. The World of Fine Wine is where some of the best wine writing is being done today. $202 per year for a US Subscription printed on dead trees. You can also get digital subscriptions as well through their handy iPhone and iPad app, which may be preferable for those who don’t want to have these big thick magazine stack up around the house (as beautiful as they are, they do really take up a lot of shelf-space after a few years). Digital subscriptions will run you roughly $90 per year. Purchase a gift subscription at World of Fine Wine.

The Best Everyday Wine Glasses
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

You know all that talk about the different wine glasses you need for different grape varieties? It’s all hogwash. You need only one glass for red, white, and sparkling wines, and for most people this Schott Zwiesel Tritan will suffice. Titanium crystal is the sturdiest stuff on the market, and this glass is both visually elegant, modern in style, and perfectly shaped for wine. It also happens to be quite reasonably priced for a top-quality wine stem. This is what I use at home when I’m not drinking from my precious set of Zaltos (see below). Less than $90 for a set of six. I like the “Red Wine / Water” size of glass. If you want larger glasses, go for their Cabernet stem, if you want slightly smaller glasses, choose their Sauvignon Blanc stem. Each will do the trick for any wine. Buy on Amazon.

EVERYDAY Wine Preservation with THE CORAVIN PIVOT
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Coravin changed the game when it came to drinking a single glass of any wine without opening the bottle (see more expensive gifts below). But they haven’t stopped innovating. Their Pivot product, released this past spring, now makes it possible to drink a bottle of wine over the course of a week or two without any loss in quality due to oxidation. Simply uncork the bottle, immediately pop in one of the Pivot wine stoppers, and then attach the pivot device which you then use to pour a glass (or two) of wine. Remove the device, close the cap and throw the bottle into the fridge until the next time you want a glass. It’s as simple as it is ingenious, and the argon capsules seem to last a long time. Currently on sale for $80 at Amazon.

Turn Wine Leftovers into Artisan Vinegar
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Sometimes you don’t want to drink the leftovers, or sometimes you don’t get around to it. So why not put them to some use? Most wine lovers I know also happen to be foodies and appreciate the difference between good vinegar and bad vinegar. This 5-liter oak barrel (which you could even personalize with a name) is the perfect way to make and age your own wine vinegar. Just simply add a little high-quality vinegar to start, and then gradually fill up the barrel with unused, good-quality wine, and violá. $99 for the 5-liter version. Other sizes are available. Buy at Amazon.

Ultimate Indulgences — The Expensive Stuff

If price is not an issue, and you want to get your favorite wine geek something special, here’s a list of gifts at which no one can turn up their nose.

The Ultimate Wine Glass
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

There are wine glasses, and then there are wine glasses. Not too long ago, the folks at Zalto reset the bar for what truly fine, modern crystal wine glasses could be. Drinking from an incredibly delicate stem like this represents the most luxurious way to appreciate any wine. And thankfully after some serious supply-chain disruption last year, it is now possble to purchase these stems again. If money is no object and you’re looking for a treat to give your favorite wine lover, there are few things that will impress as much as these glasses. Lead-free, handblown crystal. $68 each. I recommend their so-called Universal Glass. Buy them from The Manufactory.

Carry Wine Bottles With Class
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled at the opportunity to have dinner with friends again. And when the opportunity arises, I’m bringing wines from my cellar because, well, life’s too short. It’s time to drink great wine with friends again. So when schlepping wine over to someone’s house for dinner or out to a restaurant, you want to carry the wine safely, securely, and (for some) stylishly. Which is where a really nice leather wine tote comes in. This one from Royce will set you back $300 from Saks Fifth Avenue.

Drink Still Wine Without Opening the Bottle
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

The Coravin has quickly revolutionized the wine world in its own small way, by allowing us all to have a glass of wine from any (non-sparkling) wine without removing the cork. It’s now been more than 4 years since the launch of the tool, and it has literally transformed by-the-glass wine lists around the world, not to mention changing the way that many people drink their wines. The company now has a dizzying number of different models to choose from, many of which have bells and whistles that I don’t necessarily think are worth the extra money. My recommendation would be the Timeless Model Six which has Black Friday deals as low as $195 at Amazon.

If you really must saber your bubbly…
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Sabering champagne is a party trick that will impress anyone who hasn’t seen it before. But for anyone who wants to drink some good Champagne, chopping the top off of your Champagne bottle (and the preparation required to do it properly) simply takes far too much effort. However, if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it with class. Provided you don’t have a sword hanging on the wall somewhere already, you’d do far worse than to use this stylish modern saber from the masters of silver, Georg Jensen. You can find it at Saks Fifth Avenue for $169.

Fly Safely With Wine
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Now that the world is once again our oyster, some folks may want to take trips and bring along some favorite bottles. There’s the roll-it-up-in-a-t-shirt approach to traveling with wine, and then there’s the classy way: the VinGarde Valise. It’s simple. The Valise is a specialized suitcase that holds 12 bottles of wine, plus a change of clothes, and all but guarantees that your precious oeno-cargo gets there safely. 5 and 8 bottle versions are also available. The 12-bottle model starts at $369. Available at Amazon.

Vintage Wine Posters
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Wine advertising hasn’t been the same since about 1895. No seriously. The big illustrated posters advertising wines around the turn of the century represent a high point in marketing, in my opinion. These days, they’re collector’s items and an original vintage print will set you back a couple of thousand dollars. But they’re beautiful and make wonderful additions to dining rooms, living rooms, studies, and yes, wine cellars, provided you’ve got one big enough to hang out in, let alone with wall space for one of these beauties. There are lots of places to buy such posters online, for various three-to-four-digit price tags, such as Antiqueposters.Com or Vintageposters.Us

The Rolls Royce of Corkscrews
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Know someone who opens a ton of wine and would appreciate the difference between an ordinary corkscrew and something James Bond might use? If you’re really looking to impress someone, or if your recipient happens to be a wine professional, they will certainly love using the Code 38 Wine Key, which brings precision engineering and fantastic modern styling to the simple corkscrew. Extravagant? Yes. Totally swanky? Definitely. The basic model starts at $365, and the most tricked-out Titanium version will run you close to $900. Available from Code 38.

A License to Chill
The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover

Like many accessories made specifically for wine lovers, the standard ice bucket can certainly be done without or replaced by much more utilitarian alternatives, such as stock pots, paint buckets, salad bowls, etc. But there are times when you either want to make a statement or times when you want a little more aesthetic pleasure from the things you use. And then there are times when you don’t want to chill just one bottle, but five. So perhaps you want a fancier ice bucket? This beautifully modern “Noe” bucket is brought to you by the mavens of Italian design, Alessi. $410, and available at Nieman Marcus.

* * *

Best of luck in your holiday shopping, and remember, a glass or two of wine will make this whole process a lot easier. Happy holidays and happy drinking!!

Disclosures: In case you care, I receive affiliate fees from any Amazon links.

Image at top: holiday gift for wine lovers as imagined by the MidJourney AI.

The post The 2022 Vinography Gift Guide for Your Favorite Wine Lover appeared first on Vinography.

Dispell That Thanksgiving Wine Anxiety

The American Thanksgiving holiday always brings with it a predictable set of responses. Americans fret over what wine to serve with this impossibly complex feast, and American wine writers write columns and articles in one of two varieties: which specific wines they think are good pairings, or what you should do instead of trying to pair wines with your dinner.

What the AI MidJourney thinks a movie poster for a Thanksgiving Wine horror film looks like.

I’m here to tell you that this year, it doesn’t matter at all. That’s because according to the biodynamic calendar, the entire day of Thanksgiving is a “Leaf Day.” What is a leaf day? Don’t ask me. But the one thing I know about Leaf Days is that they are not good for wine. Wine doesn’t taste good on Leaf Days:

Dispell That Thanksgiving Wine Anxiety
Image from the biodynamic calendar app When Wine

As I quipped to someone online, do you know what this means? It means that if someone thinks their wine tastes good today, one of two things is true: either that person’s palate isn’t worth a damn, or the biodynamic calendar is bunk.

You decide.

All joking aside, the best approach to Thanksgiving wine is to open a whole bunch of bottles that you want to drink and that you think your guests might want to drink, put them out on the table, and forget about it.

You’re welcome.

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Unexpected Blends

The combination of ongoing climate chaos and the shifting demographics of wine drinkers have driven some California wine producers to embrace formerly unfashionable approaches to making wine, with some surprising results.

Few things seem more sacred when it comes to telling the story of a wine than time and place. The last 200 years of fine-wine sales have been, if nothing else, a continuous disquisition by industry to consumers on the value of vintage and site. This lesson, repeated in near-infinite variation at every possible opportunity (even, increasingly now, when hawking champagne) seems to have all but cemented the notion that a four-digit date and a place name are the true emblems of a quality product. 

The yearly parade of petitions for ever-smaller official viticultural areas combined with the explosion in single-vineyard designated bottlings in America clearly spotlights the fundamental underlying belief: when it comes to wine, the more specific, the better.

Should anyone question this conventional wisdom, plenty of studies demonstrate that American consumers will gladly pay more for a bottle with the word Napa on the label than one labelled with California. What’s more, there is evidence that consumers get more real enjoyment out of exactly the same wine when they believe it to be from Napa instead of generically from California.

Is it any wonder, then, that for many years, the making of multi-vintage and multi-regional blends has been tantamount to commercial suicide in the California wine industry? 

That’s certainly what the business team at Cain Vineyard & Winery made clear to winemaker Chris Howell when he first proposed making a multi-vintage blend in 1998, when a particularly lush, bountiful vintage was followed by what many considered one of the worst in California’s modern history. Though, in Howell’s mind, the point wasn’t so much about rescuing the vintage of 1998 as much as it was utilising the bounty of 1997, in which even the second-rate barrels were fantastic. 

‘It wasn’t commercial suicide’, laughs Howell, ‘but there was distinct pushback on the idea when I first brought it up, and it did put a damper on the perceived value of the wine for years. I had a lot of work to do with the sales team to get them on board. Our importer in Ontario even refused to bring it in on principle because it wasn’t a single-vintage wine.’

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

The post Unexpected Blends appeared first on Vinography.

Tastebuds Suck! Long Live The Olfactory Bulb

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter will know that I’ve recently returned from a press trip to South Africa to attend the bi-annual Cape Wine fair. It was a fabulous trip until I came down with COVID-19 near the end of the trip.

Up until now, I have managed to avoid getting the disease. With so many people around me having gotten it in the past year or so, I was starting to believe that I might be one of those folks who can’t get it. Turns out I was just being properly careful, and despite my care, my luck ran out in South Africa. At an event where I was wandering around a big hall filled with thousands of people spitting and talking without masks. Go figure.

The worst part about coming down with COVID was that I had to cancel the last section of my trip: several days of individual producer visits that I had painstakingly arranged ahead of time.

The second worst part about getting COVID was the brief 36-48 period in which I was totally and completely anosmic: I completely, utterly, totally lost all sense of smell.

Of course, this was a relatively common, if mysterious, side effect of COVID-19 early in the pandemic. I know I read plenty of stories about it, and the about the efforts of those affected to regain their sense of smell following their infections. And of course, several of my wine colleagues around the world experienced this.

But it seemed to me, anecdotally speaking, that with the most recent variants and waves of COVID, anosmia was not a commonly reported side effect of the disease. So it took me a little by surprise when on the second day of my self-isolation in Cape Town, I stuck my nose into a jar of Tiger Balm ointment and got…. nothing.

Now, I’ve had bad colds before, and frankly, I’ve been more congested at other times in my life than I found myself in the midst of COVID. On all those occasions, however, I could smell something. In this case, it was as if someone had simply disconnected my nose from my brain.

If it hadn’t been associated with all the other nasty symptoms of COVID, and if it hadn’t also been a little scary for a guy who depends upon his nose a little more than the average person, the whole experience would have been amazingly fascinating.

We all know intellectually that most of what we taste is aroma. After all, our tastebuds really only give us sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. It’s one thing, however, to know this theoretically. It’s quite another to experience the world of food when those five taste sensations are ALL you’ve got to work with.

Yes, folks, for those of you who haven’t had the “pleasure” of COVID-induced anosmia, let me tell you. Life with only your tastebuds really, really sucks.

Potato chips? Faintly salty cardboard.
Pastries? Faintly sweet cardboard.
Orange juice? Ever-so-faintly sour liquid cardboard.
Chicken noodle soup? Cardboard strings in lightly salty water.

Interestingly, spiciness which I (erroneously it turns out) tend to think about as more of a physical interaction than an aroma, was completely absent, too, as an order of extra spicy chicken curry delivered to my room irrefutably proved (chunks of soft cardboard in a faintly salty slurry of…. cardboard).

Much to my relief, the complete anosmia lasted only around 2 days, after which I felt like my nose was back working at roughly 50% capacity, or close to what I’ve experienced with the average bad winter cold. After a week of testing negative, I felt like I was back to about 85% of my aroma-sensing capacity, with the notable exception of spiciness, however, which has been one of the last sensations to return.

I’m now a little more than two weeks into testing negative for the virus and I feel like I’m back to perhaps 90% of my previous olfactory strength. I’ve been resuming my winetasting activities with some relief and relative confidence, and I have been trying to smell as many intense smells as possible, a sort of ad-hoc regimen resembling the recovery techniques I’ve read about for those whose anosmia didn’t disappear after a couple of days.

More than anything, however, I now have even greater respect for all of our olfactory equipment, which, it seems, deserve a hell of a lot more credit for making life good. Because it turns out that a life with only tastebuds wouldn’t be much of a life at all.

The post Tastebuds Suck! Long Live The Olfactory Bulb appeared first on Vinography.

Hey Colorado, Join the 21st Century!

I know, it’s scary. Change is so daunting. And voting for it is even more so. I know you’re worried about it, but I’m here to tell you that it is going to be OK.

It is, in fact, possible to allow people to buy wine in grocery stores without triggering the collapse of civilization.

Yes, Coloradans, it’s true. You have a chance next month to actually join the rest of the civilized world. And what a world it is, folks. Imagine being able to go to the grocery store and actually buying a bottle of wine to go with your dinner? Revolutionary, I know, but rest assured, hundreds of millions of us have been doing it for years with no ill effects.

Sarcasm aside, it’s long past time for Colorado to get rid of the protectionist, parochial law that has favored the interests of liquor store owners over consumer convenience for decades.

On November 8th, Colorado voters will have the chance to vote for consumer choice, in the form of Proposition 125, which would finally allow grocery stores and convenience stores (both of which can currently only sell beer) to sell wine.

Opponents of the proposition cast the whole effort as being anti-small-business, with the argument that letting grocery stores sell wine will shut down family-run independent liquor stores.

This is fear-mongering at its worst, and it ignores the reality that 35 of the 50 states* in this country allow consumers to purchase wine with their groceries, and the independent liquor stores (if they are allowed to exist in that state at all) are doing just fine. As are the fine wine merchants. What’s more, some of these states made a similar change in the last 10 or 15 years, and they have not seen job losses or a reduction in competition in retail wine sales.

Colorado voters will also have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 122 in November, which would allow delivery services such as Drizly, Grubhub, or Instacart to deliver alcoholic beverages. Again, I can say with confidence that those of us who have access to such services are surviving just fine.

Now if we could only get a proposition on the ballot to allow corkage in Colorado restaurants!

But I suppose one thing at a time, eh?

There’s a third proposition on the ballot (Proposition 124) this fall regarding alcohol in Colorado, which will gradually eliminate the restrictions on the number of retail liquor licenses that a single entity can hold. I feel less strongly about this initiative, but as a person who believes in the free market (and someone who lives in a state that lacks the current restrictions Colorado has in place) I am in favor of this proposition as well.

Time to join the modern world, Colorado.

* The states that currently prohibit the purchase of wine in grocery stores are: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming.

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New Rules For Serving Alcohol

In California, where I live, it is illegal for me to be served alcohol by someone whose attire exposes the cleft of their buttocks or any portion of the female breast below the top of an areola. The establishment where I buy my alcohol is also forbidden to sell scouring pads, syringes, blowtorches, measuring scales, or any other paraphernalia that might be used in the manufacture or consumption of drugs.

The penalties for infraction of these rules are usually six months (or longer) in jail and $1,000 or more per incident for the employer running the establishment where said buttocks cleft was in view or scouring pads were sold. Individual employees of these establishments who provide alcoholic drinks to minors, regardless of whether they knew the patron was underage when they served them, may be subject to the same penalties.

These are just a few of the facts that I was required to learn in order to pass California’s new Responsible Beverage Service training and certification course, a combination of training and testing that every single person in the state of California who delivers an alcoholic drink to a patron was required to complete by 1 September this year.

Effectively, these rules cover every person working in a bar, restaurant, winery tasting room, sports venue, or entertainment facility who serves alcohol, as well as anyone who directly manages those employees. Primarily designed to curtail over-consumption of alcohol and underage drinking, the law requiring this new training was conceived of and advocated by organisations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Hospitality businesses across the state are now scrambling to comply with yet another obstacle in their path to recovery following the pandemic.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

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Americanization or Improvement? Tailoring Wine for Export

I spend a good deal of time traveling to wine regions around the world, tasting and talking. My interests in wine tend to be driven by my curiosity, and my thirst driven by diversity. As a result, I find myself in emerging wine regions more often than I do the blue-chip standard-bearers. To wit: I have been to wine regions in Turkey, Hungary, Greece, Portugal, Uruguay, and South Africa, but I have yet to visit Bordeaux.

In many of these developing wine regions, I often find a tension between the history and traditions of that region’s wine culture—a struggle to balance the exigencies of economic viability, the demands of the local market, and the desire (even necessity) for access to export markets. In country after country, wine region after wine region, I see these various competing needs resolve in familiar, recurring patterns.

Most often it goes something like this:

  1. Significant use of (expensive) new French oak on both red and white wines
  2. A tendency towards making riper, richer wines
  3. A real pride on the part of many winegrowers in indigenous grape varieties, but low demand/respect for them in the local market
  4. Lots of planting and making of “international” grape varieties like Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay because that’s what “the local market” seems to want
  5. Difficulty penetrating the American market

Confronted with some version of this reality, and the frustration, resignation or heedless acceptance of this situation by local winemakers, I find myself urging anyone who will listen to stop the madness.

The world does not need another Merlot aged for 12 months in 100% new French oak from <insert emerging wine region here>.

Instead, what the wine world does need is the rehabilitation of old vineyards, the resurrection and conservation of ancient indigenous grape varieties, and the making of these varieties into wines that taste like the grapes and the place they come from, not raisins fermented in expensive barrels.

That’s why I found myself scratching my head a little bit when I read Farrah Berrou’s recent article for Tim Atkin’s site.

Berrou seems to offer perspective on a post-Parkerization world, one in which “American tastes” are driving winemakers in emerging markets like Greece to make “bright, crisp, steel-fermented” wines, with hopes of selling them abroad.

Um, yes, please?

To be fair, it doesn’t seem like Berrou is advocating for the old days of Parkerization, but she has set up these bright and crisp wines in opposition to those that she describes as traditionally barrel fermented. What’s more, she has tarred these wines with the epithet “Americanized.”

Insert sound right here of the needle being pulled off the record.

Firstly, I think we have to be very, very careful when we use words like “traditional” in describing wine or winemaking techniques. What most people think of as traditional in the world of wine is, on any historical scale, dreadfully recent. Wine has only been consistently packaged in glass bottles for a couple of hundred years, and most of the basic techniques of wine hygiene (beyond adding sulfur) have only been around for a hundred years or so.

Humankind has been making wine for 8000 years, so who do we think we are in the 21st Century talking about what is “traditional” when it comes to winemaking in any wine region around the world?

OK, OK. Besides all those Georgians practicing qvevri winemaking relatively uninterrupted for 8000 years.

Wine historians suggest that most wine made before, say 1700 was probably pretty lousy by modern standards. The best of it might have tasted about as good as the wine your uncle Roger makes in his garage each year. And even the best of those wines only tasted decent for a few days or weeks, as early winemakers had little knowledge or control over fermentation, oxidation, and other spoilage factors. Hence the many adulterations made of early wine with resins, herbs, potash, etc.

As much as I romantically dream of tasting the famed Falernian wine of ancient Rome, I suspect to our “modern” palates, it would probably suck.

More to the point however, many of the things that we look back on with the perspective of history and label “innovations” showed up in the moment of their invention as a break with tradition. We risk being irresponsible when we characterize new trends in winemaking as “untraditional” when those very trends could soon become the tradition.

We also have to be very, very careful when we criticize winemakers for making wine that sells. No one can be faulted for seeking commercial success while pursuing their livelihood. I don’t think Berrou goes quite that far in her piece, but a wistful nostalgia for a style of wine that winemakers have abandoned or moved away from for commercial reasons isn’t far from condemnation.

Of course, the one concrete example Berrou provides in her piece isn’t even really the abandonment of a winemaking style. She’s only bemoaning the fact that Greek winemakers have started to make a second style of wine for the market.

It’s perfectly valid for anyone, Berrou included, to say they don’t like a wine, or set of wines, or even a whole stylistic approach to winemaking in a place. It’s quite another to suggest that perhaps a new approach to winemaking means the resulting product isn’t a “good example of that location’s winemaking craft and terroir.”

Especially when the style that you are questioning (fermenting in steel, picking earlier) has the potential to better show off what your native grapes and the soil that they grow in actually taste like.

As I noted at the start, the gradual move towards this kind of approach and away from what is typically the over-use of oak in many regions strikes me as an important and necessary evolution in winemaking style for many regions.

Just to cite the specific example Berrou uses in her piece, thank heavens some people have stopped treating Greek Agiorgitiko like Cabernet Sauvignon by picking it for 14.5+% alcohol, barrel fermenting it, and aging it in 100% new oak. Personally I only really feel like I found out what Agiorgitiko tasted like when I had renditions that were made in steel, concrete, or aged only in old oak barrels.

To me that’s not Americanization, that’s just starting to respect your raw materials a little more, and it’s a trend we’ve seen in countless wine regions around the world.

Wine quality around the world is getting better on average, and wine is getting more interesting everywhere on average. Not because people are sticking to their traditional winemaking methods, but in many cases, precisely because they are, if not abandoning them, then certainly experimenting with alternative approaches.

If such experimentation is commercially driven (i.e. people are only doing this because they think it can sell—in America or anywhere else) then in my opinion, the market is driving the right way for a change.

Maybe there are some so-called “traditional” approaches to wine we don’t need anymore.

Read Farrah Berrou’s article.

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