Winston Churchill spent $150k a year on wine


We all knew that Winston Churchill had alcohol in his veins for a good part of his life, but how much did all that grog cost?

The Economist reviews a couple of new biographies about Churchill, one of which looks at his finances. (No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money. By David Lough.) Although he was born into an aristocratic family, he didn’t have lots of money. but he knew how to spend it on Cuban cigars, polo ponies and Champagne. One vinous tidbit that emerges from the balance sheet analysis: they write that between 1908 and 1914 (his early years in politics) “the Churchill household spent an average of £1,160 on wine alone each year—£104,400 ($145,000) in today’s money.” Gives me a hangover just thinking about it!

Churchill also had some other memorable quotes about wine. In the War, he said, “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne.”

“Champagne should be cold, dry, and free,” he said at another time.

And, finally, he is renowned for a few zingers, including this:

“Dinner would have been splendid…if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the Duchess.”

To the victims go the spoils? Rudy’s wine, auctioned


Is this the first Kurniawan wine auction bidders can trust?

Last year, Rudy Kurniawan, 39, started serving a 10-year jail term for wine counterfeiting.

Starting tomorrow, the US Marshals will be auctioning off 4,711 bottles of wine the seized from Kurniawan.

“It may sound ironic that we are selling wine that belonged to a convicted wine counterfeiter,” said Assistant Program Manager Jason Martinez of the U.S. Marshals Service Asset Forfeiture Division, “but we are duty-bound to recoup as much value from the sale of these authentic wines as possible to compensate those who were victims of his fraud.”

To the victims go the spoils? It will be interesting to see if the Kurniawan stigma keeps bidders away or if the third party authentication done by Michael Egan who was one of the principal expert witnesses for the prosecution will assuage those fears. (Stephanie Reeves of Houston is also appraising and authenticating the bottles.)

The wine has been stored at a California wine storage facility while Rudy Kurniawan himself is serving his sentence at the Taft Correctional Institute.

Bidding for the wines on the block begins online tomorrow and continues on December 1. There is no buyer’s premium at the US Marshals’ Kurniawan wine auction. And, well, caveat emptor.

See the lot listings

A sommelier’s niche: Bordeaux classified growths

Many sommeliers find a niche of wines they love and make their restaurant a standout location for those wines. Pascaline Lepeltier has done this with chenin blanc at Rouge Tomate, Thomas Pastuszak with New York Riesling at NoMad, and Patrick Cappiello with grower champagne at Pearl & Ash.

tali_bordeauxThere’s a new entrant into the niche game: Tali Dalbaha is showing Bordeaux some love. The wine director at City Winery in Manhattan has assembled all 61 classified growths on her list. Wait, Bordeaux? Yes. Studying for the theory portion of the Master Sommelier exam last year, she was struck by the challenge of assembling the current wines (all the wines are from the heralded 2010 vintage) from the famed classification now celebrating its 160th anniversary. She approached City Winery owner Michael Dorf who joked that his first reaction to her proposal was: “How much?”

After convincing Dorf, Dalbaha set about finding all the wines, which was not only pricey, but tricky. Now, she says, they are the only restaurant in the world to offer the complete lineup of Bordeaux 1855 classified growths.

“This is a great way to introduce people to Bordeaux,” she said. “People love to say that they had a Bordeaux.”

Defying a current trend in sommeliers that have given Bordeaux less space on wine lists, Dalbaha told me, “I love merlot. I think it is a great grape.” (Perhaps a spotlight on Pomerol will be next?) She continued that “some young sommeliers feel ashamed to say they like Bordeaux. But they shouldn’t.”

Wine mine, cheese heist, Chinese investment

SIPPED: wine’s Fort Knox
A former bomb bunker near Bath, England, now serves as a million square of underground wine storage with $1.5 billion of wine in it. Bloomberg cameras go inside in the above video. There are 157 steps on the way out, which would be a long way for thieves to try to haul out wine in an attempted heist. [Bloomberg]

A cheese cave in Franche Comté, the region known for the delicious, cave-aged comté, has been the victim of a heist! (They must not have had 157 steps to get out.) Thieves ran off with four tons, or about 100 rounds of the hard cheese, valued at $45,000. [l’Express]

SIPPED: a yuan for wine
Even if the Chinese economy is slowing, Chinese investment in French wine properties is not. A report out from the first six months of the year shows that Chinese investors in France favored tourism and agriculture, with wine foremost in the latter category (or, really, straddling the two). Bordeaux remains a preferred region. [idealwine]

Make Ningxia wine the real deal


Q: Which wine region has 80,000 acres of vines on the edge of a desert?

A: Ningxia, China.

Yes, Ningxia wine has been getting some media attention this year and rightly so: eye-popping growth with high quality ambitions and a somewhat unlikely place–500 miles inland from Beijing in a desolate, arid area on the edge of the Gobi Desert–make for a good story.

The Times ran a couple of stories yesterday, including a piece of what’s been going on of late (rampant planting), who’s there (the French), and where the locals are getting their savoir faire (France again). Eric Asimov also tastes some wines from the region that were brought back by Jane Sasseen who wrote the first story. Asimov finds the wines “competently made” and “very drinkable.”

But if Ningxia aims to be “the next Napa Valley,” as they do with their focus on estate wines, the Ningxia wine bureau (yes there is such a thing) should take a page from Napa’s playbook and pass reforms that make it so Ningxia wines can only be made with grapes from the region. That would help producers in their pursuit of building their awareness of their region since labeling laws are quite weak in China, allowing not only grapes from other regions but even other countries to be blended in to wines marketed as “Chinese wines.” (I think a wine only has to have 10% wine from China to be labeled “Chinese wine” so the labeling laws are quite weak.) Intellectual property protection has not been China’s strong suit, but maybe the current shift away from manufacturing and toward a consumer economy might make them want to imbue their own place names with greater meaning.

Napa Valley had problems with grapes from lower-priced regions being brought in and sold as Napa wines so the producers united and litigated all the way to the state Supreme Court. Now, Napa on the bottle means Napa in the bottle, something that helps producers with their brand building and consumers in knowing what they’re getting. The Ningxia wineries should push for similar standards if it aims to have its wines compete on the world stage.

If you want to see some video, here’s a link to a CBS piece on Ningxia.

99 bottles of wine on the wall

I've gotten pretty handy around the house. 🔩🔨

A photo posted by Bryan Garcia (@corkhoarder) on

Bryan Garcia, who goes by the handle of @Corkhoarder on social media, proves that he hoards more than just corks with the above photo posted to Instagram.

He says he did it himself. Wine bottle wall art that we can all aspire to! (Especially the wines that Bryan drank…mmm) Bryan says he got the clear acrylic shelves at the Container Store, measured, measured again, and screwed them in.

“The entire project was made possible by the Container Store, Postmates, and my iPhone level app,” Bryan says.

Many collectors like to take home trophy bottles after a meal, somehow unable to let them go. While many collections of such “dead soldiers” may hold sentimental value to the individual, I have seen some that look just this side of a recycling bin: really, full bottles look much more appealing with all their uncorked potential.

So a tip of the corkscrew to Bryan for making the empties look appealing! And good luck with the security deposit when the lease is up…

Wine Ring app seeks wine’s Holy Grail

The mythical chalice of wine technology–wine tech’s Holy Grail–is to have software that will tell you which wine to drink. For years, I’ve heard companies aiming to be the “Pandora of wine” (later updated to the “Spotify for wine”) that seek to give you wine recommendations based on previous wines you’ve given a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

The latest aspirant for the Grail is an app called Wine Ring, launched last week in the iTunes app store. Founded in 2011, the company has raised $4 million in private equity funding. Over that time, and with the help of a bouquet of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers, the company has assiduously compiled tasting characteristics of over 100,000 wines on a total of 400 attributes.

As with apps Delectable and Vivino, Wine Ring users snap pictures Read more…

How will “service included” affect wine?

What is the average tip at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group? It is 21%.

This figure comes from John Ragan, who is the group’s Wine Director. It’s also the same amount that wine prices will be rising under the group’s “hospitality included” initiative, which eliminates tipping at the group’s 12 restaurants starting next month with The Modern. The impetus in moving to a “revenue sharing” model is that kitchen staff, in particular, will see a pay increase since they are often legally forbidden to share in tips.

john_raganRagan says that a diner today who buys a $60 bottle of wine actually pays $72, assuming an average tip. “It’s like paying in two installments,” he says. Under the “hospitality included” pricing, the bottle will simply be $72, service included.

“It’s so much cleaner and easier,” he says. “It’s like a European model for restaurant pricing.” He also compares it to Uber, which has service included, as opposed to a cab.

With total pre-tip bills expected go up about 23%, wine will have a slightly lower increase.

“We realized early on, that it would be easy Read more…


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