Archive for the 'American wine' Category

California Cremant?

With all the uproar over Korbel “champagne” being poured at Monday’s inauguration, it’s time to wonder aloud whether sparkling wine from California needs a term of its own. Other French bubblies are known as crémant, Spain has cava, Germany has Sekt, even England has Britagne.

“Sparkling wine” is incredibly anodyne as a term. Given all the marketing geniuses that we have in this country, you’d think we could come up with a name of our own. Maybe French it up with a term like “California Crémant”? Or go with the American love of acronyms and pour some CSW? (California sparkling wine)

What do you say?

Just how concentrated is the wine industry? [graphics]

Philip Howard, a professor at Michigan State specializing in food systems, has led a team to assemble a superb infographic that depicts just how big is Big Wine–and how few companies control choices at supermarkets.

He’s put the graphics on his web site. Now you can find out just which brands Gallo and Constellation own! (Not to pick nits, but it’s not clear why Pam Bay and W.J. Deutsch get separate boxes than two of the brands they import, Cavit and Yellow Tail, respectively.)

The US wine industry has been quite concentrated in much of the post-Prohibition era, especially compared to France or Italy, which are dotted with small vignerons. This corporate concentration is most on display at the drug stores (!) and grocery stores that the Michigan team visited (those store buyers buy from distributors–a graphic of wine distributor consolidation would be really fascinating and probably more enlightening about wine consumer choices.) Fortunately, even if Big Wine is pretty big, there is a tasty countermovement underway in California (and elsewhere) as new, small labels are popping up–one of my exciting trends to watch for 2013. The hardest part is finding the wines, which is where specialty wine shops are invaluable.

Click through and zoom to learn which wine brands Altria, the cigarette maker, owns. Also check out Howard’s graphics on beer and coffee industries!

Top wine trends for 2013 – and a hangover analysis

It’s January, so it’s time to put down the crystal glasses and take out the crystal ball. I have a piece on about the top trends for 2013. Click through to find out my thoughts on critics, millennials and craft beer. Which stories/issues are you watching this year?

Also, an oldie but a goodie: in 2008, the New Yorker ran a piece on hangovers, their causes and possible cures. There are lots of good lines in the piece, but one takeaway for wine geeks is the suggestion that overindulging in red wine gives more of a hangover than white because of the greater presence of congeners. How does that square with your experience?

About those Jefferson bottles…

thomas jeffersonThomas Jefferson is often known in wine circles as the best friend that wine enthusiasts ever had in the White House. He might even have been the sommelier-in-chief since he frequently poured wine at official functions (he abhorred whiskey, the main drink of the day) and had wine vaults built below the east colonnade for his collection. At that time, entertaining expenses came out of the president’s own pocket; a story in the now-defunct Wine News once put the valuation at $11,000, or about $200,000 in today’s money.

However, Jefferson was also complicated and deeply hypocritical argues an op-ed in yesterday’s Times. While Jefferson maintained that men were “created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, he continued to own slaves at Monticello for fifty years after the Declaration even while some (but not all) of his contemporaries freed theirs. And to make the connection to wine, there was this passage in the op-ed:

[Jefferson] sold at least 85 humans in a 10-year period to raise cash to buy wine, art and other luxury goods.

The article doesn’t state whether this was after his presidency. But it does reveal the economic basis for at least some of his wine purchases, which casts the real Jefferson bottles in a different light.

Sandy and the aftermath

In the wine world, we often talk about weather. But usually it’s about how it affects the grapes, not the the places where we drink it.

Well, it’s been five days since we had power at our house and it’s still dark. But we’re far from being the worst affected by Hurricane Sandy as New York and New Jersey have been declared federal disaster areas. Indeed, in light of the devastation and relative depravity in the area, writing about wine seems a little superfluous. As the storm was approaching, it was fun to joke about hunkering down with wine. But after seeing the damage, it’s a little sobering to say the least. Nonetheless, wine can be a balm and I hope that everyone affected can return to enjoying a glass of wine soon enough, thanks to the Herculean efforts of rescue workers. And here’s to hoping that the many wine shops and restaurants with thoughtful wine programs in lower Manhattan and the region are able to return to business soon without too much loss.

We hope to return to regular posting on Monday.

Say champagne, mean Champagne

Almost half of the sparkling wine sold in the US says champagne on the label. The only catch: that’s “California champagne,” usually with the “California” in 2-point font and the “Champagne” in 36-point bold.

So says the Champagne Bureau USA, the DC-based arm of the CIVC, the Champagne trade association. Although the term is banned in Mexico and Australia for domestic sparkling wine, and Canada will phase out the use of any domestic use of “Champagne” in 2014, the US–the third largest market for Champagne after France and the UK–has no such sunset. Six years ago, the EU and US agreed to allow no new labels to use the term thus limiting the term to existing labels (about 16 comprise almost all the volume). Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, thinks it’s time to tighten the laws and ban “California Champagne” on labels.

“US law agrees with protecting communal names such as Napa Valley,” he says. “Yet it permits duplicity with Champagne.” Read more…

CONTAINS SULFITES: meant to frighten rather than inform

Have you ever wondered why a bottle of wine states “CONTAINS SULFITES” on the label while other foods that have sulfur get no such warning?

In A History of Wine In America, Volume 2, Thomas Pinney recaps some of the maneuvering from the 1980s that led to this warning. A group tried to have ingredients listed on wine labels as early as 1972. After over a decade of ping-ponging between agencies, proposals getting rebuffed from the industry, and ultimately a legal challenge that succeeded in striking it down, ingredient labeling was off the table.

But the forces of “neoprohibitionism” had started gathering steam and in Senator Strom Thurmond, they found their man. This time, Pinney writes, “their goal was not to inform but to frighten.” Initial efforts to get a government warning were stymied, but they scored a victory in getting “CONTAINS SULFITES” to appear on labels starting in 1987. The following year, the government warning language on labels also passed and went into effect. While a small portion of the population is allergic to sulfites, an allergist once told me that those who are allergic generally have preconditions, such as asthma. Further, the reactions are most often severe and may include anaphylaxis (note: they don’t cause headaches).

So if you’ve ever wondered why dried fruits that have higher levels of sulfur than wine contain no government warning, know you know why. First, they’re regulated by different agencies (TTB vs FDA). Second, there’s no anti-dried fruit lobby.

As the topic of ingredient labeling for wine is making the rounds again, its worth bearing in mind that the track record of “contains sulfites” verbiage on labels has raised more questions than it has answered and perhaps, as its original proponents intended, scared more people away from wine than it has protected asthamatics.

Bordeaux says no to American “chateaux”

Could sales of Chateau Buffalo spread like wildfire in wine shops on the banks of the Seine, elbowing French wine from consumers’ shopping baskets? That’s what a trade group from Bordeaux fears.

The EU is considering a proposal to allow American wines to export to Europe using the name “chateau.” In France, to have “chateau” on the label means that the wine must be 100% estate fruit whereas in the US, fruit can be purchased from other growers and the wine is not forcibly an estate wine. Laurent Gapenne, head of a Bordelais trade organization that protects appellations, hit the media, telling Le Parisien that he thought allowing the term would be the thin edge of the wedge. “There is a great danger that the notion of the chateau will disappear in France … the consumer is going to feel lost,” the Telegraph translated his remarks.

Really? A bit of history: the 2005 US-EU bilateral wine accord allowed US wineries to use “semi-generic” names, such as chateau, but the US agreed to prevent further issuance of the word chateau in winery names (all trade law experts out there, feel free to chime in if I’m remembering wrong). Then, in 2008, the EU prohibited the importation of US wines with “chateau” in the name (has the WTO weighed in on this?). If my recollection of the 2005 accord is correct, then we are left with fewer than 60 wines that could use the term. Like Chateau Buffalo. Or Chateau Manzanita. (Enjoy the full list after the jump.) Could French consumers really mistake these as French? I’m all for specificity, but do they know the terroir of Buffalo or even California well enough to discern estate wine from negoce wine from those regions?

And then there’s the issue of our exports to France. Half of all our exports are in containers greater than two liters. So that’s probably not estate wine nor would it be confused as such. In 2010, the US exported $441 million of wine to the EU and less than $16 million of that was to France. Even Gallo tried to target the French market a while back and found it a tough nut to crack. Coals to Newcastle and all that.

Thus Gapenne is swinging at shadows. He shouldn’t fight to preserve chateau as synonymous with an estate wine for American wine; the 2005 accord recognized the use of chateau. He should, however, fight to have estate wines from American “chateaus” labeled as such, regardless of the name on the label. It’s hard to argue against more precise labeling, in any language.

Read more…


Wine Maps


My next NYU wine class, starts 2/4: NYU

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

See my op-eds in the NYT
"Drink Outside the Box"
"Red, White, and Green"


Monthly Archives


Blog posts via email



Wine industry jobs


One of the “fresh voices taking wine journalism in new and important directions.” -World of Fine Wine

“His reporting over the past six months has had seismic consequences, which is a hell of an accomplishment for a blog.”

"News of such activities, reported last month on a wine blog called Dr. Vino, have captivated wine enthusiasts and triggered a fierce online debate…" The Wall Street Journal

"...well-written, well-researched, calm and, dare we use the word, sober." -Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher, WSJ

jbf07James Beard Foundation awards

Saveur, best drinks blog, finalist 2012.

Winner, Best Wine Blog

One of the "seven best wine blogs." Food & Wine,

One of the three best wine blogs, Fast Company

See more media...


Wine books on Amazon: