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]

WHEEL OF MISFORTUNE
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

Ningxia_map

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

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…

Flatiron Wines to open in San Francisco

flatiron_wines

Flatiron Wines, a boutique wine shop in the shadow of the Flatiron building, will be opening a new location in San Francisco in January 2016. The shop is one of my favorite wine shops in the city. (Check out my post from when they opened in 2012.)

Jeff Patten, an owner, said that the new store will have the same focus as the Manhattan store, “just bigger.” It will have in-store tastings, sell spirits, and stock a similar range of small-production wines from the US and abroad. Patten said that it will give them the opportunity to better serve their existing California clients as well as to attract new ones.

The new store will carry the same name, Flatiron Wines and will be in the Palace hotel at 2 New Montgomery Street. Beau Rapier, a manager from Manhattan, will be moving to SF to oversee the new store.

It’s an interesting development. Mostly, when wine stores expand to other states, it is big box stores. But here’s an independent shop going bicoastal. We’ll have to keep an eye on their progress and see if any others get similar urges to look West–or California shops who might decide to look East.

Flatiron Wines
Manhattan: 929 Broadway (bet 21st and 22nd), New York, NY 10010. 212-477-1315
SF: 2 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco CA 94105 (opens January 2016)

Will eliminating tipping crimp wine sales?

eliminating_tippingDanny Meyer’s restaurants will phase out tipping next year. Simultaneously, they will raise prices 25% and remove the tip line from diners’ checks.

“There will be one total, as if you were buying a sweater at Brooks Brothers,” Danny Meyer told the New York Times. No more tipping at the coat check or the bar either.

It’s part of a growing trend across the country at both high-end restaurants and low. The Times piece presents reasons to eliminate tipping include simplicity for the diner (Brooks Brothers sweater) as well as being able to better pay kitchen staff (federal labor laws prevent pooled tips from being shared with the kitchen staff). Union Square Hospitality Group, headed by Meyer, employs 1,800 people and serves about 50,000 meals a week.

What do you think? Many people find America’s tipping culture irksome while others say that it is the basis of superb service.

One thing is for sure: the already high prices of wine in restaurants is going up. If you order a $100 bottle of wine at a Danny Meyer restaurant today, you pay $115-$120 after tip. Post-reform, that wine will be $125. Is that going to prevent you from ordering that bottle of wine? Probably not. But it is more than you paid before.

Marvin Shanken probably does not like this news. The publisher of Wine Spectator set off a firestorm in 2006 when he tackled the subject. In discussing a wine-drenched meal in which there was $300 of food ordered and $1,200 of wine, he suggested tipping 20% on the food portion and 7.5% on the wine for a total tip of $150. Under the new USHG policy of including a service fee, the bill for that meal would be $375 higher.

Whether eliminating tipping and raising prices will crimp high-end wine sales remains to be seen. I doubt that the total spend will be that different, frankly. But there may be some “trading down” in some categories, especially as diners adjust to the higher sticker prices. And it would be interesting to know how this will affect sommelier compensation; perhaps this will remove a (perceived?) incentive to steer diners toward higher priced wines and foster greater trust between sommelier and diner.

Wine under $20: Clos de la Roilette 2014

roilette_fleurie_2014

Who doesn’t love a good wine under $20? I have a doozy here for you this Friday: Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, 2014 (find this wine).

I’ve been a fan of the producer for a while. We recently uncorked a 2009 “cuvée tardive,” a barrel-aged selection from their old vines sprinkled in the manganese and clay soils of Fleurie. It was drinking superbly. A few weeks later, with that 09 still on my mind, I stumbled on the current release (2014) of the “regular” cuvée, which is aged in large foudres after a semi-carbonic maceration. We popped it and it was a joyous addition to the last weekend of summer (yes, a couple of weekends ago). With ebullient dark fruits and enlivening acidity, the wine gives the highest distinction to “gulpable” Beaujolais. A steal at $17.99.


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