Leaders and liters: Putin and Berlusconi uncork trouble

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Today’s installment of “Leaders and Liters,” our series on world leaders and the wines they drink, features an unusual figure: Vladimir Putin, purported teetotaler. His partner in what seems like a buddy flick was none other than Silvio Berlusconi who is certainly no teetotaler, instead known for his bunga bunga parties.

Vlad and Silvio met up in the Crimea late last week and, among other sites, they toured the Massandra winery, which apparently houses a formidable collection of old bottles. After the cellar tour, Berlusconi asked the pro-Russian winery director if they could taste. The winery director then uncorked a 1775 sherry from Jerez de la Frontera, brought to the winery under the reign of Catherine the Great by Count Mikhail Vorontsov, a “wine-loving count served as governor-general of Crimea for more than two decades in the early 19th century.” Wine geeks might say, after the tour, they hit the sack together!

The winery director now faces prosecution. “This is one of the five bottles that constitute not only Massandra’s or Crimea’s heritage, but the heritage of all Ukrainian people,” the prosecutor was quoted as saying. He valued it at $90,000. But since Crimea is no longer part of Ukraine, it will be difficult to prosecute. Ukraine has also banned Berlusconi for three years.

In other news, a bottle from the 1891 vintage also went missing that day. Berlusconi was seen on Russian TV asking if he could try a bottle…Video after the jump. Read more…

Sommelier tastes box wine

Patrick Cappiello, voted the superhottest somm of 2014 and shaping up to be a finalist for 2015, tasted some box wine on camera. As you might imagine, there is lots of gagging and spitting (one named Vella Burgundy scores an F with notes of raisin and vinegar as well as “Louis Jadot must be rolling over in his grave”). Bandit Merlot gets lots of praise from him and merits a B+ score–as does Bota Box.

While it makes for a good segment, I wish that P. Cap had used his place of power and influence to praise the format itself. For a lot of people, a 3L box is an affordable way to squeeze off a fresh glass for many nights in a row. It’s also greener, with a lot lower carbon footprint. But I’ve said all this before…What needs to be said again is that the industry needs to put better wine in the box. And there are a few producers and importers are are doing just that. Cappiello posts photos of Miller High Life to Instagram as well as bottle shots of Mugnier and Coche Dury. So is no stranger to lowbrow (as well as highbrow, natch). By highlighting a few more of the good box wines out there and praising the packaging format, people like Cappiello can help remove the stigma of the box, which would be more informative than just LOLing about how bad box wine is for the millionth time. But don’t get me wrong, it’s still a funny video and worth a click.

The world’s most confusing wine list?

confusing_wine_listHave you ever sat down at at wine bar and thought, “Man, I’d really love a glass of vieilles vignes ’13!” Never mind what grape variety the vieilles vignes are yielding. Nor where they are grown. Nor who presided over that growth and subsequent fermentation and maturation. Just a straight up “vieilles vignes ’13”? Frankly, it sounds like an outdated campaign bumper sticker from France. Outtakes from the full campaign posters: “Victoire aux vieilles vignes! Contre la discrimination des vignes agées! On y go les vieilles en 2013!”

Anyhoo, if this sort of ordering sounds like what you’d like to do, then sidle up to the bar at Hatchet Hall in LA. The sommelier has put together a fiendishly minimalistic wine list that was first called out for its absurdity by Besha Rodell of LA Weekly and then retweeted by, well, everybody in the food and wine TwittoFacebookoblogoshpere. Rodell describes the list broken down into categories not of your quotidian color, variety, or regions but rather by categories like “Heather,” “James,” and “Michael.” Upon request for clarification, Rodell was told these were the names of the “portfolio managers,” whatever that means (distributor sales reps?). Then there are the woefully insufficient wine terms including the “vielles vignes ’13” as well as “Teleki ’13” and “Bela Jufahrk ’11”

Apparently, the list tries to emulate George Saintsbury’s 1915 “Notes on a Cellar Book” in it’s minimalism. But is woefully insufficient in providing actionable information for the diner. While I haven’t seen the whole wine list (it is not available online), the photos of it posted in Rodell’s thorough dismantling of the list make it make it worthy of including in a seminar of how NOT to write a wine list. Sure, some bistro wine lists in France only include the region and the price but those are not particularly informative either.

Wine is complicated. But there are ways of making it easier to navigate a wine list. This, however, is not one of them.

Big beer may get bigger–and more irrelevant

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 4.42.37 PMHave you heard–ABI may buy SAB? The resulting company, which could have an alphabet soup of a name, would be the biggest brewer in the world, combining the make of Stella and Budweiser (Belgium-based AB InBev) with the brewer of Miller and 200 other beers, including Peroni, Grolsch, and Pilsner Urquell.

The combined company (MegaBeer Corp?) would have an estimated market capitalization of $250 billion, putting it on par with GE. According to a terrifically detailed WSJ story on the rumored merger, AB InBev dominates 45% of the American beer market. Miller Coors, which is controlled by SAB Miller, takes another 25% of the market. If they were combined, they would control a lot of taps in bars across the country, possibly elbowing out smaller producers and turning bars into essentially branded bars, the equivalent of branded gas stations. But, since this could be construed as antithetical to “tied house” laws, the potential behemoth might just be too much to swallow for regulators: The WSJ suggests that SAB would likely have to sell their 58% stake in MillerCoors probably to Molson Coors, which owns the rest. Still, globally, the merged company would control about 30% of the world’s beer sales.

What’s driving the possible merger? Slowing growth. AB InBev’s second quarter profits fell 32%–with declines in four of six markets, including a 1.7% sales slowdown in the US. While suds have been flat, craft beer has been surging in sales and profitability. Craft beer has something MegaBeer lacks…flavor. Oh, and a good backstory, often locally brewed–all things that sell well with millennials.

So it would be a defensive merger, one driven by the cost-cutting that has become the signature move of 3G Capital, the mover behind the merger. Moreover, their reliance on huge ad budgets seems out of step with the more bottom-up discussion of social media today.

Revenues, cost-cutting, global brands…snooze. Pass me a nice cold Sierra Nevada and wake me when this merger talk is over.

Oxford dictionary admits “wine o’clock”

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The Oxford English Dictionary has entered the term “wine o’clock.”

Wow, the next thing you know they’ll enter “cougar juice.”

Amazon tests one-hour wine (booze) delivery

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Amazon will bring booze to your door in an hour.

It is pretty amazing, even for the logistics champion. I mean bringing anything to your door that fast is pretty astonishing (why ever leave?) but wine/beer/liquor? Some people might become hermits.

The service is currently available only in the Seattle market. Delivery in an hour carries a $7.99 surcharge; delivery within two hours is free. There’s a limited number of products available but does include things as diverse as TVs and some groceries.

The folks at Geek Wire tried it out. They paid for the hour delivery and placed their order for a bottle of Absolut vodka, some orange juice, a six-pack of beer, and some chips. How did it go?

“Thirty-four minutes later, we were pouring screwdrivers in the break room.”

Impressive! Now just throw in some trousseau and you get the wine geeks clicking on the app. And bring the drones! The service delivers from 8 AM – midnight.

Amazon Prime Now is available (sans alcohol) in New York City, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and various other markets.

“Amazon expands Prime Now, offers U.S. alcohol for first time” [Reuters]

Riedel shatters the peace and threatens blogger

“Hell, I thought,” Georg explains, “people think the shape of the goddam wine bottle is significant, why not the shape of the glass? I know I can convince wealthy wine drinkers that it matters, that’s easy. And from there, the unwashed public will follow.”

riedel_shatterDo you really think that is something that Georg Riedel, the Austrian who pioneered matching the shape of glassware with different grape varieties would say? Um, I don’t. The quote was from a satirical piece by Ron Washam, aka The Hosemaster posted earlier this week. Your mileage may vary with the piece, but apparently Riedel was none-too-amused about it and his mood shattered faster than a crystal glass. The Goliath of stemware then directed some American attorneys to send a threatening takedown letter to the blogger! (read the letter)

I’m not a lawyer. But I guess Riedel would have to prove that this posting on August 3 damaged his business? Good luck with that. Frankly, I think the letter will actually attract much more attention to the original post. Further, it could draw ill-will from wine thought-leaders, be they writers or sommeliers or retailers. Or even the unwashed public, to borrow hosemaster’s term, if the word about this spreads. What if there were pushback against Riedel–not over the satire, but over Georg’s heavy-handed response? That is not an implausible scenario and would be a PR disaster for the company, much more so than the original post, which probably only Georg took seriously. (It reminds me of those people who are fooled by The Onion stories…)

What do you think: considering this incident, will you be ordering more Riedel glasses any time soon?

Blech. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Viva Zalto!

Pop: Champagne delivery in 10 minutes

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Have you ever urgently needed a bottle of Champagne? How about one delivered to you in 10 minutes?

Well, for all your romantic, corporate celebration, and dinner party needs, if you live in London, you are in luck. And, in a surprise, there are no drones involved! Gett, a ride hailing app service, is debuting the Champagne delivery within a limited part of London and only one brand of bubbles–Veuve Clicquot yellow label. The price is £50 ($75), apparently not that much of a markup over retail but still overpriced for mediocre champagne, and it does include two flutes. Interestingly, Gett will be using cabbies-in-training (who are studying for the notoriously difficult exam that black cab drivers must pass in London) to perform the deliveries on scooters.

The only crucial question: will it be chilled but not shaken?

Could this come to the US? It’s possible but it would vary by location since different municipalities have different rules and regs governing the sale of alcohol. But where there’s a will, there’s possibly a way!

HT Business Insider
Photo: Gett


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