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The Wine Enclosure Debate: Is there a Screwcap Association?


The national U.K. based The Daily Telegraph had a story yesterday that featured data from the International Wine Challenge in which some analysis of tainted wine was offered against the total sample population. The comparison between the wines with cork closures was against those with screwcaps—a small, but fast growing means of sealing wine bottles.

This article was mildy pro-screwcap and drew commentary from Fermentation and the Zinquisition both of whom opined not on the actual issue of cork versus screwcap, but instead on how the article was written to be biased in the favor of non-cork enclosures.

Their posts happen to coincide with an ad I pulled from a recent Wine & Spirits magazine that struck me as peculiar.

The headline of the ad is: “My Favorite Moment With Real Cork” the sub-head reads: “If you have ever uncorked a bottle of wine, you could wine a $1,000 shopping spree.”

The promotion appears to be organized by Balzac Communications in Napa and it entails a $1000 Port and Bordeaux “shopping
spree” to three winners that write a winning 250 word essay about their favorite moment with “Real Cork.” Though, winners #2 and #3 actually win just $500 and $250, respectively, if you read the fine print.

This all strikes me as very odd.

The total prize for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize is an underwhelming $1750 dollars—surely a one page ad in Wine & Spirits magazine costs a good measure more than $1750.

But, mostly, this strikes me as odd because cork is in the supply chain for wineries and this consumer-facing activity must be because APCOR (the Portugese Cork Association and client for Balzac) is more than a little bit nervous about the encroaching competition from alternative closures.

But, is taking this fight into the streets with consumers really the way to go?

Ultimately, and I prefer cork, I think this is a bad money spent. I guess I understand it—if customers demand cork finished bottles then vintners are less likely to change, but are full page ads, promos and web sites going to turn a potential tide. Should ALL of this money go into R&D to eliminate the amount of TCA to a much more acceptable level?

APCOR does have a polished web site that can be found here. The site goes into some level of depth on cork, harvesting and recent technological advances.

The coup de grace is a quiz on cork—the preamble for the quiz says:

Becoming knowledgeable on cork is incredibly important. In learning and understanding the unique and complex characteristics of this natural product you will also consequently increase your perspective and knowledge on wine. After reading through the information available on this website please complete the Cork Certification Course. If you can answer 80% of the questions correctly, you will be a certified cork expert.

Very interesting. If I were running APCOR I would not spend a single cent on downstream consumer marketing until I had managed and mitigated all of the risk that I could via research on actual rate of incidence, and subsequent testing on the elimination of TCA in corks.

Actually solving the problem seems much smarter then creating consumer demand for a small part of the ceremony of wine.


The #1 Beer in America Comes from a Winery?


Youmight think of wine country, as, well, the domain of just wine.

Accordingto the current issue of Men’s Journal magazine, two of the top four beers in America are made in California locales more known fortheir vino.

And,in fact, the #1 beer in America—yup, it’s made by awinery.  Or to be crystal clear, I should say it’s made by folks whose stock-in-tradeis wine.


The#4 best beer in America, the Russian RiverTemptation Ale, made by the Russian River Ale Company was founded by KorbelChampagne Cellars in 1997.

Notto be outdone, the #1 brew in America, The Firestone Walker PaleAle, is made by the family behind Firestone Family Estates—a portfolio ofbusiness units that encompasses Firestone Vineyard, the aforementioned craftbrewer, Curtis Winery, and Prosperity Wines.

 TheFirestone Pale Ale wins even if Men’s Journal says of this Central
Coast winery and brewer, “Youmay recognize the name here, either from the Napa Valley winery …”

Notquite Napa, fellas. Many people would say that comparing the Central Coast to Napa is akin to saying aBudweiser is the same as a Guinness. But, I quibble …

Thiswhole marriage of craft brewing and wine is interesting. It makes sense—artisan and boutique istranslatable … There does exist a slightmarriage of the two quaffable offerings, though they are connected by Barleyand not vinifera grapes. Barley wine isfrequently finished with a cork and in a 750 ml bottle. According to Wikipedia:

Ittypically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed fromspecific gravities as high as 1.120. It is called a barleywine because it canbe as strong as wine; but since it is made from grain rather than fruit it isin fact a beer. In the United States barleywines are requiredfor this reason to be called "barley wine-style ales." This is takenby some to imply that they are not truly barleywines; in fact it only meansthat they, like any barleywines, are not truly wines.

Mostwine retailers in my neck of the woods have a pretty good selection ofmicro-brews, too. I’ll pop over and lookfor the Firestone Pale Ale next time I’m talking myself out of something tooexpensive.

And,for a timely review of Curtis Wines, a part of the Firestone family portfolio,check out Tim’s review at Winecast from Saturday, September 16th.


Elitism, the Zinquisition and Enough Wine to Go Around for Everybody


Sometimelate in 2004 I started poking around blogs and, in particular, a site calledHuge Johnson—presumably a pseudonym and a play on words with noted wine criticHugh Johnson.

Writtenby an insider, and now called The Zinquisition after, apparently, some legalfolks took exception to the name, I still keep up with his posts, though hedoesn’t write nearly often enough.

Setin wine country somewhere, he usually has a bottom line perspective without alot of artifice or b.s.

It’sa perspective I find refreshing and in many ways has influenced my blog.

Hismost recent post, then, is interesting as he calls out the wine blogosphere forbeing elitist, and perhaps, not paying our tithe to the Church of Wine.

Belowis a healthy excerpt from his post which can be found in full here.

I’mdeeply saddened to see the continued trend of elitism that pervades many blogsand those who comment on them. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great bottle ofwine more than the next guy, but as I have mentioned many times before, theelitism of the wine culture creates a real "barrier to entry" formany now-insecure consumers who would otherwise happily drink whatever fairlygeneric varietal the get on sale from their local megamart. I read numerouscomments like "well, I wish people wouldn’t drink yellow tail" and"most wine is insipid plonk not worthy of being poured down my drain"and "only certain regions of the world should even be producing wine atall (followed by a highly subjective assessment of climate, topography, andsoils)".

Iheartily agree that some wine is better than others, but let’s just focus for amoment on what would happen if we were to wave our magic wand and eliminate allthe "generic" wines that are so hated by wine geeks. We would loseall Vin de Table, all wines with broad appellations ...

BasicEconomics tells us that scarcity drives prices up (basic supply/demand curve).If we were to eliminate all "generic" wines, the resulting scarcitywould pretty much destroy the wine business for most of us. Why? Simply becausethe economies of scale in production and distribution would be completely lost.Wines would be $30 and up and would only be available in limited outlets as thenow-lower profits from broad market distribution would make it uneconomic tosustain the current infrastructure.

Youknow what? He’s spot-on correct.

Idon’t necessarily mind the perceived elitism because folks that are passionateabout wine and happen to have and/or read wine related blogs represent apercentage of the population that is predisposed to be a bit more finicky abouttheir consumables—if you don’t believe me check out this post from Tom atFermentation where his reader poll indicates that 60% of his readers earn morethen $100K a year. As a reference point,I think 5% of the U.S. population earns over 100Ka year.  By virtue of demographics, you’llget the kind of content that appeals to people that are more discriminating.

And while I don’t consider myself as a part of the elitism,his overall point about elitism and scarcity resonates. I recently saw a stat that said that 2/3’s ofall wine in the U.S. comes from four companies—Gallo,Constellation, The Wine Group, and Bronco.

Wereit not for those fine folks, producing technically correct wine in most cases,the smaller, terroir driven wines would be prohibitively expensive for mostpeople on a day-to-day basis.

TheZinquisition is a good read, and a good reminder that Yellowtail (which I have slagged in the past) is a decent if not good product that meets a customer need.

And,now, what we can really hope for is that the current Australian wine glutcreates not 8 million cases of Yellowtail, but about 14 million and hopefully thatfrees up a lot of the better quality stuff at the $14 - $16 price point for me.


The Ballerina with Boxing Gloves:  The Power of Storytelling

Montepulciano_2Markat Uncorked wrote a post a couple of weeks ago in which he referenced a localOhio grocery store and their wine buyer’s trip through Germany withimporter/impresario Terry Thiese.

Thecontent, found here, according to Mark was good, compelling stuff—the kind thatmakes you want to go out and buy wine. The message of his blog post was that he wished more retailers wouldengage in that level of storytelling.

Ina subsequent post on Thursday, Mark received an email from a new retailer inthe Columbus, OH area that bemoaned the fact that most of her clientele forsakeher carefully crafted 40 page quarterly magazine/catalog—magalog—for justhunting down Robert Parker scores.

Thefollowing is the whole excerpt as taken from Uncorked. The owner of the shop, Ann Boucher, wrote inan email:

Forgiveme for feeling a bit cynical, Mark, but what’s the point? Thanks to yourGod-given talent, I’m sure that writing comes easy for you, but for many of uslowly wine merchants, its hard work. If we sold lots of wine, as a directresult of our efforts, it would be worth the time and energy, but, in my shorttime as a retailer, I’m not seeing it. As you know, I put lots of time andeffort in to producing a catalog. My customers, thus far, have been men whodon’t really read my catalog. Believe it or not, instead of reading it, theybizarrely cross reference Parker scores with the wines appearing in my catalog.If they find a favorable rating for the same vintage, they buy a few bottles.Wouldn’t it be infinitely easier, less depressing and more profitable for me tojust send out a list of wines with Parker scores and say, “Get ‘em here!”

Mark,judiciously, opens up the post for reader comment and many folks opine aboutParker, wine writing, etc.

Inmy humble opinion, Ann Boucher should continue to write and continue to put herquarterly magalog out. For a firsteffort, the content is pretty good. Given the infancy of her enterprise, it’s natural to learn and evolvewhen she understands what her customers want from her and what she should beproviding. Most people don’t come out of the gate getting it exactly right, butthe smart ones adapt and evolve. It maybe that her customers are 10 years younger, upper-middle-class professionalsand wine trophy hunters interested in wine as new wealth lifestyle factor, buther marketing approach is earthy, agrarian and family-centric. Immediately, there’s a disconnect. I’m not saying this is the case, but it’s apossibility.

Overall,Mark brings up a good point, though, about more retailers writing interestingstories aboutSite_crush1 wine and wineries. Theother day I received an email from Crush Wine & Spirits in New York City,whom I’ve purchased from in the past. Idon’t think they’ll mind that I’m excerpting a significant portion of theiremail. Read it and tell me that doesn’tmake you want to pick up the phone or order it online.

EmidoPepe: The Ballerina with Boxing Gloves

Thehandmade wines of Emidio Pepe are absolutely unique, combining the raw power ofCalifornia reds, the elegant perfume of Barolo, the earthy complexity ofBordeaux and the finessed grace of Grand Cru Burgundy. Those who understandthem soon become obsessed (like me), but be warned: these wines are not foreveryone. For some, these wines are just too untamed, too expressive, too raw.One thing, however, is undeniable – these bottles truly redefine what Trebbianoand Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be.

Likethe man, the wines of Emidio Pepe are uncompromising individualists, celebratedby the initiated few, yet unknown to the larger public – at least for now.These wines gain in reputation every year, and they are slowly earning a loyalfollowing. This means it’s getting harder and harder to find the few bottlesthat this small family-run estate can produce. If you would like to try thesewines, now is the time. We are proud to be able to offer you a number ofoutstanding bottles, all of impeccable provenance, coming directly from EmidioPepe’s cellars to you!


Letus not mince words: these wines are handcrafted to a degree that is simplyunheard of anywhere else in the world, period. We know you’ve heard thisbefore; frankly, it’s hard these days to come across a wine that doesn’t toutits “handcrafted” origin. Nothing, however, comes close to these wines. Thegrapes are handpicked, hand-destemmed and, in a nod to the wisdom of tradition,the grapes are actually crushed by foot! (See sidebar.) No artificial yeastsare added, fermentation in glass lined tanks is not temperature-controlled. Thewine is hand-bottled, unfiltered and unsulfered, and aged in bottle for as longas necessary (10, 20, 30 years or more!) before being hand-decanted into afresh bottle and, finally, labeled.


ThePepe family produces only two wines, a creamy white wine made from trebbiano,and a powerful red made from montepulciano (they also makes a rosé from thisgrape, though it’s rarely imported). The trebbiano is luscious andall-encompassing – easily on a level with (or, dare we say above) the morefamous trebbiano from Pepe’s neighbor and friend, the late Eduardo Valentini.The montepulcianos are more complex than quantum physics – elegant and animal.When young, they are dense with warm, dark earthy fruit, showing off a richtexture and aggressive structure. As they age, they become all the wiser andricher, revealing shades of game, leather, stewed fruits and spices. Thesewines are even better than they sound and I believe they deserve to beexperienced, at least once.

Directlyfrom the cellar of Emidio Pepe come any number of exceptional vintages. Whilesome stores may offer bottles at prices below ours, be very careful. Remember,these wines are more fragile than most because there is absolutely no sulfuradded as a preservative. Emidio himself is as fanatic about proper storage ashe is about careful and considered winemaking. Rest assured that all thebottles we are offering are direct from Pepe, imported intemperature-controlled shippers and properly stored in ourtemperature-controlled cube. We are thrilled to have the following wines (ifonly a few bottles of each!) available. See below for my notes from an EmidioPepe vertical tasting I was lucky enough to attend this spring.

Ifyou are at all interested in today’s pick, please let us know immediately bycalling (212) 980-9463 or replying to this email.

Makes me thirsty for the Montepulciano and that’s the key—his words of small, special, delicate and hand-crafted coupled with the quirky and dashing description of Emilio really resonated with me. Good storytelling, no matter the subject matter, is never a bad idea.


News, Notes & Dusty Bottle Items

Dusty_wine_2 Herein the Midwest, in addition to absolutelyhorrible allergy seasons, we get pretty noticeable jet streams that indicate achanging of the seasons. Somewhere alongthe 3rd week of August, sinus and allergy sufferers (ME!) werefelled when much cooler weather started moving in. Asmany folks know, it feels like your head is going to explode while your eyelidsinvoluntarily water and you feel like somebody sucked the last bit of energyyou had straight out of your body. For acouple of days, it isn’t pretty. We’reabout three weeks in and experiencing un-seasonably cool weather, and thank goodnessthat whatever was happening meteorologically is now over with. The worst part of it is not the fact that you feel like you want to crawl into thefetal position, it’s that wine doesn’t taste good. Around the same time in August, I ordered the Wine Enthusiast Wine Bouquet Kit—a kitthat contains 36 vials of the most commonly found scents in wine. When I first got it, I took a deep whiff of vial after vial not getting *any* smellwhatsoever.  Thankfully, I’m now able to smell the violet vial and it’s truly useful to have a referencepoint for cedar, fig, clove and other scents commonly found in wine. I would recommend the wine scent kit or something similar for anybody. While I have the Wine Enthusiast kit, if Ihad to do it over again, I would probably buy this scratch and sniffversion.

Yourcall, but I think it the 36 scents have, in a short time, allowed me toidentify some bouquet nuance that I was aware of, but not able to identifycleanly. 


SinceI started my blog in January, I’ve been trying to figure out a way toincorporate a Notre Dame reference. As adyed-in-the-wool Notre Dame football fan, I’ve linked to pictures when makingesoteric football references and the like, but nothing ever really jumped outto me as a way to make a meaningful connection between ND and the wine industry(aside from Catholic mass as a youth and the wine at services which dreadfullytastes like a thin Chianti aged in oak within inches of its vinous life). 

But,now, I have my very slight, slightly meaningful connection.

JenniferMontana, who I recall fondly from my youth, as Joe’s wife and partner fromtheir stints on the 80s game show Win, Lose or Draw!, now has a wine related TVshow called, “On the Vine.” 

JoeMontana, known to most wine country fans as the greatest quarterback to everplay the game, is,Joe_nd obviously San Francisco 49’ers royalty. But, to me, he’s the quarterback that rosefrom the 4th team to take the reins at Notre Dame in the 70’sleading the Irish to a National Championship in 1978.

Montana also lived on the samedorm floor as current Notre Dame Head coach Charlie Weis.

Theshow is on local cable affiliates that pick up content from the PAX network andit’s on the Oxygen Network at 5:30 am on Fridays.

Ihaven’t seen the show, but I’m guessing “On the Vine” is not getting any helpfrom the less than fantastic time slot on Friday mornings. Maybe Meredith Vieira watches it as she tunesup for her new morning gig on the Today Show. Probably nobody else is up at that time thinking about wine as aconsumer, though.

Tomorrow’sepisode features Clos Pegase in Napa Valley. I’ll set the Tivo.


AsI keep an eye on Stormhoek winery from S. Africa, It also strikes me thatQuara wines, from Argentina, is doing lessInternet-centric, but still interesting wine marketing. I’m not sure if the wine is worth a darn, butit likely falls into the same $8 – $12 category that Stormhoek and a lot ofother guys occupy. Their web site artfully uses flash technology to good effectand their tagline of “Be fun. HaveSuccess” is brilliantly simple and aspirational for EVERYBODY. The fact that their Llama logo is interestingin a Picasso kind of way and not annoying in a “Little Boomey” kind of way is abonus. 


Isanybody besides me on the email mailing list for Wine Opinions is co-founded by John Gillespie,President of Wine Market Council, and they do Internet based consumer marketing.

Gillespieis a smart guy. He keeps his full-timejob and then does research on the side for wineries using technology, andlikely based on relationships cultivated from his day job.

It’sall innocent enough, but sometimes these surveys are like taking the Wonderlictest—the test that a lot of technology companies like Microsoft use toascertain problem determination skills and analytical ability.  NFL players have to take it at the Combine every spring, as well.  Rumors of bad test scores have sunk some players draft positions.

So, I now have some empathy when posed with some head-scratcher’s. 

Ifyou innocently click the box at the beginning of the survey saying that youhave recall of Rodney Strong wines as a super premium brand, you will then beasked to name all the varietals that they produce and a lot of other thingsthat most people are not in tune with.

Um,does Clos du Bois do a Pinot or a Shiraz, or both?  I know they do a chard ...

Or, how about this gem:

Please rank the following wine regions for the quality of wine they produce:

California, Russian River, Alexander Valley, Central Coast, Napa, Carneros, Sonoma

If I rank California wines #1 in quality, but then rank Alexander Valley and Russian River #2 and #3, but those regions are actually in #4 Sonoma county, what does it all mean?

Hmmm ... I feel like my draft position is sinking ...

Maybeit’s scientific, but I have to believe that online surveying is better offacting as a focus group and not nearly as much as empirical survey. 


It’sgood to be the King! After enduringyears of slackerdom stereotyping (despite damn near carrying the dot-comrevolution) my generation is finally getting some credit for being … championconsumers.

GQreleased a report that indicates that Generation X men love to spend money onluxury goods—including a 31% greater likelihood then Baby-Boomers to spend apremium on wine, spirits and beer.

I’mguessing this research commissioned by GQ will make its way into their mediakit in which their target—luxury advertisers—want to find premiumspending men in their 30s. Call mecrazy.

Gotta go.  Ihave to take off to the wine shop and buy a $40 bottle of wine for the hell ofit.


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