Wednesday, February 15, 2017

US made much more whiskey last year, but bartenders still recommend the biggest brands

Bartenders' most recommended spirit
Here are two unrelated bits of whiskey news, one surprising and one kind of depressing.

First, the TTB, the federal agency that oversees alcohol, released its 2016 statistics last week. A number that jumped out at me is the amount of whiskey produced in the U.S.: 166 million gallons, compared to 147.9 million gallons last year, a 12% increase.

To give you an idea of how huge an 18.1 million gallon increase is, last year the U.S. produced only 6.6 million gallons of vodka, gin and rum combined.

Now, that's production and not bottling, which means most of this whiskey is not going to be on the market soon. In fact, the amount of whiskey bottled last year went down slightly from 2015, and was less than half of the amount of whiskey produced. This is good news; hopefully that huge new batch of 2016 whiskey will spend some years in barrels.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Pairing wine with chicken

Chicken is one of the best foods to drink wine with. People often think of chicken as white-wine food, but it has enough meatiness to go well with red wines.

The only tricky thing about pairing wine is that chicken is a blank slate for chefs. A fried chicken sandwich with pickles and mayonnaise is entirely different from roast chicken with lemon and pepper. Sure, you can drink the same wine with both dishes, but the ideal wine for each would be very different.

Here are a few popular chicken dishes and some wine suggestions.

Fried chicken: Sparkling wine is a great pairing with fried food. If the fried chicken is spicy, try a slightly sweet sparkling wine.

Barbecue chicken
: Rosé goes well with most barbecue and chicken is no exception.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Social media doesn't sell much wine

Since the advent of social media, wineries have been wondering how important it is in wine sales.

According to a recent survey by Wine Opinions for the Italian Trade Agency, social media might not only be less important than 90+ point scores from critics: it seems less important than "wine is on sale for 10% off or more."

When you consider that the U.S. is a nation of bargain hunters, that makes social media recommendations seem pretty unimportant.

I say this as somebody who enjoys using Twitter, despite the company's coddling of abusive tweeters. But only 11% of high-frequency wine drinkers (people who drink wine several times a week) said they even visit Twitter once a month or more. Do they care about the bottle of Prosecco I just drank with herring? Not bloody likely.

The social media platform of most interest to wine lovers is Facebook, with 45% saying they visit it at least monthly. However, it's not clear that blurry cell phone photos of wine bottles on Facebook encourage anyone to buy wine, any more than the current barrage of angry political Facebook posts* is making anyone change their mind about how they should vote in the future.

(* I never thought I would miss Facebook photos of people's lunches, but I do.) 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Mount Gay master blender Allen Smith on his own visa rejection

Cocktails in the morning with Mount Gay master blender Allen Smith
Allen Smith has been with Mount Gay rum in Barbados for 26 years, but his career was nearly grounded by an overzealous immigration official.

Smith, 56, was born in the UK, but both of his parents are from Barbados, which should have given him citizenship in the country. Should.

His father moved to Jamaica shortly after his birth to work on the project of electrifying that island. The family spent most of his life through secondary school in Jamaica. When he was ready for university, he went to Reading, England, where after nearly a decade he earned a degree in biochemistry and microbiology.

In 1990, Smith had had enough of life in clammy old England and longed to return to the sunny Caribbean, so he bought a one-way ticket.

"I wanted to surprise my mum," Smith said. "But I traveled on a British passport. The immigration man said, 'You can't come in. You have to have a place to stay.' I said, 'I could stay with my mum, I could stay with my cousins, I could stay with some other cousins ...' He said, 'Don't get smart with me.' "

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Now it can be told: Device I skewered for home use turns out to have different market

The face of the Plum
In October I wrote a story for Wine Searcher headlined, "Unnecessary Wine Appliance Seduces Media" about a seemingly silly $1500 device called the Plum that would serve you individual glasses of wine from two bottles. It's a snarky takedown that I thought the device richly deserved, even though Forbes and the Robb Report had gushed about it for home use.

David Koretz, president of the company that makes the Plum, asked to meet me in person after reading the story and complaining about it in the comments. I'm an old-school journalist at heart who believes you should stand behind your work, but I insisted on meeting in a public place and telling friends where I was going. I was not planning to offer to make any changes to the story, so I expected to be harangued for a while and eventually to say, "I've got an appointment" and back away.

Instead, we spoke for 90 minutes, but the conversation was embargoed until this morning, when Plum finally released its real business plan.

It turns out that the Plum's primary market was never home users. Instead, it's designed for high-end guests in hotels, and for that, it makes sense.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Those wacky French! "You can't make pink bubbly because WE make pink bubbly."

Imagine if Napa Valley Vintners told Sonoma County Vintners, "You can't make Cabernet because we make Cabernet."

That's what's going on in a feud between two obscure French wine regions, Bugey and Die. A fine story by Wink Lorch in Wine Searcher last week explained the feud. Let me summarize it for you from an American perspective.

Cerdon is a small area within the Bugey region where vintners make pink Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wine -- bubbly made without added sugar, by stopping fermentation before bottling and allowing it to continue fermenting in the bottle. The main grape is Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais.

Die is a slightly larger region that makes white Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wine mainly from Muscat. But growers there have Gamay, so they want to make pink Méthode Ancestrale bubbly. They would call it Clairette de Die rosé, so it's not like anyone would believe it comes from Cerdon, which calls its pink bubbly Bugey-Cerdon.

Seems harmless, and the French government gave the Die growers the go-ahead. However, the Cerdon growers filed an appeal. They're upset. Their logic is exactly as I stated in the first paragraph: "You can't make pink Méthode Ancestrale bubbly because we make pink Méthode Ancestrale bubbly. We were here first!"

Cerdon takes this position even though sparkling wine made in Die was described by Pliny the Elder. Seriously!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sustainable wine: Women make it, people might pay more for it, and Sonoma County is trying to own it

Two significant research-based stories about sustainable wine dropped in the past week.

In the first, an Australian economist released a working paper stating that women in technical leadership roles -- i.e., winemaker or director of viticulture -- are more likely to make wine that is certified in some way as environmentally sustainable.

In the second, a survey by Sonoma County Winegrowers claimed that consumers will pay more for wines certified as sustainable, possibly $5 a bottle more.

There's a huge difference between the studies, though, in the definition of "sustainable."

Sonoma County is using the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance definition of "sustainable," which is toothless. Don't misunderstand: there are plenty of Sonoma County growers who are committed to protecting the environment. It's just that the CSWA's "sustainable" designation doesn't do that.

For the Australian study, let me quote author Jeremy Galbreath from the Curtin University of Technology in Perth: