Friday, February 27, 2015

Will the market notice if Robert Parker's palate declines?

The Lion in Winter: Robert Parker, by Sam Chin/Wall Street Journal
Robert Parker says he's never going to retire. Emperor of Wine for Life. Bully for him.

I thought Parker would one day walk away from the "critic" part of his job, maybe to write a memoir. Parker works hard and always has; it's how he got to be the most powerful critic in the world.

He's not going to taste and rate Bordeaux barrel samples* anymore. But Parker said, "I have no intention of retiring. I will die on the road, or keel over in some winery. Retirement is a formula for death."

* Will the Bordelais stop making a special "RP" sample bottle, and give his replacement the actual wine?

He might be right. However, I'm never popular for bringing this up, but biologically, he is already past his peak as a critic.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wine under $10 sucks. Should we care?

Earlier this year we learned from the Wine Market Council that men in their 20s aren't drinking much wine for two reasons: 1) they're broke, and 2) craft beer and cider are more interesting under $10.

The numbers reflected what most restaurant diners have realized for some time.

The night before I heard some of these stats for the first time, I was staying in Sacramento for the big Unified trade show. I didn't feel like a fancy meal so I went to Broderick Roadhouse for its pretty good burger. I'm a wine lover; I prefer a glass of red wine with my burger. Their wines by the glass, all for less than $10, were corporate and boring. Instead, I had a pint of a locally made apple-pomegranate cider that the server was enthusiastic about; the fruit is all organic and he had met the producers. And it cost $7.

You've had this experience, right? A glass of interesting wine costs $15 now, and might be from a country you've never visited, while you can get a quirky, artisanal beer made in your neighborhood for $8. It's not enough to make me a beer drinker, but I understand what 20-something men are thinking.

And it's not just in restaurants.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What causes red-wine headaches? A new theory

Nobody knows for sure what causes red-wine headaches. I heard an intriguing theory last month while interviewing a chemist-turned-winemaker, and it fits the facts as we know them.

Here's what we know:

* Many people get headaches from red wine, but not white wine

* Sulfites are not to blame. Some people are allergic to sulfites, but headaches are not an allergy symptom, and besides, white wines have more sulfites on average than red wines.

* Some people report that they don't get headaches when drinking red wine in Europe, but they do in the US.

* Some doctors say the first thing you should consider is the alcohol itself, as it can cause headaches. Because alcohol level is such an emotional issue these days, that's an appealing theory, but I have always gotten comments from people who say they can drink vodka (40% alcohol) without headaches, but not Zinfandel (15-17% alcohol). 

* There has never been a conclusive medical study about red-wine headaches and you won't find a reputable doctor anywhere who can tell you exactly what the cause is. All we have is speculation.

Which leads me to Chris Howell's theory.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wine needs a Pliny the Younger

This week, beer fans from around the country are driving to Santa Rosa, CA and waiting in line 8 hours to buy a single pint of beer.

That beer is Pliny the Younger. Maybe it's a great beer; maybe there are better beers. What strikes me about the story is this: it's probably the most cultish drink in the world. Who waits in line 8 hours to drink any wine or whiskey?

And it costs $4.75.

No wonder men in their 20s prefer craft beer to wine, a development that has the Wine Market Council a little anxious about the future.

All of the world's most-sought wines are out of reach of not just 20-somethings, but all middle-class wine lovers. It doesn't make economic sense for a wine lover to drink first-growth Bordeaux or Domaine Romanée Conti or Screaming Eagle, and this has been the case for more than a decade. There are many wine lovers in their mid-30s who have never tasted, and will never taste, what are considered the top wines in the world.

DRC co-owner Aubert de Villaine recently whined to Wine Searcher that he doesn't like being in the category of a luxury product, and even "Romanée-Conti [the most exalted cuvée] should be at a price where consumers buy it and drink it."

Hey buddy, put your wine where your mouth is. You want people to have a chance to drink DRC? How hard would it be for you to work out a deal with a wine bar to do something like Pliny the Younger: to sell 10 cases of wine that people could have for $20 a glass, if they are willing to wait in line for it? You could do it once a year in a different city each time. Imagine the worldwide anticipation -- and the excitement of ordinary wine lovers.

Nobody in the wine industry does this. But they should. It wouldn't hurt the bottom line. We're talking about 10 cases. Many wineries donate that much wine to charity auctions, where it stays safely in the hands of the 1%. How about donating some to middle-class wine lovers?

Such an event would be huge news in the mainstream media. Food for thought.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Friday, February 6, 2015

News: TTB to approve AVA that will change the image of Oregon

Cayuse Vineyard's Christophe Baron. These are, literally, The Rocks of Milton-Freewater
The U.S. government will announce approval of a new wine region on Monday, according to the man who wrote the petition. And while it's geologically simple to understand, legally it's the most complicated AVA yet.

Moreover, the geologist who wrote the petition says it will forever change the image of Oregon wine.

The region is The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. It's most famous currently as the home of Cayuse Vineyards, which produces some of the most-sought wines in the Pacific Northwest. Bet you thought Cayuse was in Washington, because that's where its mailing address is. But it isn't, and neither is Milton-Freewater.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Craft beer lovers: Get over that Bud ad, and yourselves

I'm willing to accept that I look a little like this. From the Budweiser ad.
I only watched the end of Super Bowl 四十九, but I've seen Budweiser's ad positioning itself as a "macro beer," because it launched 10,000 angry tweets and 1000 navel-gazing columns in publications including Slate, Fortune, Eater, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News ... the list goes on and on.

Here's a typical such column. I won't bother to link to more, because they all say the same thing: How dare Budweiser pick on craft beer! Those dummies, don't they realize I am young and important and I don't like their product?

All these outraged opinionaters have made a common mistake in writing about advertising: because they are at the center of the world, they cannot imagine that the ad could be targeted at anyone else.

It's called "market positioning," folks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How to create a $469 Cabernet! A real press release

I really got the press release below this morning, just an hour ago. I have changed nothing in it but the names: everything else is exactly what the release says, in its entirety. You'll note that it has no named winery, vineyards or winemaker. But it costs $469!


FORT LAUDERDALE, FL  - A brand new vintage Cabernet Sauvignon joins the ranks of the world's finest wines. Just launched in limited release at the end of 2014, Asswipe has already garnered rave reviews, including a Number 1 rating for Cabs in 2014 from (Non-wine product) & (another non-wine product) magazine.

Asswipe is distributed by Grilledcheese International in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. It's a rich and luxurious 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt. Veeder, a dry vineyard with an elevation of 1,900 feet in Napa Valley, California. Along with its Mt. Veeder pedigree, Asswipe has an equally impressive price tag. It retails for $469 a bottle and there were only 3,000 bottles produced for this first limited release.

"Asswipe is a spectacular wine that absolutely lives up to its cost," said Senator McCarthy of Asswipe Wines, "and there are several reasons for this. First, 2012 was a monumental vintage. The drought and stress on the berries produced a lower production of tiny and very intense grapes. Additionally, the elevation and dry-farming techniques produce even more concentrated flavors. Finally, our berries are always handpicked and scrutinized for perfection. The result is a luxurious wine any collector would be proud to have."

According to (I can't use a fake name here because you might think this person is someone I've heard of, but it isn't), the highly credentialed New York wine writer, restaurant wine consultant and certified sommelier, the 2012 Asswipe Cabernet Sauvignon lives up to its hype.

"It is the 'wine of the kings' descended from the dry vineyard at 1,900 feet on Mt. Veeder," said (the unknown writer). "It brings forth the true attributes of its namesake: divine angels to some and tempters to others, yet seductive and alluring to all. It has an intense ruby red color with youthful shades and bright highlights plus aromas of intense purple lilac, followed by scents of ripe, juicy fruit. It fills the mouth with fleshy plums and berried fruits, evolving to sweet licorice, caramel candy and cinnamon with hints of smoky flavors, coffee and a flint minerality that extends its long, charming finish."

The same exquisite care that went into creating Asswipe the wine is reflected in its stellar label design. In (religion withheld), the asswipes are angels to the gods. The label depicts a voluptuous masked female warrior in form-fitting black strapless dress and black boots, wielding a mighty sickle and hovering in mid air by massive outstretched wings.

Asswipe is available at (name and address of a wine shop). For more information, visit*

(*Editor's note: The real website in the press release doesn't work. But the press release is no joke: the wine exists, and it's already marked down -- to just $465!)

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Opus One: the most luxurious glass of wine I ever ordered

Hideo Nomo in 1995
Exchanging polite tweets with Opus One's CEO about Friday's post, I remembered the only time I've ever splurged for a glass of Opus One.

This story will date me, but what the hell. It happened in 1995. Val Kilmer was Batman. Few people had cell phones, but hip kids carried pagers: you could call their pager number and they would call you back from the nearest pay phone. I had email already but often had to explain the concept to older people.

I was living in Japan, where Hideo Nomo was the biggest celebrity maybe ever. He was the first Japanese baseball player to become a star in the US and his exploits dominated the news every night.

I don't remember why I was in Las Vegas on July 11, 1995. Northwest Airlines (!) used to sell Japan residents a 4-city ticket that would allow us to traipse around the US for little more than a single roundtrip fare. I must have decided it was worth seeing Vegas since the airfare was free. Turns out I hated it because I'm not a gambler, the city is so artificial, and you can't walk outside anywhere during the day in Nevada in July.

I was in an air-conditioned casino looking at the sports book when I saw a proposition bet: "Strikeouts by H. Nomo."