Monday, December 21, 2015

Where do supermarket sale wines come from?

Where do these wines come from?
Last month on the morning news I saw an ad for a sale at a California wine supermarket. I paused it -- the miracle of DVRs -- and took a screen shot because I wondered where supermarket sale wines come from.

Here's the screen shot of the 9 wines. Who makes these sale wines? How are they so cheap?

Thanks to website of the federal government agency responsible for alcohol, the TTB, I was able to look up the Certificate of Label Approval for each wine. I answered some questions, but raised a few others.

Before I get into the details, here's a quick summary:
Wines with brand names that sound like wineries: 8
Wines where the producer is upfront about who's making it: 2
Wines whose brand name IS actually the winery that made it: 1

Here are the wines, from left to right:

Red Autumn Chardonnay
This was in the Wine of the Month Club, which helpfully rated it 94 points.
A group of very enthusiastic wine tasters bought it for $2.99 and declared it "Goooood." It's made by Fior di Sole winery in Napa, which advertises itself as "Premium bulk wine from Napa Valley and other appellations." Remember that name.

Michel-Schlumberger Chardonnay
This used to be a real winery named after the owner, but in 2011 the winery was sold to the Adams Wine Group, an investment group. The winery does list respected consulting winemaker Kerry Damskey, but he is best known as a Mr. Fixit.
So far as I can tell from a COLA search, the wines are no longer being made at the onetime winery building in Sonoma County; they're now being made at RB Wine Associates in Hopland, which has one of the emptiest websites you'll ever see.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Top 9 places to buy wine: Beginner's guide

What's the best place for good deals on wine? Where's the best selection?

If you're already a wine aficionado -- my usual readers -- this post won't be news. I discovered before Thanksgiving that many of my non-aficionado friends have real questions about the best place to pick up a good bottle of wine at a good price. So for them, and all your non-aficionado friends, here are the top 9 places to buy wine.

1) Locally owned wine shop

If there's a good wine shop in your area, it's the best possible place to buy wine. You can get advice from the staff, and good wine shops pride themselves on having great wines at every price point. Don't be shy: good wine shop staffers live to be asked, "What do you have that's good for $12?" You'll make their whole day.

2) Locally owned wine shop

Can't emphasize this enough. Go to Yelp, search "wine shop" in your area, and see what you can come up with.

3) Big wine chain store

The selection and prices aren't as good at some of these stores as you might think. They maximize profits by buying in bulk, which means they don't carry many interesting small-production wines relative to the size of the store. And while their published sale prices on corporate wines are often very good, they make up for it with big profit margins on "private label" wines that wineries quietly make for them so nobody can compare prices. Private label wines can be good, but paying $15 for $3 worth of wine isn't good value. So how do these stores rank No. 3? Some employees are knowledgeable and helpful. There are usually a lot of reasonable choices around $10, because that's what chain store customers want. And though we're talking about wine, chain stores are usually good places to buy spirits and beer.

4) Whole Foods market

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sonoma County tasting room named America's best restaurant -- again

Is this wine pairing, or lunch?
For the second time in three years, Open Table has declared St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma County to be the No. 1 restaurant in the United States of America.

"We're still pinching ourselves," St. Francis CEO Christopher Silva told me.

Pinch hard. It's quite an honor, especially because St. Francis isn't a restaurant. It's a winery. And technically it doesn't serve meals.

Five days a week, three times a day (no dinners), St. Francis holds private sit-down wine tastings with food pairings for $68 in a room that looks out at Hood Mountain. Everybody sits together at a round table for 16.

It's a lot like lunch, although you can't order anything. But probably for legal reasons, it's not technically lunch: it's wine pairing.

"It is still all about the wine," Silva said. "The first thing Chef Bryan Jones does is not say, I've got these wonderful peppers, what should I make with it. He says, I've got this wonderful Zinfandel. What food do I prepare to go with that dish? It's a wine and food pairing and we're deliberate about the fact that wine is the first word."

We may be getting into technicalities here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Wine retailer cancels Cyber Monday, says "today everything is full price"

For the past 10 years, Delaware wine retailer Frank Pagliaro held a Cyber Monday sale, in which he posted hourly deals on Facebook and Twitter. And he sold a lot of wine.

This year, he sent out an email saying he was done with that.
"I would be in my office the entire day fielding orders via email, tweets and posts... 13+ hours of very little human contact doing nothing but typing on my keyboard.  Don't get me wrong it is a hugely successful marketing game to play, but I was never at all into Xbox or PlayStation.  I like people.  I like hearing their voices.  I like seeing their faces.

So today I'm going back to 1986.

That's when it all started for me.  No laptop, no cellphone, no iPad, no iWatch, no Constant Contact, no Facebook, no Twitter, no WIFI... and certainly no Cyber Monday.  Yup, today everything is full price here at FranksWine." (bold is mine)
Not only that, he basically shut off Internet wine sales:
"There's nowhere to click on this email.  Kinda crazy, huh?  It's like a dead-end street."

I read this and thought, how's that going to work, a non-sale on the busiest discount week of the year?