Monthly Archives: April 2010

Ninth Circuit Court sides with wine wholesalers; consumers lose

The Ninth Circuit court decided yesterday that an Arizona law allowing only wineries that make fewer than 20,000 cases to ship directly to consumers and retailers was not unconstitutional. The result is that wineries who make 20,001 or more cases must go through the infamous three-tier system, adding layers of middlemen and making it more difficult for consumers to get their hands on wines that distributors don’t want to represent.

Why is this so bad? After all, distributors often help wineries sell their product around a state and do the bear’s share of the sales and marketing work for the winery, according to most distributors you talk to.

Or do they? when I worked for a small winery, I cannot tell you how difficult it was to get the attention of the large distributors. We would schedule a market trip to let’s say, Palm Beach, and I would go around with three or four separate sales reps selling the wine at different restaurants and retailers. In Florida, we were working with Southern Wine & Spirits, the behemoth of distributors. While some sales reps were great, I worked with some people who basically had me doing all the work. Oh, and they were getting an extra commission if I sold the wine. The moment I left, the distributor’s sales reps forgot all about our winery. We couldn’t give them the attention (read: incentives) that giant companies like Diageo and Constellation could give them.

Would our tiny winery have been better off selling to consumers and retailers directly? Definitely. We could have courted small specialty shops and focused on shipping directly to them, without having to go through the giant distributor, who didn’t really care about us because we were small.

Even better, consumers who came out to Sonoma to visit us could have signed up for our wine club and had wine shipped directly to their home. But under certain state laws, wineries cannot ship directly to consumers.

And in this economy, distributors simply do not want to take on new brands, big or small. So it makes it tough for someone launching a new wine brand to get representation, no matter how many cases you produce.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesales of America applauded the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision. Of course they were thrilled. Check out this statement put out by the WSWA:

“It is important that courts understand that the three-tier system was specifically designed to address critical state concerns regarding the distribution of alcohol to consumers. The adoption of the 21st Amendment reflected recognition by both Congress and the states that the difficult problem of regulating alcohol, a socially sensitive product that can be misused and thereby can give rise to numerous problems for local communities, justified delegating to the states maximum authority to develop solutions tailored to each state’s citizenry.”

Oh please. The three-tier system has one main goal: to make sure that distributors stay in control and in business. They don’t care about “regulating alcohol” because they care about your health or that of your kids. In fact, the large distributors are the ones who represent the major liquor brands.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is truly disappointing. It is still unbelievable to me that we are in 2010 and that a consumer in Pennsylvania or Arizona can’t just go online and buy wine from a merchant in California or New York. The WSWA pours money into the hands of lawmakers to make sure that they continue to receive protection under the law — are the courts tainted, too?

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Posted by on April 16, 2010 in Wine


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Harold McGee: Gels, seaweed extracts & meat glues, oh my!

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Posted by on April 15, 2010 in Food Reads, Restaurant Buzz


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More than 10 million liters of Italian wines found to be adulterated

A news report published today states that more than 10 million liters of “Chianti, Toscana IGT, Brunello di Montalcino, and Rosso di Montalcino have been “cut,” i.e., blended, with wines of inferior quality,” according to VinoWire.

Fortunately, the wine was confiscated by officials before it made it into the U.S., but I’m sure that there is PLENTY of adulterated Italian wine on the market.

Who gets hurt when the Italian winemakers/companies do something like this?

The Italian winemakers and companies.

In the wine industry, brands and trust are everything. When Italian wine gets tagged as potentially fake, wary consumers who are already watching their dollars are more likely to turn elsewhere. I had a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG the other day, and although it had the characteristic sour red fruits and medium tannins, the high acidity and dusty notes, I’m now wary of what in the world was in my glass… Not good, not good. Italians, take note.

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Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Wine


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To WSJ's New Wine Columnists: Not everyone drinks $820 bottles of wine

Like many wine aficionados, I turned to the newest wine column, On Wine, at the Wall Street Journal with interest when I read the paper Saturday morning. The newest column will feature the writing of Jay McInerney and Lettie Teague (formerly of Food + Wine magazine — I love Lettie and was sad when she was laid off from the magazine).

The very first column featured McInerney’s love of pink champagne. I enjoyed how he started the piece, taking us back to the day when he first fell in love with pink sparkling wine on a date with a young woman.

Good start, no problem there, although I did dislike the phrase, “I eventually learned to turn up my nose at Cold Duck….” Why? I’ve never had Cold Duck, and I’m sure it isn’t great wine, but it makes McInerney sound arrogant and quickly alienates any reader who is just starting to get into wine. The role of a wine writer is to entice the reader into enjoying wine and learning more about it. A writer who claims his superiority in the first paragraph isn’t going to win over any wine newbies.

The other part I disliked in his column was his explanation for the price of the 1990 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque Rosé. “I’m not going to pretend that either the 2000 or the 1990 Œnothèque is inexpensive, but look at it this way: The former costs about the same as the tasting menu at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas; the latter the same as the tasting menu for two.”

That is probably the least useful information I’ve yet to read in a wine column. I can guess what the tasting menu costs at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas, but sorry, I don’t regularly dine there (and probably neither do most people), so I don’t know the exact cost. Moreover, people who are going to plunk down however much it costs to savor the tasting menu at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas very likely have no problem paying $820 for a bottle of wine (or $360, if you opt for the “cheaper” 2000 vintage).

Why not put the cost of the bottle into terms people can understand a little better?

Here are some ideas, Jay. A bottle of the 1990 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque Rosé costs about as much as:

4 New Apple 3GS iPhones or

1 50″ Plasma HDTV or

328 Starbucks Short Lattes or

12 All-Day Lift Tickets at Park City, Utah

Now, if you were to put it on those terms and asked a variety of people, would you rather drink 1 bottle of wine or drink a Starbucks Latte for nearly every day this year, or would you rather have one bottle of pink champagne or ski at Park City 12 times, which would you choose?

This puts things into perspective. There are those who would rather have their daily Starbucks treat than enjoy one fabulous wine. Or those who like wine, but like skiing better.

Everyone has their priorities. I happen to love wine. My boyfriend recently expressed shock that I had paid $140 for a bottle of wine (a 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Pinot Noir, if you would like to know). But I know he would MUCH rather get the flat-screen TV or the 12 lift tickets than pay for the Dom rose.

So, my advice for the On Wine column: rather than just speak to the wine lover, who probably has at least 20 books on wine, reads the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast religiously, speak to the wine newbie. I always loved Dottie and John’s Tasting column at the WSJ. I thought it made wines fun, approachable, and they often touted affordable buys. Let’s follow in their excellent example and stay away from $820 bottles of wine.


Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Wine


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Gourmet Magazine may be back?

Steve Heimoff has just shared on his blog that Gourmet Magazine may be coming back in some shape or form. Could this be true? Or are the folks over at Conde Nast merely using the name to brand products at Wal-Mart and Kmart?

I really loved the writing in Gourmet Magazine and I will miss the beautiful essays written by some of the best food writers in the world. I will admit, however, that I have rarely ventured into actually making something from Gourmet magazine. Although I am a pretty adventurous cook (I’ve made my own kimchi, cheese and bread), the recipes in Gourmet magazine had ingredient lists that ran longer than the articles and often included strange items that had to be ordered from the internet. Or they required that the cook slave by the hot stove for 12 hours straight.

Perhaps I am exaggerating, but even though I may not have cooked much from Gourmet, I still loved reading the recipes, salivating over the absolutely stunning photographs and dreaming of actually making the food there someday. It was a loss to foodies around the world when Gourmet closed its pages and I do hope that there is a revival, in some shape or form.


Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Food Reads


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Sardines, a hidden delicacy

When most people think of sardines, they think of the canned variety. Devoid of much taste except a pungent fishy one, they aren’t too delightful. But what about fresh sardines? Because it is such a lowly fish, most Americans give little thought to this fabulous treat. But throw a little sea salt on a few fresh sardines, maybe a spice rub, throw them on the grill, and you have a wonderful, flavorful dinner. In Portugal, grilled sardines are eaten as street snacks and are quite popular.

Why eat sardines? Other than the fact that they are quite delicious when served just off the grill, they are very healthy for you. Sardines provide an excellent source of:

  • Vitamin D (to protect your bones)
  • Omega-3 Fats (to protect your heart)
  • Vitamin B-12 (for your brain and nervous system)
  • Selenium (to prevent cell damage)
  • Co-Enzyme Q10 (thought to be helpful in fighting heart disease)

In addition, because sardines are tiny little fish, they are low on the food chain. They have lower levels of mercury and other fat-soluble poisons than other big fish like tuna.

Now, for the tricky part. Where to find them? Most Whole Foods stores will actually get them for you if ask for them on special request. Not too long ago, a customer at the Petaluma Whole Foods asked for several pounds and the boyfriend and I were lucky enough to be able to score some extras. Just ask the fishmonger. You can also try asking your local supermarket or checking the Asian supermarkets near you.
For more inspiration, check out this post on sardines galore on!

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Posted by on April 9, 2010 in Uncategorized



Could the end of Two Buck Chuck be near?

A couple of California lawmakers want to raise the taxes on beer, wine and spirits in the Golden State. The proposed taxes would:

“Raise the excise tax on a 750 ml bottle of wine from 4 cents to $5.11, push the tax on a six-pack of beer from 11¢ to $6.08, and raise the total tax on a 750 ml bottle of distilled spirits from 65 cents to $17.57.” (Sonoma Valley Sun)

Who are we, Norway? Alcohol is so extremely regulated there that you have to go to a state-sponsored store to buy your wine — and you can’t touch the product before buying it. You’re only allowed to rummage through a catalog before making your selection.

This comes at a fatal time for the California wine industry and it is unbelievable that California lawmakers would even propose such a tax. The lawmakers argue that alcohol is responsible for a slew of accidents and costs taxpayers thousands in accidents, etc. The arguments are similar to those made by lawmakers who aimed their guns at cigarette companies.

But wine doesn’t cause cancer like cigarettes do — in fact, it may help PREVENT heart disease! Additionally, there is no responsible cigarette; each puff blows toxic air into your lungs and the lungs of others. There is, however, responsible drinking. A nice glass of wine with a meal, a lovely cocktail shared with friends.

We already have a plethora of laws to curb drunk driving, and I am all for more enforcement.

But please, don’t add a regressive tax to our wines. A $2 bottle would have a 250% tax. A $10 bottle of wine would have a 50% tax — does that make ANY sense?

Don’t make Two Buck Chuck a Seven Buck Chuck.

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Posted by on April 2, 2010 in Wine


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