Can Trading Down lead to Trading Up?

 tradingup

A recent Gallup poll noted that the recession has not stopped consumers from drinking. Numbers are even from last year, with 64% of the population saying that they drink, the other 36% claiming abstinence. There were other stats listed of course, showing consumption differences between men and women, young and old. But one thing the poll admitted it could not adequately estimate was wine sales. Sales may be flat in numbers, but it cannot attest to volume vs. price point. As Gallup put it, “the recession may give people more reasons to drink, but less money to do it with”.

This is what we’ve noticed at Wine.com as well. During this recession, instead of seeing sales drop, we’ve seen people buy at a lower price point, but with a higher number of bottles per order – an increase in volume, a decrease in average bottle price. Why is this? The news continues to report that people are choosing to eat in more and out at restaurants less. Perhaps the rise in numbers of bottles per order reflects that choice. Or maybe people are in fact drinking more. Hard to say.

The interesting point to make here is that the trend of consumers trading down in wine has created  created an opportunity for these same consumers to trade up.

Here’s how that works: The recession has hit people’s wallets. Instead of eating out at restaurants, they are eating in. If they are eating out, chances are they order a less expensive wine than they did a year ago. Restaurants, in turn, are ordering less from distributors. Wine once allocated only to restaurants now sits in the distributors’ warehouse. Needing to move product, distributors offer the wine to retailers, often at a hefty discount. This discount is passed along to the consumer and there you have it – the opportunity to trade up has arrived.

So while you may have had to go from $15 to $10 on your everyday wine, you can now snag some $100 bottles for $40 and a few $40 bottles for $15. The savings are huge.

It’s a good time to be a wine consumer.

Pairing Wine with Fireworks

Free-Fireworks-Screensaver As with all fun, festive celebrations, beverages are key to your Fourth of July party.  And because you’re celebrating our nation’s birthday, keeping the wine American is a nice tribute. After all, our wine industry has come a long way since Mr. Jefferson’s attempt at vine growing in Virginia. As we gear up for the grill and what will go on it, I’ve been pondering the question – What to pair with it all?

Here are some wine picks for some typical 4th of July grills – some are common matches, but that’s because they work so well!

Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah – my pick for meat

So these choices are slightly typical. But We’ve got a great deal on the Rubicon Cask Cabernet Sauvignon ‘05, and it’s one of my favorite California Cabs (organic grapes, too!) – it’s perfect for a small gathering as it’s a more pricey wine. It would be amazing with a grilled ribeye with just a little salt & pepper. Yum…

For larger get togethers, you’re going to want fun AND affordable – stock up on Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon ‘06 – good producer for under $20.

Love Syrah with meat. I’m often torn between peppery, spicy Syrah vs. Juicy, fruit-concentrated Syrah… It’s great to find a wine with both and the Havens Hudson Vineyard Syrah ‘04 does just that. But it’s also on the more pricy side, at the $40 mark – but SO worth it! If you’re really adventurous, try pairing it with grilled leg of lamb.

For the everyday (under $20), crowd-pleasing Syrah, try Bonterra’s Organically Grown Syrah ‘06 or Bonny Doon’s Le Pousseur Syrah‘05.

Oregon Pinot Gris- my pick for chicken and/or veggies

Oregon Pinot Gris is so delightful in the heat. It’s refreshing, but also so aromatic and lovely to sip over a summer evening. It’s hard to recommend producers as I have not yet had an Oregon Pinot Gris that I didn’t like! Some favorites include Adelsheim, Elk Cove, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Eyrie, Willakenzie Estate and King Estate. Most are on the ‘07 vintage, which was a cool vintage so the wines are nice and crisp. 2006 was warmer and that vintage produced a richer style of wine.

RoseMy pick for pork, chips & salsa or anything with a spicy kick!

Rose can be a great aperitif before the dinner, but a hearty one will go great with pork or another meat, especially if you have some spice on it. From lighter style to heavier style & from dry to sweet – Etude, Bonny Doon & Red Truck’s Pink Truck are nice matches. Note that the Pink Truck is off dry, so some spice is nice (try salsa on the pork).

ZinfandelMy pick for burgers

The great American grape. With the great American food. The sweet fruits & spice are a great match to a juicy burger. Bogle Old Vines or Gnarly Head are great value Zinfandels. If you want to go a bit higher, try the Murphy Goode Liar’s Dice – it’s got some kick to it. Ravenswood is a reliable producer with lots of different single vineyard wines to try and Ridge is a classic – the Three Valleys is a great burger pick. 

BubblyMy pick for fireworks

Okay, so you’re not grilling fireworks, but you definitely need some bubbles when you watch them! At the $20-ish mark, I love the Roederer Estate, Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs and Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose. Also a great choice is the Argyle Brut – best bubbly in Oregon! So pop the cork and watch those fireworks sparkle.

Some not-so-common whites you shouldn’t miss this summer

“Off the Beaten Path” wines, or OBP as we call them, are some of my favorites to talk about. If you think about how many grape varieties there are, most would classify as “off the beaten path,’ since the average wine drinker only recognizes about 10 – 20 different varietal wines. When consumers do see varietals they don’t recognize, they often pass them over since they are unsure of what to expect.

Here are some less-common white grapes to look out for this summer and a bit about their flavor profiles:

Torrontes – This grape hails from Argentina (although its DNA roots are likely from Spain or another Mediterranean country). It is fresh & aromatic, with a nose full of white flowers and ripe pear or peach. The palate typically has crisp acid with citrus, floral and peach or pear flavors. It’s refreshing, but also has an almost creamy texture. Crios de Susana Balbo is a classic Torrontes, consistently good year after year.

Gruner Veltliner – The great grape of Austria is increasing in availability! Hurrah! Gruner (sometimes called GRU-VEE) is a wonderful grape. The aroma and flavor of white pepper is a telltale sign of a good Gruner, and adds a spicy kick to the wine. This spiciness is backed by ripe fruits and an excellent acidity. Very good food wine and at it’s best, can be very complex.

Chenin Blanc – Once over-planted and over-produced in California, Chenin can make a bad wine. But it can also make fantastically delicious wine! Wines from Chenin Blanc range from very dry to very sweet, come from France, South Africa & California, and are really worth trying! In blind tastings I often mistake Chenin for Sauvignon Blanc. The dry style has zesty acid and crisp citrus notes, but also some tropical fruit and a touch of honey, especially if any late harvest grapes were used. If you want to try the dry styles, go for Chenin from South Africa of a Savennieres from the Loire. A touch of sweetness can be found in Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, some other Loire regions.  California Chenin Blancs can vary. so find out about the producer’s style before you buy. Dry Creek Vineyard is an great Chenin producer in the dry style.

Arneis – Hailing from the Piedmont region in northern Italy, Arneis makes interesting wines. They are nutty in aroma and flavor, with medium acidity. They can become oxidized after a few years, so drink it young. That said, the wines are delicious with peach and pear and sometimes a bit of chamomile. This wine can hold up to some food. Vietti makes an excellent Arneis and is one of my favorite producers of all things Piedmont.

Some Wine Notes from the Aspen Food & Wine Festival

The Aspen Food & Wine Festival takes place every year in June. It’s a weekend full of much wine and food (sometimes too much) with seminars by celebrity chefs and wine folks, grand tastings with wineries from around the world and all around imbibing by all. As one chef put it this year, this is the place where people use the term ‘altitude sickness’ instead of hangover. Luckily, after doing this a bit, I’ve learned that the key is pacing yourself. By doing this, I made it to the early seminars, enjoyed some morning runs and hit every grand tasting, where I discovered some cool producers and some even cooler packaging (which I’ll report to you in a future post).

Champagne – One of those early 10am seminars covered Prestige Champagne. Prestige Champagne is the top cuvee of a Champagne house – often the best of the best. As expected, my favorite was Krug. Always said that if Champagne houses were sorority houses, I’d pledge Krug. I was also very impressed with the 1996 Pommery Cuvee Louise. The 1996 vintage was one of the best of the decade and the wine is still extrgratienemely fresh and bright, indicating the potential to age further. But the wine that most impressed me came from producer Alfred Gratien. The NV Alfred Gratien Cuvee Paradis Rose Brut was delicious! This brut rose is aged in bottle six years before release and production is under 20,000 cases/year. The nose showed raspberries & strawberries and the palate was full of bright fruit and crisp acidity. Yet the wine is medium to full bodied. This is definitely a food Champagne – would be perfect with salmon, roast chicken, or, as the panel recommended, BBQ! This prestige Champagne retails for about $130, one of the lower prices of the tasting. Later that evening, we tasted the Alfred Gratien Brut Rose NV. This was a lovely wine as well – not as complex as the Cuvee Paradis, but another great food wine and summer sipper (but not out of a plastic cup).

Grand Tastings – Four Grand Tastings, each only an hour and 45 minutes long, hundreds of booths = too little time to do it all! But I was able to do enough to find a couple of gems.  Aspen (with some E) 013

Hall Winery – I’ve long been a fan of Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon. While so many Cali Cabs are charging upwards of $150 a bottle, the Kathryn Hall sits at $70. It’s a mix of sweet spice, black fruits and super smooth tannins. Very approachable now, this is a wine for those who like big, fruit-driven California Cabs. Plus, Kathryn Hall herself is gracious and lovely. The discovery wine at the table for me was the Hall 2005 Bergfeld Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh yeah, this was big & smooth. It looks like it’s only available at the winery right now (though I’m looking into that) and retails for $100. I’d still pick the Kathryn Hall Cab, though, as it’s got that great price tag and those sweet fruits & sweet spices – warms the soul… 

Benzigermore aspen 005 Yes, I’ve tasted Benziger before, and really enjoyed it. But I had not yet tasted the Signaterra brand… WOW. All these wines were really amazing. Benziger is 100% biodynamic, and while some practices may be slightly wacky, the wines are  pretty incredible. The Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River is probably my new favorite SB from California. It’s intense but elegant and so well balanced. The Pinot Noir is also delicious. But the Three Blocks, the Cabernet/Merlot blend, blew me away… This was fantastic. Big with great structure and layers of flavor. Complex. Love this line of wine. Stay tuned as these wines will be in stock shortly!

These are just some of my newer discoveries. A few consistent favorites:

Penley Estates – the Chertsey is a great Bordeaux blend, and the Hyland & Phoenix are excellent as usual – also great values!

Innocent Bystander – Great label, great wine, great value. Cool climate wines (from Yarra Valley) are some of my favorites.

d’Arenberg – I really do love just about every wine they make. Had a chance to taste the Dead Arm. Lives up to the standard – delicious.

Mulderbosch – Yes, love the Sauvignon Blanc, Rose &  the whole line up.

Rhone Valley Wines – the trade organization was pouring quite a few, including D’Aqueria Tavel, Guigal Condrieu and Perrin Vinsobres.

Look forward to hearing your favorites!

Wines that taste good from a plastic cup

It’s summertime, and the drinking is easy… and more often – we’re sipping wine during the day at BBQs and parties, in the sun and occasionally out of a plastic cup. I think of wine as seasonal and this is the season for crisp whites, juicy reds, and of course, the ultimate summer drink, rose! A good number of these wines are ideal for summer’s most popular container – the plastic cup.

Some of my favorites that fall into this category:

Sauvignon Blancs Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect summer wine, particularly on those very hot days. They are excellent when served superc old, and their acidity is so deliciously refreshing. It makes a day gone bad become good. Chile and New Zealand are doing some excellent wines right now- some of my favorite producers include Santa Rita Floresta & Seresin.

Rose – I am a rose junkie. From about April to September it’s what I like to keep constantly stocked in the fridge. Just can’t get enough of the dry pink drink. Crisp and refreshing like a white wine, but with lingering characteristics of the red wine it never became.  California, Australia, South Africa and France are my favorites for dry rose. For specific producers, check out Mulderbosch, Bonny Doon, Chateau d’Aqueria, and Angoves.

Riesling – Riesling is too often overlooked because it’s the feared “sweet” wine. Not in every case! Not even in most cases. And the wines that are slightly sweet are balanced by a searing backbone of acidity, which gives it balance – something a good white wine needs. Add this to the reasonable alcohol level and you’ve got a perfect wine for BBQ food and long days in the sun. Try Pewsey Vale from Australia or Dom. Schlumberger from Alsace.

Off the Beaten Path Whites – I love cool and different grapes, like Albarino, Torrontes and Gruner Veltliner. Try something new if you have not yet done so, as you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Beaujolais – Juicy is the best word to describe Beaujolais. I like to serve it slightly chilled and it goes great with lots of food styles. Duboeuf is a classic producer of Beaujolais.

Rhone Reds –Rhone wines are great all year round, but they are delicious for pairing with anything off the grill, which makes them perfect summer reds. The Delas St-Esprit CDR is particularly good.

Zinfandel – Jammy and fun, Zinfandel is the typical wine for BBQ. It’s got the fruit, spice and tannins to match all that spice & sauce. Just watch the alcohol, it can be dangerous… Some great Zins are made by Murphy-Goode, Kenwood and Ridge

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