Tag Archives: new york times

Black and White and Red All Over

16 Mar

Recently, on the New York Times‘ wine blog, The Pour, asked “How Important Is It for a Red Wine to Be a Dark Color?” On the face of it, this seems perhaps to be a silly question, but it’s not.  Consumers notice, and are more often than not impressed by a wine’s dark color.  The reasons for this are not necessarily black and white, but winemakers know it, and it’s a big part of why they blend, say Grenache with Syrah or Zinfandel with Petite Sirah.  In both of these very common blends, the latter grape is much darker than the former.  An effort to achieve dark color is also why winemakers feel inclined to use extended maceration times because the longer the skins hang around with the juice, the darker the resulting wine will be.

Anyone who has ever provided wine in a service setting — restaurant, bar, winery tasting room — knows dark color matters, too.  Being a member of this group I can attest to this fact.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard a customer exclaim delightedly, “Wow!  Look at that color,” upon seeing a dark wine poured in his glass, I could buy myself lots of deliciously pale (and expensive) Barolo.

But, there’s proof that dark wine matters beyond observational experience and drawing conclusions about why winemakers do the things they do.  There is Alicante Bouschet.

Photo - corkd.com

Alicante Bouschet is a grape that is known as a teinturier variety.  While 99.9% of grapes have clear juice regardless of the color of the skin, tenturier varieties have red juice.  What does this mean for wine?  Darker color.  From the late 19th century up until the 1960s, a grape called Aramon was the most widely planted winegrape in France.  Aramon was good at some things.  It was very productive and naturally resistant to many diseases, but in terms of color and flavor, it was sorely lacking.  Enter an ancient teinturier variety called Teinturier du Cher, which is an ancestor (a grandparent, if you will) to Alicante Bouschet.  Not only was Tenturier du Cher blended with Aramon to boost its color and flavor, in 1824 Louis Bouschet crossed the two creating a new variety called Petit Bouschet.  Later, his son Henri crossed Petit Bouschet with Grenache and Alicante Bouschet was born.

Alicante Bouschet also made its way to California, but there’s not much to be found today, having been displaced in favor of more popular grape varieties and because we now have the modern technology to extract deep color from most any grape we want.  With the exception of Francis Ford Coppola’s Alicante Bouschet, which comes from Lodi, it’s now most often found in very small amounts in zinfandel blends that come from old vine vineyards in northern Sonoma County. Today, Alicante Bouschet is more a curiosity than a major player, but the mere fact of its existence is proof that human beings are attracted to dark colored wines.  Whether that’s silly or not.


Is There Any Reason to Join a Newspaper Wine Club?

21 Oct

2473201134_4d6ae86788Wine club membership has its privileges… sort of.  Winery wine clubs are built almost entirely upon the benefits model with members enjoying perks like complimentary tastings, access to special bottlings, members-only events, discounts on wine and merchandise, opportunities to meet the winemaker or proprietor, etc.  These privileges make members feel special — like a part of the family in some cases —  and foster loyalty to the brand.  Now that a growing number of newspapers and magazines are getting into the wine club game, I’m curious as to whether or not the benefits model of belonging will translate.  Will the New York Times Wine Club, which is affiliated with the paper in name (and revenue) only, inspire the same kind of devotion as a winery’s club that is from a specific place where members can go visit and see the vines and meet some of the real people behind the wine?  My guess is no, but then again maybe it doesn’t matter.

What newspaper wine clubs are selling to their members is variety.  Precisely because they are not wineries, newspaper clubs can promote a variety of wines and brands from all over the world.  This is undoubtedly an advantage at a time when wine is more common on American dinner tables than ever before.  Many drinkers are now as familiar with Malbec as they are with Merlot.  Rather than sticking with just one varietal or one brand, more people want to experiment, and newspaper wine clubs are offering the opportunity for their members to do just that.

The problem, however, is the manner in which the wines are chosen, and by whom.  None of the wines offered in any of the major newspapers’ clubs are chosen by members of its editorial staff, rather the decision making is outsourced to a company that specializes in wine club sales.  From a journalistic ethics standpoint this makes sense.  A newspaper that runs a wine column cannot ask its editorial staff to choose wines for its wine club, lest they be accused of favoritism or collusion.  This is a pretty straightforward concept.  But, the concept is not equally applied.  The New York Times Wine Club is not called the Global Wine Company‘s Wine Club for a reason.  The wine club’s marketers want your thought process to go something like this:  “Oh, the New York Times has a wine club.  I like their wine column.  That Eric Asimov writes about some cool wines, so I bet their club will be pretty good.”  In essence, newspapers are trading on the very thing they are not giving wine club members:  wines chosen by their wine columnists.

Assuming members know this, and they might not unless they read the very fine print, what then are the benefits of joining a newspaper wine club, and what differentiates one from another?  Here is a brief breakdown of the wine clubs offered by the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal:

New York Times

What you get: 6 bottles per month of boutique wines from around the world, tasting notes, recipes, and related wine, food, and travel articles.  Guaranteed replacement of any bottle you don’t enjoy.
Cost of per year: Sampler level = $1,080 plus shipping; Reserve level = $2,160 plus shipping
Number of bottles per year: 72
Average cost per bottle: Sampler level = $15; Reserve level = $30
Wines chosen by: Global Wine Company

USA Today

What you get: 6 bottles per quarter of primarily good value wine, each shipment contains one “featured wine”, tasting notes, region and varietal information, and pairing recipes.  Members receive 10% off reorders.
Cost of membership per year: $327.92, including shipping.
Number of bottles per year: 24
Average cost per bottle: $11.66
Wines chosen by: My Wines Direct – a team of “experts” choose an initial group of wines for consideration, and the final selection is made by USA Today reader tasting panels.

Wall Street Journal

What you get: 12 bottles per quarter, plus an optional special holiday case, members receive the list of wines in advance and can opt out of any shipment, tasting notes, serving suggestions, and a refund for any bottle you find unsatisfactory.
Cost of membership per year: $559.96 or $699.95 if you opt for the special holiday case, plus shipping and tax
Number of bottles per year: 48 or 60 with holiday option
Average cost per bottle: $12.50
Wines Chosen by: Lionstone Sonoma

With the exception of the USA Today reader tasting panels, the wine selection process is completely outsourced erasing any link between the paper’s wine coverage (a potential reason for joining) and its club.  Across the board it seems that what’s being offered here is relative value and variety.  Many small local wine shops have clubs that offer these benefits, too.  Join one of those and you’ll receive wines hand selected by staff members who will be there the next time you want to drop in and talk about them.  It seems to me that the major benefit of newspaper wine clubs is revenue for the newspaper.  Tasting notes and pairing suggestions just aren’t dynamic enough to inspire loyalty or create excitement.  The first paper that differentiates itself by offering personal service, enhanced benefits like tasting seminars or winery access, and finds a way to put a name and a face behind its club might have some staying power, but for now there’s just not enough substance to justify joining one.