Short information bursts about flavor and taste. At least that’s the plan.


Italy is Biggest

For the moment, the question of what nation produces more wine in volume has been settled – that nation is Italy.

Italy’s 2015 harvest was spectacular in quality and in quantity, an increase over the previous year of more than 13% by volume. Italy was already one of the largest wine-producing countries on earth, placing second for many years, and now they are the absolute largest.

France, last year’s largest producer, was down 1% given some severe weather conditions. Spain, the third largest wine producer in Europe, remained relatively steady in total quantity measurement.


Champagne will be changing

Many wine areas in Europe are tightly controlled by governmental oversight. The winemaker/vineyard owner is told what grapes they can plant, how those grapes are to be cared for, what processes can be used in the winemaking and how much of the wine is allowed to enter the marketplace. It’s a bureaucratic system completely foreign to American sensibilities.

In Champagne, the regulatory group can even determine what years are worthy of being declared a vintage and which years are not. The decision to allow Champagne Houses to feature the date of harvest on their label is not in the hands of the winery but rather is overseen and decided by bureaucrats. The value of declaring a harvest date to be included on the label is because wines with a harvest date noted on the label are more valuable and more valued by collectors and appreciative consumers. By the way, such wines are also more expensive.

The past decade has seen a long row of years determined to be of vintage quality. The reality is that in a few of those recent years, there has not been the quality to justify such a dating decision. 2001 was such a “declared” year and for many of the houses, the wines were not up to the high standards of what is expected from Champagne. But the costs to consumers were up there at very high levels.

Finally someone in a position of authority and responsibility is addressing the problem. Hadrian Mouflard, managing director for Ayala Champagne, which is connected to Bollinger Champagne, has pledged to end the practice of naming vintage after vintage after vintage.

“You need to send out a clear message – vintage Champagnes and prestige Champagnes are special, not something released every year, Mouflard observed. “When you name every year a vintage, it devalues the wines and the concept.” 

We shall see if the reasonableness of Mr. Mouflard’s beliefs and statements are respected, or if the lure of higher prices and higher returns on investments win the race.


Rum Rests

Competition is a wonderful economic reality, unless you are the one getting stuffed further down the pile. And rum is a stuffee at the moment, not a stuffer.

Seems that rum has fallen off of its formerly lofty perch because there has been nothing new or exciting for quite some time. The rise of Captain Morgan, a friendly product but without newness has more or less played out. Then along come flavored whiskies and vodkas, not to mention craft beers of every description, and the sturdy spirit of rum is suddenly playing without an audience.

Even the largest selling rums, like the Bacardi line-up, are not in a growth stage. New marketing campaigns are on the way but can marketing rescue a known entity of which there is nothing shiny or recent, just pretty pictures of scantily-clad ladies in swimsuits romping at the beach?

(Let’s not be too hasty here with an answer.)

To be sure, it’s been awhile since rum was considered “hot,” but there has always been growth in the category. Not so much now.

Maybe some new ideas are just over the horizon, such as Stoli Group, the international marketer of Stolichnaya Vodka, level taking over the domestic marketing of Louisiana’s Bayou Rum. That can result in expanded sales for Bayou Rum due to the clout of the Stoli affiliation. But that is not a growth to the category, only an expansion and more market penetration of a local label.

Rum is not a dying spirit, not by a long shot, and maybe America’s renewed interest in all-things-Cuban will move the dial. Well-made rum is a thing of beauty. It’s up to the contestants to put the excitement back for the consumers. But remember that swimsuit idea was mine.  


Rye Rises

On the other hand, don’t hold your hand for too long over a bottle of rye whisky. The stuff is really hot.

Suddenly drinkers everywhere are figuring out that their grandparents knew a thing or two about spirits, and the old folks knew that rye whisky is very good by itself or in a wide range of cocktails. There has been such an explosion in demand that rye whisky distillers are in a bit of a fix assuring that there is enough product to meet demand. You don’t just whip up an aged-for-five-years product overnight in the bathtub. It does not matter who is knocking at your door demanding a taste.

Some distilleries are working through the situation by not noting the years of age since distillation on the product. There are some processes that the whisky can go through allowing for an “aged” result without putting in the time.

It will be a few years before even a shallow shortage of rye whisky is resolved. In the big scheme of the marketplace, we will all get through this with very little discomfort. And maybe by that time a fickle consuming marketplace will have moved on.

However given the economic and demographic make-up of the consuming public, I would not put smart money on that outcome. Looks like Rye Whisky, once again, is a player. Wake grandpa up. He’ll be happy to know that he was way ahead of his time.   







Read Happy Hour here on every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at