Monthly Archives: January 2013

Wine from China?: Obstacles to Establishing an International Reputation

Chinese wineCC image courtesy of Tan Ah Beng.

Posted by Lindsay Rutishauser on January 31, 2013

When it comes to wine, China does not yet have a strong international reputation.  Although China is the world’s fifth largest wine producer,[1] its domestic wine producers have historically emphasized quantity over quality, preventing Chinese wine from developing a global reputation.[2]  The quality of Chinese wine has significantly improved in the past twenty years, but several obstacles are likely to prevent Chinese wines from establishing a reputation for high-quality wine in the near future.  This post will highlight some of these obstacles.

The infancy of the Chinese domestic wine industry

The modern Chinese domestic wine industry is only about two decades old, which partially explains why its wine quality lags behind foreign wines.  Wineries have been present in China since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 8 A.D.), but historically, the Chinese preferred to drink baiju, a grain-based spirit, instead of wine.[3]  During the Communist Revolution of 1949, China’s wineries were converted into state-owned enterprises, which produced blended wine using water, fermented cereals, sugar, and colorings instead of pure grape juice.[4]  The wine industry was resurrected in 1987 when the government began promoting wine consumption in an attempt to shift consumption away from grain-based alcohol.[5]  Soon thereafter, Chinese wine producers adopted modern winemaking practices,[6] and the government promulgated national wine quality standards.[7]  These developments led to a rapid increase in wine production, with total production more than tripling from 2002 to 2010, but the industry still lacks the history and experience of other winemaking countries.[8] Continue reading

Appreciating the Underrated: Portuguese Wine


Posted by Chris Benedik, January 28, 2013

Too often, what people know about Portuguese wines stops at Port.  While the country is rightly famous for its dessert wines (Madeira’s from there too), there is other fantastic wine coming out of Portugal these days.  A lot of it has a few major advantages over the famous stuff: it is easier to get into and significantly cheaper.  So I want to talk about some of those other wines and a few regions and grapes that are definitely worth your attention.  Like Italian or French wine, Portuguese wine is named by the region that produces it, and I’ll be hopping from region to region.

A good place to start is the other Portuguese wine that has made a name for itself internationally: Vinho Verde.  Literally “green wine,” it is bottled and sold unaged and therefore is light, simple, and redolent with citrus and melon flavors.  Red and rosé Vinho Verde are available, but white is by far the most common. White Vinho Verde is often made from Alvarinho grapes and, fittingly, is actually slightly green.  Bring a well-chilled bottle of this one on a picnic or just for sitting out on someone’s porch (once spring finally comes).  It is a much better wine to drink then pontificate on—problematic for your writer, but great for you, especially because it usually retails for less than ten bucks a bottle.  Frankly, whether it’s Gazela, Casal Garcia, or a smaller producer, you’re getting refreshment and citrus and not too much else, but that’s what you want when you grab a Vinho Verde.  It’s for porches on warm days, picnics, and seafood, and nothing is better. Continue reading

The Price of Peatiness: The Impact of Restrictive Retail Laws


Posted by Michael D. Arena, January 25, 2013

After a long day of classes, I, like many law students, unwind with a drink. Some forestall the thought of tomorrow’s cold calling with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. Celebrating the completion of a memo might call for a cocktail or a lowball of whiskey. And for post-exam revelries, a round of tequila shots is probably in order. But for the vast majority of us with student loans, the choice of libation most nights of the term usually depends on the price tag.

I prefer scotch—a regrettably cost-prohibitive indulgence. As a frugal undergrad in California, I did my best to minimize the peaty spirit’s hefty price. Simply head down to the local discount liquor chain—big-box retailers like BevMo or Total Wine—and purchase a bottle at a fraction of the cost found in most liquor stores. Consider a 750 ml bottle of Macallan 12 Year, which retails for only $38.99 at a Northern California Total Wine[1]—pricey for a student, but manageable for special occasions.

These days I live in Manhattan, and over the past year I’ve casually surveyed the prices at many local retailers for that same bottle of Macallan. Sadly, if my anecdotal experiences are any indication, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it for less than $60–70 in this town. Continue reading

An Introduction to Appellations


Posted by Byron A. Crowe II, January 25, 2013

Understanding the meaning and significance of the region listed on a bottle is one of the most important first steps for a newcomer to the world of wine.  Origin has a unique impact on a wine’s intensity and body, and usually provides a clue to the grape types and winemaking practices that went into the wine.  Because origin is integral to a wine’s characteristics, governments of wine-producing areas typically regulate how geographic designations can be printed on a wine label.  Wine labels are complex, however, and their format often varies from producer to producer, so understanding origin can be a bit tricky, even for a would-be lawyer.  The purpose of this article is to give an easy-to-understand overview of the appellation system and a brief look at the regulations governing it.

What is a wine’s place of origin and why does it matter?

There are two places of origin relating to a particular bottle of wine: the origin of the wine itself, and the origin of the grapes that went into the wine.  The former is the place where the wine was fermented and aged; the latter is where the grapes were grown.  This distinction is important because a wine made in one place is not necessarily made from grapes from that area.  For example, a winemaker in San Diego could make a red blend entirely from grapes shipped from Sonoma County, over 500 miles away.

The location where the wine is made generally isn’t important since fermentation and aging usually take place indoors in a controlled environment.[1]  The place of origin of the grapes, on the other hand, is extraordinarily important because wine grapes are very sensitive to the environment in which they are grown.  A number of factors, including precipitation, soil type, temperature, sun exposure, water quality, wind, and fog, have a big impact on the grapes and, consequently, the quality of the wine.  In the wine world, the combination of these factors in a particular place is referred to as that area’s terroir. Continue reading

An Introduction to U.S. Wine Shipping Laws


Posted by Theresa Cederoth, January 25, 2013

Foremost among American wine laws are the regulations relating to shipping.  For consumers, these laws determine which wines are available on the shelves of their local retailer, as well as how—or even if—they can order wine directly to their home from a winery.  For producers, shipping laws play a major role in how they distribute their wine across the country.  In the U.S., the division of lawmaking powers between the federal government and the states means that our domestic wine shipping laws are a patchwork of complicated and sometimes contradictory regulations.  This article aims to condense the shipping laws into a digestible synopsis for wine consumers.

What wine can be shipped to a retail store is largely determined by the local distributor.  Since Prohibition ended in 1933, the distribution of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. has been mostly regulated by the states.[1]  Although the federal government has not mandated it, states have almost uniformly adopted a three-tier system of producers, distributors, and retailers.[2]  Under this system, producers can only sell to wholesale distributors, who then sell to retailers.  This gives distributors a great deal of power over which producers’ wines are passed on to retailers, and due to economies of scale, they tend to favor larger producers.[3]  Cognizant of the negative effect this has on smaller wineries, the country’s three largest wine-producing states, California, Washington, and Oregon, have adopted two-tier systems.[4]  In these states, wine may now be shipped directly from a winery to a retail store. Continue reading