Tag Archives: wine

Campaign contributions trump the citizens. Again.

Senator Zirkin tried, but failed to get an amendment passed that would ‘allow’ Maryland residents to receive shipments of wine, which as of today, is still a legal product.

The move would have upset an uneasy compromise reached last week between proponents of direct shipping – a majority of the 47 senators – and Sen. Joan Carter Conway, the head of the health committee and a unwavering opponent of the bill. They agreed to amend a direct shipping study to Conway’s Winery Modernization Act, a bill that includes a slate of technical changes to winery law. (Here’s our latest story on the winery legislation in the General Assembly, and our longer overview.)

Zirkin’s gambit prompted nearly 30 minutes of debate on the Senate floor, with some direct shipping proponents urging him to give up his amendment so as not to scuttle the modernization bill, and others clamoring for a chance to put the idea to a full-Senate vote.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said her office received more than 900 calls from direct shipping supporters this year.

“I must keep my word and I must support this, because apparently it’s the only way it will come before us,” Kelley said.

In the end, Zirkin acquiesced to those who asked him to withdraw his amendment – “I wish you had done that 25 minutes earlier,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller deadpanned – but not before Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick and Washington, tried to force a vote on the issue. He took the unusual step of resisting Zirkin’s attempt to withdraw his own amendment, calling for vote on the motion.

But now, all those people who say they are for direct shipping being legal don’t actually have to vote on it and put the contributions from the distributors at risk.  Well done, Senate, well done.


Poor Study + Poor Reporting = Misinformed Public

Over the past week, several stories like this one have shown up in my Google News feed under “wine”.  At first, I ignored them, making the assumption that the NYT or some other bastion of reporting had taken a study out of context and it would die off, but it hasn’t.

The news stories all pretty much say the same thing.

Never mind those aerobics classes and boring raw vegetables. Normal-weight women may stay in shape by sipping a glass of Pinot Noir, if one long-term study is to be believed.

The research, reported by the Daily Mail, focused on nearly 20,000 women who were asked about their drinking habits. The researchers found that participants who drank one or two glasses of wine per day gained fewer pounds than women who drank soft drinks or mineral water.

I see several gigantic issues with the study based on this information, so I went to see if I could find the actual text of the paper.  I found it, but can only access the abstract (the article is on a pay to read site.)

Some of my issues with the study:

  • A survey for both alcohol consumption and weight?
  • How did they control for caloric intake?
  • Did they normalize anything (or take into account) other common factors among women wine drinkers, such as wealth, education, diet?

The abstract doesn’t say, so all we can assume is that these are issues, as they are not addressed (where smoking and geography are).  It does mention adjusting for non alcohol energy intake and physical activity, but I don’t see how you do that on a survey.  Self reporting is highly variable and unreliable.

It is nice to see that n is greater than say, 18, which explains in part the statistical significance.  However, statistical significance doesn’t mean causation.  To their credit, the authors of the study don’t make that claim in the conclusion, saying:

Compared with nondrinkers, initially normal-weight women who consumed a light to moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight and/or obese during 12.9 years of follow-up.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find a very well done study that says the same thing, but making the leap from that relationship to ‘wine makes you skinny’ is a big problem with the reporting on the story.

No reporter asks the very basic questions I just asked.  They just report that drinking wine will make you skinny because it’s science.  They also don’t address the serious questions of physiological explanation, only to say that there might be one.  so we end up with the story suggesting the study claims a relationship where it doesn’t, and no explanation of what the real implication or value of the study might be.

Fact is, you can not make the connection based on the information provided that drinking wine is related in any way to fitness, health, or weight gain.  Frankly, it’s far more likely wine consumption is a result of the causal factor as well.

This is all too common in both science and journalism, and leads to a misinformed public.  It is another example of failure of the press.


Wines Tasted in February

Tasted 5 wines this month.  A bit behind the goal, but I’ll work really hard to catch up, I promise.

2006 Marqués de Riscal Riscal 1860

2008 Château Bélingard Bergerac Sec

2005 Orogeny Pinot Noir

2007 Rabit Ridge Allure de Robles

2008 El Fogon Malbec

Nothing spectacular this month.


Economics and Wine Prices

Robin Goldstein (author of The Wine Trials 2010) in the New York Times Opinion section, responds to some criticism regarding his position that high wine prices are often unjustified.

While certainly price and quality are not necessarily related, Mr. Goldstein shows a common ignorance of Economics in his argument for pricing wines based on the cost of production.

One might divide wine pricing theory into two rough schools of thought. There is the camp that believes wine should be priced from a supply-side/cost-plus perspective–you take the cost of production of the wine, you add reasonable costs and a modest profit for the producer, you factor in markups for distribution and retail, and you arrive at more or less what the wine should cost. The other camp believes that wine should be priced from a demand-side perspective–that a wine is worth whatever the market is willing to pay for it.

The reason I’m in the first camp, and not the second, is that I don’t subscribe to the neoclassical model of consumer rationality upon which the demand-side pricing theory is built, a counterfactual universe of stingily hypersensitive, quality-sniffing consumers. My sense is that, especially when it comes to hazy markets like wine, real human beings — within certain constraints — generally anchor themselves to market prices that are imposed upon them, and generally pay for things what they’re told those things are worth.

That there is a ‘first camp’ at all is an indicator to me that too many people don’t get enough (any?) exposure to fundamental Microeconomics. You don’t need to take an advanced price theory course (although that was the most fun I had in a college course, with everything taught in terms of beer and pizza) to understand how prices are set. Continue reading


Direct Wine Shipments? Not in Maryland

Senator Joan Conway, the head of the committee that would approve such legislation for a full vote, has decided she has “too many concerns,” to allow a vote.  A vote on a bill supported by 106 of 188 Senators.

Her concerns?

Her chief concern, she said, is that underage drinkers will tap the Internet for wine. There’s no way, she said, to force delivery agencies, whether the U.S. Postal Service or a private carrier, to verify the age of the person accepting a package.

The other problem, she said, is that it is difficult for state officials to collect taxes from out-of-state entities – or penalize faraway violators.

The fact that it’s an election year and she relies on support from liquor distributors?  I’m sure that’s not a factor.  Nor is that her husband is a city liquor inspector.   She’s just looking out for the children…

Liquor lobbyists strongly oppose direct shipping of wine, saying it bypasses the state’s carefully crafted network of government entities that regulate the sale of alcohol. Developed just after the end of Prohibition in 1933, state law requires alcohol to pass from producer to wholesaler to retailer before it reaches the consumer.

“What do you think the liquor boards are for?” Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for the Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland, says of the bill.

The wine-shipping legislation would require manufacturers who import to be licensed, but Bereano says such a system would “not be a meaningful substitute” for liquor inspectors charged with the authority to shut down a business selling to underage customers.

…well, the children of the liquor distributors lobby, anyway.  And holding out hope for someone else to step up and get past her blockade?  Not likely.

All 188 lawmakers and Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, are up for election this fall, further imperiling the wine-shipping bill. According to a 2008 analysis by The Baltimore Sun, more than 80 percent of state legislators have received campaign contributions from the liquor lobby.

This has nothing to do with protecting children, and everything to do with protecting distributors, who’s revenues apparently are more important than the freedom of the people in Maryland.

Crossposted at The Grand Crew


Wines in January

As I’ve mentioned before, I also blog at The Grand Crew, a community wine blog.  I’m not a wine expert, I just love drinking it and I love learning about it, so I’m having some fun sharing my experiences.

Here are the wines I’ve had this month where I took notes.  I don’t note all the wines I drink, I don’t note wines I have in restaurants (unless it’s a wine tasting), or at parties.  These are wines from my “cellar” (a wine cooler, a wine rack, and a cool dark corner of a closet) that I either purchased or someone gave me. (Links after the break) Continue reading


Host your own wine tasting

Hosting a wine tasting is a fantastic theme for a party. You can make it as formal or casual as you like. It gives you an opportunity to share your passion for wine with friends and family (possibly inspiring a new oenophile), an opportunity to collect the opinions of a variety of people, and an excuse to get people together to drink.

We’ve thrown a couple of wine inspired parties at Chez Stagg, these are two ideas we’ve used. Continue reading


Great night out with new friends

Sometimes I wonder how it became that I’m able to make the aquaintance of so many interesting and engaging people.  I know a big part of it is my wife, who, as a Realtor, is involved in very personal transactions with folks who are often moving to our area, and for that, I’m really thankful.  However, we’ve also been meeting folks via social media, and that’s a new and very cool dynamic.

Anyway, J and I  scheduled a night out for us and 6 friends.  D and R, who are our next door neighbors; M, who is a very compelling person, an entrepreneur and pilot, friend of D and R, and now us; L, who works for Jerry Edward’s Chefs Expressions, and her mate D, who works for the Everyman Theatre (I got the ‘e’ in the right place); and J, who is moving to the Baltimore area from CT in the next few months, we met her via Twitter.

We started with some wine, cheese, and conversation at our house in Canton. Continue reading


Decision on Massachusetts wine law could change the wine world

A Federal Appeals Court has ruled that the current law in Massachusetts limiting wine shipments directly to consumers from out of state is unconstitutional.

A Massachusetts law that sharply restricts out-of-state winemakers from shipping their products directly to consumers in the state is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled.

Thursday’s decision by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a lower court ruling could open the door for connoisseurs in Massachusetts to purchase more of their favorite wines online or by mail order from domestic producers.

The law, approved by the Legislature in 2006 over the veto of then-Gov. Mitt Romney, created a multi-tiered system in which wineries that produce more than 30,000 gallons a year must decide whether to sell retail in Massachusetts through an in-state wholesaler or apply for a license to ship wines directly to consumers. They cannot, however, do both.

The cap does not affect any of the nearly three dozen wineries based in Massachusetts, all of which are small and produce under the 30,000-gallon limit.

“We hold that (the law) violates the Commerce Clause because the effect of its particular gallonage cap is to change the competitive balance between in-state and out-of-state wineries in a way that benefits Massachusetts’s wineries and significantly burdens out-of-state competitors,” the appellate court wrote in its decision.

It seems to me this could have far-reaching effects in several states, as it isn’t much of a jump to go from this decision to any restrictions on wine shipments. There’s some confusion in the Constitution, the Commerce Clause and 14th amendment would make you lean towards agreeing that limiting interstate wine shipments is unconstitutional. On the other hand, the 21st amendment appears to give pretty broad power to the states, although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Granholm vs Heald that power was not as broad as one might think, and did not override the Commerce Clause.

As a wine lover, I certainly hope this trend continues, and that the 15 states that ban direct shipments will soon have to reconsider their limits on our right to buy goods across state lines in the United States.

Crossposted at The Grand Crew


Tasted: 2006 Domaine de Carobelle Gigondas

2006 Domaine de Carobelle Gigondas
Appellation:  Gigondas
Tasting Notes: 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Cinsault.  Violet in the glass, it’s the color I think of when I think “Granache”, like that means something.
Nose is a little tight, with some jammy red fruit and some earthiness/mushroom/dirt coming through. Continue reading


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