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Restaurant wine prices in Europe

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restaurant wine prices in EuropeThe email from my friend visiting Spain not only waxed poetic about the wine, but about the prices: “Talk about cheap wine. Beautiful wine for €12, and the most expensive bottle was €24.” In other words, restaurant wine prices in Europe were U.S. retail prices — which is unheard of in the States.

This is not unusual. When my brother was in Sicily, he marveled at both the quality and the prices in restaurants, drinking Cusumano for more or less what I pay for it at a Dallas liquor store. I’ve seen the same thing when I’ve traveled to Europe; as one sommelier at a very high-end restaurant owned by a famous Spanish chef told me: “Why would we want to charge as much as you do in the States? Then people won’t order as much wine.”

How is this possible? After all, talk to most restaurateurs in the U.S., and they make it sound as if they’ll go out of business if they don’t charge $30 for a wine that cost them $8:

• Europe’s on-gong recession, and especially in southern Europe. If there is 25 percent unemployment, it doesn’t make much economic sense to overcharge for wine.

• The idea that wine is part of dinner, which is the way Europeans have always seen wine, and not something in addition to dinner, the way Americans — and especially American restaurateurs — have always seen wine.

• Better wine list sensibilities, where the restaurant sells wine to drink and not to impress high-dollar patrons or wine snobs. Or, as Jacques Pepin told me, why would anyone want to pay for Bordeaux when you can drink the local wine, usually of high quality, and spend less money?

• No three-tier system, which may be the most important reason. In Europe, there isn’t a distributor getting its cut, which can add as much as 20 percent to the cost of wine. The restaurant can order directly from the producer, who is often local, and enjoys supply chain efficiencies that we can only dream about here.

Wine of the week: Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2013

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Maxwell Creek Sauvignon BlancThe Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc is the wine that could destroy every assumption wine snobs, the Winestream Media, and the wine business make about cheap wine. It doesn’t taste cheap, it’s made by a one of California’s most respected producers, and it comes from Napa Valley. That this wine costs $10, given all of those, speaks volumes about high overpriced so much wine in the world is.

The Maxwell Creek ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a second label from Napa’s St. Supery, long-regarded as one of the country’s top sauvignon blanc producers. This wine offers a hint of citrus, appealing California grassyness, and minerality, and it’s round and especially balanced for a $10 sauvingon blanc. This comes from a little semillion that is blended in, also unusual for a $10 sauvignon blanc.

The Maxwell Creek is not a big, showy wine, and it’s less full, not as intense, and not as sophisticated as the $20 St. Supery, but I’d argue that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to impress anyone; I want wine for dinner that is cheap and well-made, and the Maxwell Creek is not only that, but offers more than enough value for what it costs.

Highly recommended, and the best vintage in recent memory. The catch? It’s a World Market private label in much of the country, so it may be difficult to find if you don’t have World Market near you. Otherwise, almost certain to be in the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame.

Winebits 391: Wine snobs edition

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wine snobsBecause, sadly, wine snobs have been dominating the wine news lately:

Defending wine: Alder Yarrow, one of the most respected wine writers in the U.S., writes forcefully about the recent spate of anti-wine sentiment on the Internet, lamenting the fact that so many are so hateful about wine. He seems surprised by the venom, unable to understand why people write things like “Americans who drink wine do so because they think they are living in a BBC adaptation of a Jane Austen novel.” In this, Yarrow doesn’t see the forest for the trees, despite his skill, influence, and popularity. People hate wine because too many wine drinkers and too many people who write about wine want wine to be that way. Remind me to tell the story sometime about the editor who said I couldn’t write for her because wine drinkers weren’t interested in what I wrote about. Or, as a student in my wine class asked me: “Will I be successful in the restaurant industry if all I drink is sweet wine? Won’t they hold it against me?” And I didn’t have an answer for her, other than to say people like me were trying to change that.

You can always count on the Wine Spectator: Matt Kramer, writing about local wine, asks “Should restaurant wine lists feature local wines?” Could it be? Was one of the high priests of the Winestream Media advocating local wine? Would the Wine Curmudgeon have to welcome the Spectator into the regional wine movement? Of course not. This is the Spectator. In 819 words, Kramer comes to this conclusion: “Should restaurant wine lists showcase and champion local wines? Do restaurants have any such obligation? Is it even desirable? I leave it to you to decide.” Which, I suppose, is how you get to be a high priest of the Winestream Media.

Money, money, money: I wonder if Yarrow saw this study, which says rich people are buying wine not to drink, but “as a wealth store – providing a hedge against inflation, protection against low interest rates and currency fluctuations.” How wonderful it must be to be rich, to buy wine instead of gold or real estate. “Wine, Katie Scarlett. Why wine is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” The Wine Curmudgeon, whose lack of business acumen is legendary, has never been able to appreciate this. I buy wine to drink, because drinking wine gives me pleasure. Who knew the rich got as much pleasure from just looking at it?

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