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Category Archives: Wine trends

The Wine Curmudgeon’s first wine prices survey

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wine prices One of the difficulties with writing a wine blog that focuses on price, and that most of my colleagues don’t have, is that there is no standard for wine prices in the U.S. One region’s $10 wine can be another’s $15 wine, and this doesn’t take into account states with minimum pricing laws or those with government-owned retailers.

It’s not the problem availability is, but it’s enough of a problem that I decided to do this post, which is also something many of you have asked for. The goal is to get pricing data from readers around the country, put it into a spreadsheet, and see if we can determine regional differences. That is, we’ll know that a wine in Dallas will cost 10 percent less in one place or 15 percent more in another. That way, when I list the price, you can make the appropriate adjustment.

So let’s do this:

First, e-mail me the prices for two or three wines you buy regularly, as well as where you buy them. Or, you can click the Contact link at the top of the page. Preferably, these should be wines we talk about on the blog, since doing it for wine prices higher than $15 won’t help much. I’ll take your prices for the next month or so, until Mother’s Day.

Then, I’ll flesh out your numbers with wine prices from retailers I know around the country, using your wines as the guidelines.

Finally, I’ll crunch the numbers and publish the results on the blog. We also might be able to learn a thing or two and make some news in the process: Are Big Wine prices more consistent? Do state taxes make that much of a difference? Are some retailers more or less expensive?

Premiumization: Are wine drinkers really trading up?

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premiumizationThat’s the top trend in wine this year, that we’re feeling better about the economy and trading up: Buying more expensive wine than the wine we bought during the recession, moving from $4 bottles to $8, from $8 to $12, from $10 to $15, and from $15 to $20.  The wine business calls this trend premiumization, and the salivating at the prospect has reached epic proportions.

That’s because the wine business doesn’t necessarily want to sell cheap wine — it’s not as profitable and it doesn’t carry the prestige that selling more expensive wine does (a much more important reason than consumers can possibly imagine). Plus, selling cheap wine requires more work. You can move a tanker truck of $25 wine in 20 minutes if it gets a 95, but cheap wines don’t get 95s, the competition for shelf space is ferocious, and most cheap wine is sold by the biggest retailers, who demand the best deals and which makes cheap wine even less profitable.

Hence premiumization, which some of the smartest people in wine say is here and isn’t going away. I’m not so sure, and I don’t say this just because my livelihood is cheap wine. As I continually remind people, there has never been a definitive study made public that demonstrates that wine drinkers trade up. Everyone just assumes it’s so. But does anyone know a wine drinker who went from Barefoot to Bogle to Hess or Rodney Strong to Silver Oak?

More, after the jump:

The most popular restaurant wines

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restaurant winesOr, to phrase it more accurately, why the most popular restaurant wines aren’t wines that most of us drink. Which is not surprising, given the way too many restaurants treat wine drinkers.

The tipoff, of course, is price: Only one of the top 10 wines in the annual Wine & Spirits poll retails for less than $20, so by the time you add restaurant markup, we’ve passed that all-important $20 threshold. That’s the price that 95 percent of Americans who buy wine won’t cross. The average price for the top wines are ridiculous: $103.50 a bottle, up more than 20 percent from last year, and almost $13 a glass. That means one bottle is almost enough double the price of dinner for two at a nice restaurant, and who wants to do that?

Is it any wonder, then, that restaurant wine sales have not returned to pre-recession levels, and that one restaurant executive has criticized what he called restaurant complacency, adding “We see early warning signs for wine in the restaurant business. We may say, ‘wine is best with food,’ but that isn’t what our customers are telling us.”

Which is what the Wine Curmudgeon has been saying for years; that someone in the restaurant business agrees with me is welcome news. But does it matter, or is that complacency too much to overcome? I’d argue for complacency, based on the poll results. Eight of the 10 best-selling wines are the same as they were 10 years ago, which is hardly different or unique. And, to add insult to injury, the best-selling sparkling is Veuve Clicquot, about as hip and with it as I am.

Also depressing: Sommeliers, both here and elsewhere, keep insisting that they’re trying to make restaurant wine lists more interesting, but that doesn’t come across in the survey. Gruet, the sparkling wine from New Mexico but which is now made with California grapes, hasn’t been interesting for years. But it’s the third best-selling bubbly by the glass, as if the cava and Prosecco revolutions had never happened.

In this, restaurant wine is the trendsetter in just one thing: That wine is becoming increasingly splintered, with the focus on selling to the elite and leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

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