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Tag Archives: expensive wine

Wine sales, price, and what doesn’t get enough attention

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wine sales priceRegular visitors here know that cheap wine outsells expensive wine in the U.S., and that the Winestream Media spends most of its time genuflecting about wine that most of us don’t buy. And when I say most of us, I really, really mean most of us, thanks to these two charts totaling U.S. retail wine sales — expensive and overall — from wine industry trade magazine Wines & Vines. Here are the charts — overall and and expensive.

Several caveats: The charts don’t match on dates; expensive wine covers the 52 weeks ending June 2014, while the other chart is June 2012 to June 2013. This probably helps pricey wine, since its business picked up substantially over the last year. Also, since these are retail-only numbers, expensive wines that focus on restaurants are almost certainly under-counted. Finally, since the number of cases sold for the less expensive wines isn’t on the chart, I used third-party sources in the discussion below where necessary.

Still, the numbers are stunning:

 • The best-selling expensive wine (more than $20 a bottle) was Santa Margherita, with 147,925 cases and $36.5 million in sales. The best-selling wine overall was Barefoot, with $323 million and some 11 million cases. How big is that disparity? In grocery stores, it’s the difference between Kroger, a national chain, and Save Mart, a company only people in certain parts of California have heard of.

• The 15th- through 20th-ranked expensive producers all had $4 million or less in annual retail sales. It’s not so much that those totals are two-thirds of what Barefoot sells each week, but that I have a friend who owns a Dallas magazine company whose annual sales are $2 million. You’d think high-end, well-known pricey brands would be doing exponentially better than someone with a one-city media company.

• Menage a Trois, 16th on the overall list, doubled the dollar sales for Santa Margherita, and every producer on the overall list sold at least one-third more than Santa Margherita.

• Only two brands on the overall list, which tracks retail wine sales, cost more than $10 a bottle, and one of them, Kendall-Jackson, was at $12.

Hence anyone who doesn’t believe that only five percent of U.S. wine drinkers buy wine that costs $20 or more hasn’t been paying attention.

Expensive wine 63: Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon The email was straightforward: Would the Wine Curmudgeon review the Volta cabernet sauvignon ($60, sample, 14.5%), even though it wasn’t the kind of wine usually featured on the blog? “A review in your monthly expensive wine feature would be great if that works out for June,” wrote the winery representative. “I wouldn’t dare insist it be a positive one, only that you share your true thoughts with your readers.”

Which is what the Wine Curmudgeon does anyway, so a few considerations about the Volta cabernet sauvignon:

• It’s a good example of this kind of pricey Napa Valley wine, rich and full with a burst of sweet berry fruit, very smooth tannins, and a chalky finish. The grapes are top quality, but you’d expect that from a wine at this price. The oak is relatively subdued, and it’s not as over-extracted and over-ripe as many similarly priced and styled wines from this part of the world. Having said that, it’s not subtle, either, and is firmly part of the post-modern wine movement.

The wine is hot, which means the alcohol shows more than it should. It’s most noticeable when you smell it, when there is a whiff of something that isn’t fruity; and on the finish, when it’s almost like a sharp bite. This isn’t unusual for this kind of wine, because it’s made with very ripe grapes that have more sugar to be turned into alcohol during fermentation. I don’t like hot wine, but many people consider it a good thing. I don’t know any, but I do know they are out there.

• This bottle did not hold up well after we opened it. After 30 minutes in the glass, the wine started to fade and it lost much of its fruitiness. I don’t know if it was just this bottle, or if the vintage has started to get old. This style of wine, given the grapes’ ripeness and the techniques used to make it, doesn’t always age well.

Expensive wine 62: Chamisal Califa Chardonnay 2011

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Expensive wine 62: Chamisal Califa Chardonnay 2011One of the challenges with writing about California chardonnay, and especially the expensive kind, is that the Wine Curmudgeon is often in danger of wearing out his welcome. How often will visitors here read “over-oaked” and “too much alcohol” before they shake their heads, click the post closed, cancel their e-mail subscription, and hope someone tells me I need to get some help.

Fortunately, I was at a big-time tasting last week, and the Califa ($40, sample, 13.2%) was one of the highlights. It comes from the Edna Valley, which means winemaker Fintan du Fresne doesn’t have to deal with the expectations that winemakers do in Napa or Sonoma. That means he can take advantage of the region’s cooler temperatures (and it was very cool in 2011) to fashion a leaner, though still rich and elegant, white wine. Look for green apple and lime fruit, some amazing crispness, and just enough oak to let you know you’re drinking high-end chardonnay.

How nice was this wine? I preferred the Califa to Pine Ridge’s Dijon Clones chardonnay, also at the tasting, and there was nothing wrong with the Dijon Clones. The Califa wasn’t intent on impressing me with the first sip; rather, it’s as if it said, “Take your time. Drink a little more, and really get to know me.”

Highly recommended (though, sadly, with what appears to limited availability). This is a Mother’s Day gift for any mom who loves wine and wants to be reminded why California is one of the world’s great wine regions.

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