Tag Archives: wine prices

Update: Wine prices in 2015


wine pricesAt the beginning of the year, I wrote: “[T]he producer strategy for wine prices in 2015: Stealth increases — introducing new brands as well as new varietals and blends within existing brands to get us to trade up to a $15 bottle from $10, or to an $18 bottle from $15.”

The new brands bit was correct, but I missed on the stealth thing. Price increases this year, thanks to producers, distributors, and retailers eager to raise prices, have been anything but stealthy. They’ve been, plain and simple, price hikes like we haven’t seen in a decade. How about two Dallas-area grocery stores charging $16 and $18 for two French wines that cost $10 a year ago? Or a new Italian brand, priced at $12, that isn’t any better than the $8 Italian wine cluttering grocery store shelves? Or, and the saddest, a long-time Wine Curmudgeon California favorite that raised prices a little but also used much cheaper grapes to squeeze as much margin out of its product as possible?

Everyone I have talked to in the wine business has said the same thing: Get used to it.

• Forget the stronger dollar, which should make European wines cheaper. Producers are keeping the difference, and neither distributor or retailer is passing on any savings.

• Forget the past three record California harvests, which means none of this is about a phony grape shortage. In fact (and, as Steve McIntosh predicted in January), all those cheaper grapes are being used to cut costs, so that wine quality is suffering. I’ve tasted more crappy $12 and $15 wine this summer, bitter and unripe, than I have in years, and they’ve apparently been made with grapes usually used to make much cheaper wine.

• Forget the idea that consumers won’t spend money on something they don’t know. I tasted a $16 Spanish white, made with verdejo from the Rueda region, that tasted like pinot grigio, and I was the only one who thought it might not sell. I don’t know if arrogance is the right word, but I’m talking to a lot of producers who assume consumers will pay what they’re told to pay because the wine is so special. Special, of course, not having all that much to do with quality but with marketing.

Yes, producers can charge as much as they want for their wine. But there’s a difference between short-term gain and long-term profits, which is how the best businesses are run. When you run your business for short-term gain, you shouldn’t be surprised that wine sales have been flat for several years, or that consumers are more willing to try something besides wine, or that more than one expert is bemoaning wine’s future.

Just don’t say the Wine Curmudgeon didn’t warn you.

Winebits 404: Restaurant wine, distributors, direct shipping


restaurant wine One person’s inexpensive: One more example of how restaurants are out of touch with their customers when it comes to restaurant wine prices. This new Dallas restaurant is boasting about its reasonably-priced list, because, said a restaurant official, “We have a low mark up on our wines, so we’re priced fantastic.” That would be a wine list with most wines supposedly costing less than $100 (no website for the restaurant yet, so I couldn’t check). What would the official have said if there had been really expensive wines on the list? Is it any wonder, unless there’s a special reason to go, that the Wine Curmudgeon has all but abandoned Dallas’ restaurants? Besides, it’s more fun eating at home.

Bigger and bigger: It’s not just wine companies that are getting bigger, but distributors as well. Wine Industry Insight reports that the 10 biggest distributors in the country control more than two-thirds of the wholesale business, which makes the group more or less as dominant as Big Wine. Why does that matter to consumers? Because, thanks to three-tier, every wine sold to a retailer or a restaurant in the U.S. has to pass through a distributor, which tacks on as much as 25 percent to the cost of the bottle for their effort. Fewer and bigger distributors means less competition, which means that percentage won’t get any smaller any time soon.

Best practices: Want to know how to help your wine survive shipment, whether it comes directly from the winery or from an online or local retailer? This list, from Entrepreneur magazine, hits the highlights nicely, emphasizing how little wine likes heat, vibrations, and being left on a delivery truck all day. One overlooked point: Give the wine, particularly the pricier bottles, a chance to recover from the trip. The bottles need to rest after being bumped across the country, and letting them sit in a cool, dark room for a week or so isn’t a bad idea.


Expensive wine 76: Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003


Chateau Pontet-CanetHow silly are Bordeaux wine prices? The Big Guy, who bought the Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003 (13%) almost 10 years ago, should have kept it in case he needed to top up his grandchildren’s college fund. The wine has doubled in value since he paid $60 for it at a Dallas wine shop.

Wine as investment is an alien concept to the Big Guy and I. We buy wine to drink, which is why any review of the Chateau Pontet-Canet has to take into account its ridiculous run-up in price. What’s the point of a $120 wine, even from a producer as reputable as Pontet-Canet — a fifth-growth estate in the 1855 Bordeaux classification that’s often compared to second growths — that doesn’t make you shiver? Because, as well made as it was, and as well as it has aged, and as much as we enjoyed it, it was worth $120 only if the person buying it wanted to flip it like a piece of real estate.

Which you can’t tell from its scores — proving, sadly, that the idea of the Emperor’s New Clothes is never far from wine and that scores can be as corrupt as a Third World dictator. That’s because the only way to keep the market going is to keep throwing lots of points at the wine, which seems to have happened here. I found lots of mid-90s, with nary a discouraging word.

If you get a chance to try it, the Chateau Pontet-Canet has more fruit in the front (blackberry and raspberry) than you’d expect, and which explains Robert Parker’s fondness for it. The tannins were very soft, and the acidity was muted, almost an afterthought. If you sniff really hard, you can smell graphite, which makes the pointmeisters go crazy. The finish is long, but not extraordinarily so, and the impression is of a quality wine that would be a steal at $40 or $50. But memorable, as one reviewer described? Hardly, unless you’re marveling at the demand for a $120 wine that was made 12 years ago.

Again, this is not to criticize its quality, but to note how little the Bordeaux market has to do with reality. You could buy four terrific bottles of Chablis for the same price; three bottles of a Ridge zinfandel, maybe the best value in the U.S.; or two bottles of Pio Cesare Barbaresco, one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

If and when the French understand this, they’ll understand why 90 percent of the world is priced out of Bordeaux. Until then, I’ll somehow live without it.

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