The biggest impression from the first Wine Curmudgeon wine prices survey? That several of my assumptions about wine prices may not be true, including that prices are not a function of where in the country the store is located. Second, that wine is increasingly treated like other consumer packaged goods, where pricing is not about cost but about bringing customers into the store and serving as a loss leader.
The caveats first: I only got prices for 50 wines or so from the blog’s readers, so there is nothing scientific about this. I know better than to make that claim. But, as we repeat the exercise every year, we should be able to work our way to more prices and better results. And my thanks to everyone who participated.
So what generalizations can we safely get from this?
• Costco, if it doesn’t have the best wine prices in the country, is the standard by which other retailers price their products. It’s not news that many retailers in markets that compete with Costco match the warehouse chain’s prices, but it surprised me just how low other retailers will go. How about $7 for Smoking Loon, Ravenswood, and Mark West at a Denver-area retailer? That’s more or less the wholesale price.
• Independents don’t necessarily mean higher prices, especially in very competitive markets like New York City. One reader paid 20 percent less for the Los Dos garnacha blend in Manhattan than I did in Dallas.
• Grocery stores remain the great unknown. Raley’s, a chain in northern California, beat Total Wine and BevMo, two of the biggest chains in the country, on Michael David’s Earthquake zinfandel. Haggen’s, which aspires to be a big-time West Coast grocer, charged almost three times as much as Costco for Toasted Head chardonnay.
• Expect to pay more if the wine isn’t well-known or a Big Wine brand, or doesn’t have a powerful distributor behind it, regardless of who sells it. Bonny Doon’s Vin de Cigare rose was the same price, $15, in Dallas and the East Coast.
• Imports, and especially from France, may be a couple of bucks more than comparable domestic wines, even if they don’t offer a couple of bucks more of value. This is another example of how the French still see the U.S. as a captive market, and don’t understand that it isn’t 1976 anymore.