The (Not So) High Price of Wine

bottle topsThere’s a bright side to our country’s economic woes: wine prices have come down out of the stratosphere and into the reach of us average wine drinkers.

I noticed in the Fall of 2008 that the new releases of big name Cabernets and Pinot Noirs were coming in at 15% or even 20% higher than the previous vintage. I’m talking about names such as Silver Oak and Opus One, which I could argue were already skating on their past reputation and wouldn’t stand up in a head-to-head competition with less expensive up-and-coming brands.

Some of my customers reacted to the price increases by slamming their wallets shut, and refusing to buy brands they’d supported for years. Instead, they stocked up on great new brands that sell for half the price. And why not, when many of these were getting great reviews and ratings in the wine press.

So fast-forward six months, after the bottom has fallen out of just about everything, except — wine sales (and other alcohol). Now we’re seeing the iconic brands such as Mondavi Napa, Sterling, even Chalk Hill, rush to discount their wines by $5, $10 or even $20 a bottle. It seems as though $20 is the new $50: it’s now the upper limit of how much a wine can cost and still sell reasonably well.

And what about those Silver Oaks and Opus Ones? They’re now gathering dust on retailers’ shelves and restaurant wine cellars.

You’ll hear some moaning out there in the wine industry, especially from high-end restaurants that used to mark up their wines three, four or even five times their wholesale price. As their over-priced wine inventory sits unsold, they blame the poor economy. They might employ a little introspection and ask if their current woes are pay-back for gouging their customers for too long.

So here’s the good news for you: there are a ton of great buys out there! Head out to your favorite wine retailer (we hope it’s a locally owned beverage shop) and stock up. Buy a few of those formerly expensive bottles you always coveted, and load up on great everyday wines for under $15 (sometimes WAY under).


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