I run across lots of stories and facts while working on my book project: Wine and Passion. So, in keeping with that theme, I will share some thoughts I have about what wine to buy, where to buy it, and some shocking data. Here goes:
For the past five years or so, the only price group for wine that is growing is the $10-20 range. If I had a winery and it was economically feasible I would set a list price of $19.95. According to website Morning Consult, and reported on Wine Industry Insight, 62% of Americans spend between $8 and$15 on a bottle of wine and only 6% spend more than $21!!! It breaks down this way: 18% spend $3-8; 35% $8-12; 27% spend $12-15%; 15% $16-20; and only 6% spend more than $21. Think about that. One of my tips is this: one night a week if you are drinking Two Buck Chuck, try a $10 bottle of wine; if you like it better start drinking that, and now try a $20 bottle of wine. Again, if you like it more, make that your regular wine, but next try a $30 wine, and so on. My guess is you will max out around $35 and if you can get one of those on sale for say $25 Voila!!!
Why not more? Mainly because over 80% of wines are consumed with 48 hours of purchase! So you won’t get the higher quality you are paying for without letting it at least ‘rest’ for a month or so before drinking, and the highest priced wines are made to be cellared (temperature controlled or at least a stable passive), for a year or more.
I discussed this with Kevin Zraly, author of The Windows on the World Complete Wine Course and he shared his formula with me: I want to drink a $10 bottle of wine that tastes like a $25 bottle; a $25 bottle that tastes like a $50 bottle; and a $50 bottle that tastes like a $100 bottle. It can be done!
There is also a saying: we drink white wines too cold and red wines too warm. It’s true! A cold rather than chilled white will not release its aromatics fully. That is why it is generally recommended that you chill them for no more than twenty minutes. As for reds where cellar temperature is normally 54 degrees, somewhere around 60 is better but they should also be decanted to let them open up. Older vintages if decanted for too long with lose most of their characteristics.
Next, is buying wine from dedicated wine shops rather than the supermarket. You have no idea how long the wine has been on the markets shelf and most people pick the varietal and then a nice label. A wine shop will have people who will listen to what you like in a wine and steer you (hopefully) towards one that you will love or at least like. You are likely to pay a little more in these shops unless they are having a sale but you will know you are getting a quality wine. Large ‘big box’ wine stores like Total Wines or Beverages and More may offer a better price but does it matter that much if you are buying a single bottle? Perhaps for a case where it might equal a free bottle, but don’t we want to support our friends and neighbors? I think so!
Then there is buying wine from a big winery that might produce 50,000-100,000 cases vs a small one that might make 15,000 or less. You may pay more but you will again be supporting a small producer who likely pays more attention to details. A corollary to this is visiting the wine country and choosing one of the big name wineries to visit. There, you will likely have a student or other part-time worker pouring as opposed to a small winery where you will meet a full-time employee who isn’t reading from a script, and you might even meet a winemaker or owner. Their passion will vastly improve your impression of the wine you are tasting.
Following that thread, consider that just two distributors (Southern Glazer Wine Distributors which represents 1,178 wineries sells and Republic National Distributing which represents 7,581 wineries, and have revenues of $16.5 billion and $6.5 billion respectively according to Forbes Magazine and represent over 50% of all wine sold in the U.S.! Pity their small wineries who get lost in the shuffle as happened to a friend of mine’s wine. State laws are restrictive too, one of which says that you can’t ‘fire’ a distributor if he has any of your wine in inventory…so keep ONE case and you’ve got the winemaker…how unfair is that to both the winery and customers.
For this and other reasons, small wineries are trying to sell more of their wine thru wine clubs or the tasting room. Unfortunately, they have to sell to you at the retail price they listed, but at least you know the wine has been stored properly. Shipping can be expensive, even prohibitive but at times like the holidays, many offer free shipping, a way to get around the selling at retail laws. Only when a wine is in short supply and not being offered to distributors can they reduce the price to clear inventory. This is the trick with Total Wine’s ‘winery direct’ program. They buy up all of the wineries inventory of a varietal or vintage at bargain basement prices, then offer them to their customers at a low price but with a huge markup! Again, you don’t know how the wine has been stored or if it is fading (aka over the hill).
Here is one last statistic for you: three big wine companies, Constellation Brands, E. and J. Gallo, and Vintage Wine Estates, represent 70% of all wine purchased in the U.S. Combine this with the price profile and the future is not bright for small producers, and that is a tragedy.
Lastly, millennials price preferences are lower than their baby boomer parents who are retiring and therefore not spending as much for a bottle of wine. 2019 will definitely be an interesting year for the wine industry.
TB wishes you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2019.