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Whine Costs

This morning’s Decanter online has a story about what seems to be the collapse of the high-end Bordeaux wine market, including En Primeur, the method by which certain European producers offer wine for sale while it’s still in the barrel. In other words, you pay for it 12 to 18 months before you can even get your hands on it. You’re paying, of course, for the promise of a great vintage (or the heartbreak of a bad one), the prestigious names on the labels, and the cachet of getting a wine that’s not for sale in any store. En Primeur applies only to certain wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone and Port wines.

In the U.S. and other places, though, there’s something called “allocation” in which the wines are sold only to people who are on a list carefully maintained by the winery. These allocated wines, similarly, are rarely or never sold in stores and in some cases there’s a long (sometimes years or even decades) wait to get on the list. Kinda like NY Giants season tickets…

Well, that used to be the case, anyway (for both the wine and the Giants). But just from December to now, I’ve received calls from three luxury California producers offering me allocated wines that I was only “wait listed” on, and two that I merely visited once. Unheard of! And like lots of you out there, in these times I can’t spend the significant, though very reduced prices, that these wines fetch.

So, to be sure, the gravy train has ground to a halt on its track. But it’s hardly the fault of the Bordelaise (the people who grow and vinify those costly Bordeaux En Primeur wines) or limited to French wines. The wine collector segment everywhere, including the U.S., Australia, and across all of Europe, has been hit hard. And it’s extended to the so-called Luxury, Super-Premium and Premium wines, the higher-priced wines that you can always find in better retail stores but that make you say “how can one bottle of wine, no matter how good, possibly cost so much?”

Well, this painful and unfortunate economy may provide a “market correction” that injects a bit of sanity. Now none of us wants the Budwesier-ization of wine. Bud is fine, mild, pleasant, pretty much never spoiled, rather inexpensive, mostly water and tastes like it. But if wine became more affordable and approachable for more people, the entire industry would benefit and many more consumers could enjoy the pleasures of wine.

I hope the wine world starts to take note – there’s still a huge market out there, but please don’t tell me I “must” have a bottle that costs a month’s salary. No, I musn’t. Nor must you.

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