Imagine my surprise to find Gnarly Head Old Vines Zinfandel 2007 from Lodi CA for a shockingly cheap $8.00 at the Wine Library in New Jersey last week! In my retail days back in 05 and 06, the store I was working as a buyer at, a store that definitely had the ability to take large quantities in to get the best price, was retailing this wine for somewhere in the $13.00 a bottle range. Seeing old Gnarly Head selling for under $10.00 served as a vivid reminder of the state of the wine market and how it, much like the housing market, is definitely in favor of buyers now!
Wine Spectator magazine reported earlier this year that for the first time in modern history, Americans purchased more Prosecco than they did Champagne for New Year’s Eve 2008. The US and Japan have historically been the Champagne region’s top markets for the good stuff that starts around $30.00 a bottle, and goes up for Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay champagnes), Vintage Champagne and Têtes de Cuvée (the top pop, such as Dom Perignon, which is Moët’s top wine and Louis Roederer’s Crystal) to well over $200.00 a bottle. It looks like we wised up, America, and our long honeymoon with Champagne and other high priced wine has come to an end as we realize that less expensive options will fit the bill with just as much festivity. Prosecco, Italy’s most jovial bubbly from Valdobbiadene in the north east, weighs in at a meager $10.00-$15.00 a bottle.
What does all this mean to you? It means that now more than ever, wine is financially accessible. The barriers of high prices are coming down quietly as retail and restaurant operators continue in their struggle to move all the stock they took on during last November and December and wholesalers are not able to clear their warehouses with new vintages coming online. There are lots of great deals around - wines that retailed 3 or 4 years ago above the $10.00 mark are coming down below $10.00, those that peaked at over $20.00 are coming closer to that $15.00 sweet spot.
My recommendation? Buy at around $15.00, but don’t be afraid to take a chance on stuff that is in the $10.00 range. Many shops will cut margins close to move an older vintage out. Reds vintage dated 2003 or later or whites from within the last 2-3 years are usually safe bets for everyday wine drinking, though the picture becomes a little more complex at the higher end. Restaurants won’t be as forgiving on price as they must maintain their caché and make their margins to cover much higher overhead. Nonetheless, I would fish in the $30.00-$50.00 a bottle pond on the wine list of a reputable place, and you will indeed find better deals on wine by the glass these days - sommeliers and bar managers seem to be pushing it below $10.00 a glass, as low as $6.00, in even the most chic neighborhoods.
Baileyanna, makers of boutique, single vineyard, sustainably grown Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah in the Edna Valley region of California, has the perfect formula for their high price points that traditionally started in the low $20.00’s and stretched close to the $50.00 mark, yet I found their 2007 Firepeak Vineyard Chardonnay at a shop in PA for a fabulous $9.99 a bottle - and it was really good!
Also, I always recommend connecting with the folks at your local shop - find someone who steers you in a direction you like with his or her recommendations. But make them stick to your price point - they will have lots of great options that you can enjoy inside your budget. That way, you can continue to live your wineLIFE without going broke!