Several seemingly unconnected economic events have conspired in 2017 to provide wine lovers with some of the greatest bargains of the last decade, most of which are currently available on store shelves.
However, only insiders know about this, and even they can’t get the word out fast enough, or strongly enough, to reach consumers.
Let’s start with a few of the economic factors:
—The worldwide recession: Starting in 2008, the impact of the collapse of world financial markets left the retail sector in the United States in recovery mode. Wine sales initially collapsed. Although they have recovered to some degree, a lot of wine that wasn’t sold over the last eight years remains in inventory around the country, undermining prices.
—The impracticality of brick-and-mortar warehouses, malls, and large stores: Over the last two years, it has become apparent that department stores (JC Penney, Sears, etc.) are not a practical way to market goods. Rents are too high and employee salaries and benefits too great a burden.
—The dramatic rise of online purchasing: The result of this, as well as the prior situation, has led not only to the discussion of the closure of large stores, but the termination of higher-paid employees in favor of younger, less knowledgeable associates.
—The imminent shift in food purchases through online access: The purchase of the Whole Foods chain by online powerhouse Amazon.com signals a new strategy in how all food products, from canned goods to fresh produce and, of course, wine, will be purchased in the future.
The closure of some stores and the firing of skilled wine experts will mean that wine choices will shrink and most purchases will be of recognizable brands. No longer will we find wine experts roaming store aisles with stories to tell about new wine discoveries. Only savvy wine buyers will find the best wines at the best prices.
For many years, well before I began writing about wine, I relied on store experts to tell me of regions about which I knew nothing, and wines that offered excitement and diversity.
As stores close and key wine experts seek other employment, curious wine lovers will have no recourse. A 19-year-old clerk who restocks the shelves likely is no help.
I just returned from my eighth trip to New Zealand with a folder full of exciting new wines and regions to write about. Part of the problem, at this early stage, is that some of the wines are not yet imported the United States. So there is no point in writing about them yet.
What is already here, of course, represents fantastic value because the New Zealand dollar currently stands at 73 U.S. cents, meaning that all New Zealand goods cost us less than they would if the two currencies were at parity.
The relatively unknown nature of many New Zealand brands and sub-regions also hurts recognition of the greatness of this country’s superb wines, with their racy acidity, distinctive varietal characteristics, and astounding personality.
And yet none of this is evident when you see pricing so low that you make the assumption that the wines must be modest.
The most visible New Zealand wine is sauvignon blanc, almost all of which sell for between $12 and $17, and many are discounted even below $10! Prices like this do not imply the reality – the world-class nature of the wines.
More intriguingly, red wine from New Zealand has become insiders’ best secret in the last three years, with pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and even syrah stealing the show in many wine competitions.
A fine quality Russian River Valley Pinot Noir today will cost roughly $50 per bottle. A New Zealand Pinot Noir that delivers superb quality can be discovered in most stores for about $30. Some are even closer to $20!
But don’t expect to find these wines in your local supermarket. Wines that typically end up on supermarket shelves are part of much larger portfolios and there is a completely different retail mix available in such outlets than you will find in a dedicated wine store.
Yes, supermarket wine pricing is competitive and there are some good values to be had in such locations, but you have to pretty much know what you are doing without much assistance from the staff.
Wine lovers seeking bargains, especially the adventuresome, can find astounding values in most wine shops. You may pay slightly more than a supermarket “club” price, but the wines will be so exciting you’ll be hooked.
It sort of reminds me of coffee. There is nothing wrong with Maxwell House or Yuban. But a local craft roaster generally is light years ahead in terms of quality.
Will you pay more? Probably. Is it worth it? That depends on your taste demands.
Your best bet for finding stores with wines such as these are those that specialize and fine wine, beer, and spirits.
Wine of the Week: 2013 Spy Valley Pinot Noir, Marlborough ($25): This stunning New Zealand bargain has deep black cherry fruit, a slightly rustic aroma, and great acidity with a medium weight structure, to pair perfectly with rare roast beef or lighter chicken dishes. Comparable to virtually any $45 pinot noir. Sensational value.