Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silver Lining

I have a confession to make. I used to be a bit of a trophy-hunter for wines. You know, attracted by the big names…big scores from Parker and Wine Spectator…having bragging rights for the famous labels that I tried. But something very interesting happened in my sommelier courses: we tasted many excellent wines in the $20 to $50 range. Now my fun is in finding good wines at moderate prices. And the timing couldn’t be better.

The Great Recession has kicked the stuffing out of the market for high-end wines. Decanter – quoting a report from Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division (a bank with a wine division…how great) – says that, for many wineries, $50 bottles are now “permanently” out of the question. The bank’s report says that the market for fine wine (more than $20) dropped 11 percent in the first half of 2009 and that we’ll see a lot more wines at less than $50. In another report, Decanter quotes one vintner, “The dead zone is the US$50-100 price bracket.”

Meanwhile, Decanter also reports that 2009 Bordeaux futures are a tough sell, even though 2009 is a “stellar” year. Consumer demand just isn’t there. Diageo (the world’s largest wine, beer, and liquor company) passed on buying 2009 Bordeaux futures. Gary Vaynerchuk, who used to do $10 million a year in Bordeaux futures, won't offer futures at his store.

For us value-hunters, all this is the silver lining in the recession’s dark clouds. More wine stores and restaurants are re-jigging their offerings, bringing in far more “good wines at moderate prices”. Any customer of Vintages (Ontario’s fine wine store) knows that, slowly, more reasonably-priced bottles are showing up on the shelves, in their Classics Catalogue, and through their online exclusives. Sure, some “trophies” are still on the shelves but we’ll leave those to my former colleagues.

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