What is the last “luxury” to go in this new economy? If you are a twenty-something, who in the last several years has come to discover and enjoy wine, you may be the answer to the wine industry’s prayers. While Baby Boomers are scaling back — buying less expensive bottles, buying less wine, and eating out less frequently — the Millennial generation (those born after between 1980 and 2000) is doing its best to support the wine industry in America.
In their annual report, the Wine Media Council (WMC) touched on many issues including an across-the-board slowdown on wine sales. This includes venues from your wine-selling local drug store (yes, it does exist) to the highest-end restaurant in your city. Wal-Mart has shown improved wine sales – though wine clubs, as well as most casual restaurants, show reduced sales of wine. No surprise there.
Needless to say, wine folks in attendance already predicted the news – and were not happy.
If you are reading this article, you are probably a consumer; and if you are smart (and I am sure you are) you might view this period as an opportune time to investigate the value-oriented, lower cost wine that is out there.
How Low Should You Go?
According to the Wine Marketing Council, wines in the $3-7 wines were the most popular category. Ask yourself if you are truly interested in exploring interesting wine from around the world. You will be surprised how much just three or four dollars more can get you in terms of quality. If you can afford it, the best quality for value in the $14-18 category, but I’ve often found excellent wines for $9-11, mostly from Spain and southern Italy.
You can find affordable and delicious French wines just a bit higher for around $14. Though some northern European countries offer unusual and satisfying wines, for various reasons (economics and trade) they are presently a bit too high for comfort.
How to Choose Your Wine
Go directly to a wine store instead of yanking a bottle from a supermarket shelf or asking the person stocking the produce. As for relying on shelf talkers, well, they can be helpful. Kinda. Sorta. Yes, you will find value in the shelf talkers, especially at midnight with a hot date. Memorize the tasting notes and repeat it back at an opportune moment with the passion “Miles,” the character in the film Sideways. Otherwise, shelf talkers are advertisements.
Find a wine store you can trust (good sources for locating them include word-of-mouth and mentions in wine magazines) and chat up a clerk in a friendly way. Tell the clerk what your budget is and what you have liked in the past.
What About Restaurants?
Do not seek value by ordering wines by the glass. Typically restaurants serve inexpensive wines, and the price of a single glass pays for the bottle. You may not always know how much a glass of wine is (very often, the server tells you they have a Chardonnay, a Cabernet, a Merlot – and if you want to know the price, you have to ask). In Manhattan you can be charged $25 a glass in high-end restaurants, though $15 is more typical.
Consider the wine list instead of ordering by glass. You’ve heard the old chestnut about ordering the second least expensive wine. Unfortunately, in the wine world, the highest markups are usually at the bottom. That said, I’ve found terrific values in very high-end restaurants (think a $55 wine from the Gigondas AOC in France, versus a $3,890 Burgundy on the very same list).
These tips work whether you are a millennial, a boomer, or beyond. If there is a silver lining to what America is experiencing, it is that millions of wine lovers like you are now searching for value-oriented, well-structured wines with personality and passionate winemakers. The secret is knowing just who these producers are and knowing where, exactly, the value can be found.