“Rampant price discounting in the wine industry means 2009 will be party time for wine drinkers while winemakers will be left with the hangover.”
Low prices! Party time! Love it! Oh, wait, that quote actually came from New Zealand’s stuff.co.nz and was referring to a “massive harvests” in Australia and New Zealand.
Here in the US, it may be a different story. Restaurants, many of which have seen a sharp decline in their business, seem to be doing a lot to attract diners, as Frank Bruni detailed on Wednesday in the Times. This includes cutting wine prices, which in many cases, certainly had plenty of room to come down. To the tape: “Wine discounts, waived corkage fees or wine lists showcasing less expensive bottles can be found in Midtown at Alto and the Modern, where bottles under $50 appear in the Bar Room as “wines for our times”; in TriBeCa at Capsouto Frères; and in Greenwich Village at Perry St., owned by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.”
A story in Wednesday’s LA Times suggests that New Zealand’s party time may even have arrived on the West Coast. Patrick Comiskey writes that there’s a “mini-boom for wine lovers” and describes “a buyer’s market for retailers and consumers alike.” But much of what the article describes sounds like smaller retailers stocking more wines at lower price points although some larger stores are using their heft to extract deals from wholesalers “whose warehouses are full of inventory accumulated in better days and who are striking deals to move it out.”
Here in New York, it doesn’t seem like “party time” has made it to stores. Sure, there are a few across-the-board sales in January and February, such as Moore Brothers 10% off everything and Crush Wine & Spirits 25% of whites one week and then reds. But these types of sales happen after the holiday binge every year, the same as case discounts at some retailers. Some stores seem to be offering more selective sales either through a store card or special clearance items. And there’s a stream of emails announcing one or two selections–sometimes more–of fine wine that have become available, perhaps from a distributor, perhaps from a collector. But to get the most for your wine dollar, it seems you have to be opportunistic and well informed and discounting is far from “rampant.”
What’s happening near you? Is it deal or no deal? And if you live outside the US, be sure to share your thoughts too.
“I used to say that the shop was 400 square feet,” Christy Frank told me when I visited her in her downtown wine shop, Frankly Wines, last week. “But it’s actually closer to 350.”
The diminutive shop at 66 West Broadway has a selection that skews toward wines from the Southern Hemisphere and wines under $20. But perhaps the most distinctive feature of the shop is what might well be the world’s largest cork board made entirely from corks pulled from wine bottles.
Christy says that the covered portion of the wall, approximately six feet by eight feet, has about 15,000 corks affixed with wood glue. It took a total of 30 hours of labor to adhere them all. The original inspiration was to tastefully cover a fusebox but it grew to cover the whole wall.
The amount of corks that she actually pulled herself is a relatively small, she told me gesticulating at a small corner of the space. Instead the bulk of the corks came from purchases on eBay where she said there is a thriving market for corks.
Christy says that kids love the tactile nature of the wall and some have written their initials on the corks. Take that Facebook: people can write on Christy’s real wall.
Cara, who runs the green room (or whatever that waiting room is called) for Fox Business, asked me a great wine question when I was on the station in December. Instead of asking me for a specific wine that she might or might not be able to actually find, she asked me for on how to get the most out of wine. Nice! Context! You know I love that.
So I asked her whether she meant actually consuming wine or finding wine. She said both. So here’s what I said:
1. Spend a little extra on good stemware! You don’t have to break the bank since, undoubtedly, the glasses themselves will break at some point. But they can elevate modest wines and do fine wines the appropriate justice. Ravescroft has some good crystal stems starting at $10. And our house staple, as I’ve written before, is the Tritan Forte, which is “impact resistant” thanks to titanium infused in the lead-free crystal.
2. Find a good independent wine shop! You can read all you want about great sounding wines on blogs or in the paper but unless you can actually try the wines, your fun is severely limited. Work with an articulate member of the staff to find wines that you like.
You can read more about these suggestions–and more!–in my new book A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairing, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season. If Cara asked you for your top two general wine tips, what would you tell her?
Also, the first segment I did on Fox Business over the holidays has just unearthed from the great video vault somewhere (although the poor audio and video quality makes it look like I was in a witness relocation program). “Enjoy!”
On a trip this past summer, my family and I got stranded in Chicago overnight because of airline delays. We called a friend who was able to take us in when the airline would not; she put us up even though the delay was entirely their fault (canceled flight). So we decided to make dinner for our friend and I was dispatched to the nearest shopping center where I knew I would get the food at Trader Joe’s. But what about the wine?
Somewhat surprisingly for a suburb with $96,552 median household income, there didn’t appear to be an independent wine shop for miles. But Trader Joe’s sells wine in Illinois stores. And there was another choice: Wine Styles, a franchise wine store wedged in between a karate space and a day spa. I went to both to see what I could find. Read more…
A couple of weekends ago, I attended the grand re-opening of Wine Connection in Pound Ridge, NY. Max Marinucci moved his store to a handsome, custom-built facility and it was an amazing tasting by any measure. There were about six Barolos available from producers that ran the modern-traditional axis, E. Pira, G. Mascarello, G. Conterno, and Sandrone among others. They also poured the 2004 Hudelot Noellat Richebourg (about $259; find this wine), and several current release Bordeaux. Then there was the amazing 1985 Leoville Las Cases (about $379; find this wine), whose aroma was so enticing with tannins were smooth as silk.
And the price for this tasting? Free.
In this tough economy, even seeking solace in a wine glass can still cost a lot. But there is one place where you can still taste fine wine for free: New York wine stores. Granted, you’re standing up and the pours are sometimes barely enough to cover the bottom of the glass, but they are a great opportunity for broadening your tasting experience–as well as talking with some interesting people who are usually doing the pouring.
While there are many silly (separate entrances for separate licenses) and annoying (not being able to to sell cheese in a wine shop nor wine in a food shop) aspects of New York wine retail laws, the free tasting is a definite boon for consumers. Stores can’t charge for tasting since that would be profiting from the sale of liquor on-premises, which requires a different license. Other states have different rules about in-store pourings and they are not always free, but are often a good value. (Sadly, one place where free tastings may someday be illegal is the little-known wine country called France.)
And the downturn in the economy means that some shops are eagerly pouring wines (or, technically, having the distributor reps pour the wines) to attract foot traffic. So check out your local retailers and see what’s on the calendar. Here’s my map of my favorite NYC wine shops.
TO: wine shop managers and their webmasters
FROM: Dr. Vino
RE: adding importer information to e-shops
I was surfing the sites of a few online wine retailers today looking for some specific imported wines when I should have been working. Some of the sites generated other imported wines suggestions that sounded good but I hadn’t heard of the producers. Since you already list tons of information about the wine including the producer, region, vintage, possibly grape variety, and a critic’s opinion, how hard would it be to add a field to list the importer as well? I, for one, would be more likely to throw a bottle in my virtual shopping cart if I knew it was from one of my favorite importers. If I am in a shop I can look at the back label, which provides that info, but not online…
Pennsylvania is hardly the first state where you would expect innovation in wine retail. The state’s Liquor Control Board owns all the retail outlets and the distribution in the state. Generally monopolies are known for limited selection and high prices, not innovation.
Yet that is exactly what might be in store for Pennsylvania wine enthusiasts as the state has proposed to allow 100 “wine kiosks” around the state. To the tape:
The kiosks, a type of temperature-controlled vending machine capable of holding 500 bottles of wine, would be placed in grocery stores and other places [malls], according to request on the LCB’s Web site. They would offer about a dozen different types of wine.
Before you think this is where all the minors are going to go before the prom, each kiosk will have “fingerprints and biometric readings” for age verification. Yikes! Retinal scan for retsina.
Making wine more accessible is a good thing. I hope for all wine loving Pennsylvanians that the selection is great! Get a little Bollinger before heading to Borders? Malbec and a movie? I wonder if they will have stemware. Or perhaps TetraPak wine so the bottle doesn’t break while being dispensed.
Would you like to see them in your state?
In 2006, Astor Wine moved from Astor Place. Granted, it didn’t move far–just one long block away. The store’s owner was able to buy space in the handsome De Vinne Press building so they should be there a good, long while.
I visited the store when it first opened (and many times since then), but I recently went where I’d never been before: underground! Through a secret stairway behind the cognac display if you push the wall on the third shelf from the bottom…OK, there’s actually an open staircase with a conveyor belt on the side of it right behind the tasting bar.
The basement storage area is even larger than the store and extends under Lafayette Street! Lesley, my guide, said that the storage space at the previous location was even bigger, extending multiple levels below ground.
A room in the cellar is climate-controlled and they put the good stuff in there. Another walk-in, restaurant-style fridge has the sakés in it.
To power the cooling units as well as the store and portions of the building, Andrew Fisher, the owner, has purchased two Capstone microturbine generators. In short, they are powered by natural gas and produce both electricity and heat, allowing the store to live off the grid. Mayor Mike likes microturbines.
Despite the mayor’s enthusiasm, city bureaucracy has kept the microturbines unhooked for over year since they were installed. The gas meter has not been connected and the gas turned on. “Every time we ask ‘when,’ we get an answer of 2 weeks,” Fisher wrote me via email. Do turbines improve with age? Doubtful.
More photos after the jump. Read more…