Enthusiast's Corner November 15, 2007

Running counter to just about every other consumer product, prices for wine have actually decreased over the past years while quality has definitely improved.



Running counter to just about every other consumer product, prices for wine have actually decreased over the past years while quality has definitely improved.

Think about what you pay for a quart of milk today, as opposed to 10 years ago. Or a quart of orange juice. Twenty percent more? Thirty percent? Now ask yourself, how much better does that milk or orange juice taste than it did 10 years ago? Of course the answer is, about the same. Inflation has raised the prices on so many items, but quality has not risen accordingly, in most cases. Coffee is one exception; yes, you pay more, but overall the quality of coffee has risen.

And then there is wine, all by itself on the quality-price pedestal. Prices for wine are going down while quality is increasing across the board. Think about the flavor, mouthfeel and balance of a $10 wine 10 years ago, and today. I'll be glad to answer for you: No comparison. It's just as true at the $15 and $20 level. You can buy truly excellent, world-class wine now for $20 where 10 years ago that same amount would not have delivered the same quality.
The reason for this, of course, is competition. Wine is becoming an important industry in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. Much of Eastern Europe is waking to the economic and cultural allures of wine. Closer to home, California, New York, Washington and Oregon are seeing new ventures starting up, increasing acreage devoted to winegrapes. Prices will naturally fall as so much wine enters the pipeline. Competition is always good for the consumer, but it's also a benefit for the producers themselves, even those who have been in the game a long time: For a long-term business plan, it is vital that they capture the consumer the first time, and keep that consumer coming back. They need repeat business to grow, to compete, so quality needs to be in the bottle—every bottle—because that consumer is growing more sophisticated.

In addition to our Best Buy feature, many more value-priced wines can be found in the Buying Guide as well as several of our features. Also in this issue, Michael Schachner profiles the bargain wines and artisan winemakers of Chile. It's certainly no secret that Chile has been a powerhouse of quality wines at affordable prices for almost as long as their winemaking history, but Michael, who travels to Chile frequently and is constantly exploring new producers, is able to focus on the most innovative and quality-minded of this subset. For Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Chardonnay and other value-minded varietal wines, the Chile aisle is where you want to go.

Shiraz is one of the hottest-selling red wines at the moment, at retail and in restaurants, so producers the world over are answering with increased production. Shiraz is like Chardonnay in that it is relatively easy to manage in the vineyard and then can be crafted into a range of styles. South African producers are among the many who are increasing their plantings of Shiraz, and the climate is well suited to it. Senior Editor Susan Kostrzewa recently visited there, and on page 50 you'll find her report. She recommends some great, food friendly examples of this exuberant and jazzy red wine.

In his story, Roger Voss describes Alentejo as Portugal's wine frontier, and it's true. It is geographically separated from the rest of the country and has, until recently, been known mostly for its cork production. But now producers are crafting wines of contemporary character using Portugal's native varieties. The names don't have the same heft and cachet as varieties we're more familiar with in the U.S.—Alicante Bouschet, Aragonês, Castelão, Trincadeira—but that makes the discovery of these wines all the more exciting. You can meet the producers and the new faces of this "new" wine region at the center of the Old World.

Our spirits tasting director, F. Paul Pacult, always has fun recommending spirits that are well priced given their quality, and our readers enjoy this annual feature as well. Pacult selects a number of bottles in the categories of vodka, gin, rum, whiskies, Tequila and so on, and then zeroes in on the best of the best. For the wine devotee who likes to keep some spirits around for the occasional tipple, cocktail and for guests, it is an indispensable guide and a fun read.

As is pointed out in the introduction to our Best Buy feature, wine is one area of our culture where the Good Old Days are now, today. There has never been a better time for novices to explore wine's many possibilities, and experienced connoisseurs to fill their cellars with quality bottles at a fair price.

Cheers!

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