Posts Tagged ‘wine prices’

Reflections on Summer 2018

September 6, 2018

Well, I’m back…both from summer and from spring (judging from the last time I wrote a blog!).

Lets start out with some reflections from the summer of 2018!

  1. Rose is good, but it needs to be cheap – we were fortunate enough to spend some time in France in June, and while it wasn’t stinking hot yet, it was hot enough that Rose was the wine of choice! And that was fine, since it was available for cheap – like 3 – 4 euros a bottle in the store! So when we got back and I couldn’t find it for less than about $15 a bottle plus tax…ouch!

2. Rhone style whites are better than I remember – Over the years, I have been off Rhone white wines. My memory was a lot of acidic, resiny wines. But in the south of France I tasted some super fresh blends, and found that when I got home they were the same!

3. You can still drink red wine  in the heat – Also in France, I was tasting big reds – Hermitage, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas – and even though the temperature was in the 80’s, I had no problem at all, including with having them at lunch and dinner!

4. Pinot Noir and Syrah are the best BC reds – I also got up to the Okanagan this summer, and tasted at some of my favourite wineries (as well as some new ones). And it confirmed what I already knew – Syrah and Pinot Noir are the best red wines in BC! Minimal oak, lots of fruit, great ageability! Oh, and by the way – La Frenz is still the best winery in BC by a country mile!

5. Wine prices are still too high at home – Last but not least – surprise – is that wine prices at home are still way to high. I was able to buy some Gigondas in Gigondas that was rated 95+ points for 14 euros…wine that when I can get it here is over $40 a bottle! That is crazy…if I lived in France, my cellar would be crazy good for half the price!

Here comes fall…stay tuned for more!




April 5, 2017

A slightly different approach to my yearly rant against the rising prices of BC wine…this time, I want to talk about “how much is too much” for a bottle of BC wine.

As usual, I want to emphasize that I have no problem with a wine’s price if it sells. I may not be able to afford it – see California Cult wines, most Barolos, Hermitages, etc – and I may not like its style (see Bordeaux), but if the market will bear the price – then go for it!

But I remain curious about the logic around the prices of some of the recently released BC wines. One winery, in particular, has its new “artisanal” wines priced at…wait for it…$90, $115 and $125! And they were being promoted by a local BC wine writer.

Sorry, but that just doesn’t compute with me.

First off, it is a brand new winery, with no track record…who in their right mind would spend that kind of money when there is no history of what the wine will taste like?

Second, assuming that the wines are meant to age…there is also no track record of that either! What if in 3, 5, 8 or more years, you open them up and your “investment” tastes like a glass of toothpicks!

Third, if you really want to spend that kind of money on wine (and, to be clear, I don’t), a quick check of the BCLB website shows you have a lot more reputable options. How about the 2014 Saint Joseph le Clos by Chapoutier for $119 (97 points by Parker)? Or the 2010 Barbaresco Sori Paitin for $105 (also 97 points by Parker)? Even the 2014 regular Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon at $115 (and 94 points). All of these wines have years (if not decades) of pedigree, so if you like the style, there is virtually no risk.

Fourth, who exactly is going to buy these wines? Not your average wine drinker, of course…and not even wine dweebs like me. Not restauranteurs, as they have to mark them up 2 – 3 times. So is it tourists, wanting to take something back with them? But how many of them will spend that much money on a BC bottle of wine?

Finally – and I realize this is the toughest, most subjective argument – how can these wines be good enough to charge that kind of price? Personally, I won’t spend that kind of money on any wine, let alone a BC wine (except in a restaurant, of course, where the cost has been at least doubled). And that’s because I just don’t think wine is worth that much money.

Okay, enough ranting by me for this year! But one last dig…I bet if you go looking for those wines a few months from now, they will still be available…and there will be lots of them!


So who are they making $50+++ BC wines for any way?

October 14, 2015

So I read in the local paper recently that one of BC’s biggest, highest profile wine producers has decided to launch a new brand. It will only be available on-line or at restaurants and be priced — I assume for the on-line purchases – from $85 – $120. I expect restaurants would at least double that price.

When I saw this, I was flabbergasted! It adds to a growing number of BC wine producers who are making wine for sale at $50 or more (sometimes a lot more).

Now, I have ranted about BC wine prices before. But after another cup of coffee (and a few deep breaths), I thought of another question – who exactly are these wines being made for any way (regardless of whether they are worth the price or not)?

The ‘casual’ wine drinker? I don’t think so. Few would go over $20 for a bottle of wine (let alone $50++).

The average wine dweeb like me? Again, I don’t think so. When I get to the $50 level – which isn’t very often for my cellar – I think about wines I know are great and will age well. Like northern Rhones (Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Cote Rotie), southern Rhones (Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas), Barolos, Barbarescos, Brunellos…All of these have proven histories. The BC wines in question…not so much (if at all). So I am supposed to trust my money on that?

As gifts, perhaps, to wine dweebs like me? Perhaps…although if you know the wine dweeb well, you probably also know the kind of wine they value…and it wouldn’t be these wines.

For restaurant diners, then? Well, at 250 % average markup…I doubt it. If I am going to spend $150 or more a bottle (and that is a big if), I am going to buy one of the wines I mention above!

That leaves me with…tourists particularly those from countries with favourable currency exchanges and/or who want to bring a ‘special’ gift home.

And there it was – bingo! That must be the market!

If that is the case, so be it…and I wish the producers all the best. But I would also offer a warning, and a concern.

The warning? I see lots of those $50+ wines languishing on Liquor store shelves, and assume that is also the case at the wineries themselves. But if the wineries want to take that risk, it is their money!
My concern, however, is bigger.
There are more and more amazing BC wines being made for $20 – $40. Even in a restaurant, they represent good value for money. My hope is that flashy marketing campaigns for more expensive – but not necessarily better – wines won’t mean residents and tourists miss out on what is really the ‘best in BC’!



January 7, 2015

Happy New Year to all! As a first blog of 2015, I thought I would put out my top five wine wishes for the year:

1. The Rhone keeps it going

My favourite wine region has been on a roll for a number of years now, and after tasting many 2012s – and some early 2013s – it looks like the good times will continue! Whether it is Grenache dominated wines in the south or Syrah in the north, the fruit flavours are ripe and pure, the herbs beautifully integrated (love that garrigue!) and there is no wood or jamminess to the wines. Keep it going, Rhone!

2. Wine taxes get fixed

Everybody always complains about “wine prices”…but my beef is with the taxes, not the prices. When I see the values you can get just across the border in the US at places like Costco (and even regular supermarkets), I know that price really isn’t my issue – it’s the government taxes that drive up the price! I have absolutely no beef with the government getting its fair share…but come on! When a wine like Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon is $9.99 at Costco in Bellingham and $29.99 in Vancouver, well…you can see the problem.

3. Wine Competitions and Awards “Come Clean”

This is a particular pet peeve of mine. There are all of these competitions up here every year, and the same things always happen. The big wineries are the only ones that enter – or can afford to enter – so they win the awards. And then they (and the judges, media, etc.) talk all year about the “best wine in BC” or the “best wine in Canada”, even though the wine dweebs know it is a farce. Maybe I will have a competition for the best wines in BC that never enter (or are awarded) prizes…

4. Stupid and/or obnoxious wine labels disappear

As a PR person in my real life, I understand the marketing reasons for catchy wine labels. But it has really gotten out of hand for many countries. Do wine makers (or their marketing departments) really think that what sells a wine is what is on the outside of the bottle (instead of on the inside)? Like in anything, make a good product, build a good reputation, and results will come.

5. Fruit will finally triumph over wood

This final wish is purely a style preference, but I would love to see more fruit forward red wines that don’t rely on a thick coating of cedar and oak. It seems like people have been trying to copy Bordeaux forever, and – in my opinion – it just does it work. California and Australia have the right approach – since wine is made of fruit, it should also taste like fruit!

There you go; a start to 2015!


The Annual Bordeaux Release Boondoggle

September 30, 2014

Okay, it’s that time of the year again! The annual Bordeaux release happens this Saturday up here in British Columbia, which also means it is time for me to do my annual rant about it!

For those of you who have seen it before – and don’t want to read it again – feel free to skip this blog and come back next week. But for those who haven’t seen it, or enjoy it, read on!

So, Bordeaux…what art thou?

Not my favourite wine, as readers know. While it is the most prestigious, popular and – most of the time – expensive grape-derived product in the world, it is disappointing to me on so many fronts.

First is style. Except for the ultra-premium first growths and “garagiste” wines (which cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars), there is often little fruit in these wines. The opposite of California and Australia, they are full of wood, herbs and other so-called secondary aromas and flavours (pencil box, tobacco, etc.) that do nothing for me. It’s not so much theses other tastes…well, I guess it is…no, really, it is more about the lack of fruit in the wines.

And that is perplexing to me. Because you read the reviews, and they are full of descriptions like “ripe blackcurrants…ripe plums…ripe cherries…” but, for the life of me, I can count on one hand how many times I have found those flavours, even in the young wines. I understand fruit mellowing over time – and love how that happens in Chateauneuf du Pape, Hermitage, Barolo, Barbaresco, even Aussie Shiraz – but if there isn’t obvious fruit to begin with, there is nothing to mellow from!

Which is the second reason for my disappointment…the tannin level. Of all wines, perhaps Bordeaux is the biggest culprit of the “big wine” syndrome. Huge, searing, mouth-puckering tannins are the norm for even the middling wines, so heavy that it would be hard to find the fruit…even if it was there. Combine the tannins with the lack of fruit, and by the time they resolve in 8 – 15 years…well, let’s just say you have to like drinking wood chips to enjoy most of the wines.

The price is another issue, although I am not that bothered by it. I recognize the market will dictate what people will pay for anything, and Bordeaux is no different. So good on the producers for getting what people will pay. What I do have an issue with, however, is the fact that the price only goes up, regardless of the vintage. Surely, the market should also be about quality…yet very rarely does this seem to happen.

Which brings us to my biggest pet peeve…the hoopla around the release.

Almost every year, I think, we hear the same marketing promotion…”vintage of the century”, “best ever”, “will last for generations”…Then in the so-called “light” vintages, it becomes “beautiful for drinking now” or “these are great food wines”.

As someone who does PR for a living, all of this just rankles me. If – and it is a big if – you truly love Bordeaux, know what it tastes like young or old, “light” or tannic, than fill your boots and spend your hard earned money.

But every year I see the same thing. People wandering through the open cases, clutching the offering guide, trying to pick out a bottle or two of wines that start at $50 and go way up from there. I feel like saying “do you know what those taste like?”, but always force myself to just shut up (and even stay away from the store on launch days).

So, a pox on the annual Bordeaux release!

Phew…that feels better! Now back to regular life…and more balanced blogs!


It’s Not Just the Price of Wine…it’s What You’re Supposed to Get for it!

August 27, 2014

I was struggling a bit about what to write about this week, the last real week of summer. But then I was dropping some wine off with Lyle, one of the members of my wine club, and we got to talking about the price of wine – and I had a topic!

But not just the price. I have done that before, and didn’t feel like just venting again. Instead, it is about what you expect to get…for the price you pay!

The conversation started around the release of a whole bunch of $60 BC wines, but it quickly expanded beyond that to all wine. And the key question was – what do you expect from an expensive wine, and how do you know you will get it?

Expectations are relative, of course, just like taste and style. But – in general – I think it is fair to say that the more money you pay for a bottle of wine (or anything, for that matter), the more you expect to get.

But with wine, what exactly is that?

Some people say “quality”. But what does that mean? And how do you judge the difference in quality between a $25, $60, or $600 bottle of wine?

Well, here are a few thoughts.

First of all, if it is a newly released vintage, I don’t think – personally – that “quality” should be about how good the wine is now. If the wine is made to drink right away, or over the next few years, there are way too many options to justify paying extravagant sums for it. The difference in quality just isn’t there.

So that brings us to a wine’s potential, which means what it will taste like after it ages. And that, I think, is a legitimate argument.

If you buy a wine that is, say, $50 now, but in 10 – 20 years will develop into something special, then I think that merits a higher price. Even if you just factor in inflation, the cost of that same wine will be more expensive then. And in restaurants – if they cellar it that long – the cost will be up to ten times more expensive.

But how do you know it will taste that much better in 10 – 20 years? Usually, for wine dweebs like me, that means the tannins (in red wines) will have softened, but the fruit will still be there, so there will be this wonderful mix of fruit, herbs, wood and other aromas and flavours. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Barbaresco, Hermitage, Chateauneuf du Pape, Rioja…those are all wines that offer that promise. And that’s why you will pay $50+ a bottle when the wine is young…because it will hopefully taste like a thousand dollar wine when it is mature (which is probably what it will cost).

That still leaves the question, however, of how you will know what the wine you spend $50, $60 or even $100 now will taste like that 10 – 20 + years in the future?

That, my friends, is a skill that few people develop, and even fewer get a chance to try out (given how expensive it can be to taste many different $50 wines years before they are ready).
While I don’t claim to have the skill, I do know one piece to the puzzle – the wine must have enough fruit when it is young. Because if it doesn’t, it is not going to find anymore 10 – 20 + years from now.

That, frankly, is my problem with Bordeaux, and the blends from other countries like that. They can be searingly tannic when young, and the fruit very hard to find. So how do you know it will be there in the future?

But at least Bordeaux has a reputation to build on! My bigger peeve is BC wineries making that style of wine that have no track record to back it up. Why should I spend $60 or more on a BC wine when – as one winemaker I met said – “we don’t know what it will taste like in 10 to 15 years.”?

So where am I going with all of this?

Well, if you like old wine (another subject in its own right), then go slowly, and develop a taste based on experience. For me, I have been drinking certain Chateauneuf du Papes and Barbarescos for over 15 years now and know not just how they age, but what they taste like in 10 – 15 years. So if I am going to make a $50+ purchase (which is still rare), I am pretty confident of what I will be getting.

But I won’t take that chance with some new winemaker – in BC or elsewhere. What was the line from that movie…”show me the money”? Well, “show me the old wine”…then maybe I will pay for it when it is young!



March 26, 2014

Alright, alright…I know it is a popular topic to beat on, but given we just got back from a short trip to Seattle, I just have to blog on the subject of restaurant wine prices!

I have written about the subject before up here. Restaurants that charge 200% – 300% markup, wine “by the glass” at around $15 a glass that is often oxidized and/or under poured…you know the drill.

But it seemed like everywhere we turned last weekend, a better solution was staring me in the face (or in the mouth, as it turned out)!

It started the moment we got on the Amtrak Cascades out of Vancouver on Friday evening. I knew that they sold wine by the half bottle along with the prepared food, so with a five hour ride in front of us – and no kids to look after – I headed off to the Coach Café to see what the options were. And I couldn’t believe my eyes!

A half bottle of Coppola Merlot (a very nice wine from California, and the famous director of the Godfather movies) was $15! If you could find it in Vancouver, it would sell for about $25 in the government liquor stores. And, as per above, a glass in a restaurant would probably be $15. What a deal! And we didn’t even try the white wine – the regular Chardonnay from Chateau St. Michelle, a Washington winery that also makes great wine. Same price, same story….

Next up, dinner on Saturday night at what turned out to be a fabulous Spanish restaurant called Andaluca. I had checked out the wine list on-line and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! A very nice selection of Spanish wines – from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, etc. – and most of them in the $50 – $65 range! All of them highly rated by wine critics! In Vancouver, with the regular mark ups, there are many restaurants where the introductory wines start at $60…for a wine that sells for $12 retail.

But then I got to the restaurant and, looking at the menu, got an even better (or worse) surprise – all Washington State wines were 15% off! I almost fell out of my chair. A couple of quick searches on my Blackberry found a Rhone Blend called Midnight by Scarborough was rated 91 points by Parker…and $50! After the rebate, that meant it was $42.50! I leave you to guess what I did.

I could go on about the prices of wines in the private wine stores….or the deals on wine (and spirits) at Trader Joe’s…but I think you get the picture.

Our province – and its restaurants – could take a big lesson from what is going on in Washington State. At a minimum, deals on BC wines would be a great step forward.

But who is going to have the guts to take that first step?



March 12, 2014

The “corkage” law in BC (which allows people to take their own wine into a restaurant and drink it for a fee, called the corkage) is over a year old now, but there was an article in the paper the other day talking about how few people use it.

That got me to thinking – why is that?

Restaurant wine prices in BC – like many other places on the planet – are ridiculous. It seems that 100% – 200% mark-up per bottle is pretty standard, with a number of higher end restaurants going even higher, to 250% or even 300%. That means a wine you can buy in the store for $20 is going to cost you at least $40 (if you are lucky), and up to $60!

Wine by the glass is, arguably, worse. It is hard to find a decent wine for less than $10 a glass, with many in the $15 a glass range. On top of that, you have to deal with variable pour levels (is that really 4 ounces?) and too many wines that have been left open and are in some kind of state of oxidation.

Yet – despite these problems – not many people go the corkage route!

One reason may be that they don’t know about it, as few restaurants up here advertise it. Another might be intimidation. Wine, by its nature, is scary to many people, and the thought of having a waiter give you that “look” when you hand him or her the wine may just be too much! Finally, some restaurants make their corkage policy either complicated (“the wine can’t be on our wine list”) or expensive ($35 a bottle or more), that the disincentive just becomes too high.

But I say – fight it!

If you have a cellar, what a great way to share a great old bottle (or two if you are with friends). There are too few restaurants with older vintages on their wine lists, and those that do charge an arm and a leg for them.

Even if you just have a few bottles sitting around at home, why not bring one? It is a probably a wine you like, so that avoids the risk of ordering something you don’t like, and having to pay for it.

But the biggest reason to go the corkage route is one that should appeal to the “shopper” in everyone – it can save you money!

Let’s say there are two of you having dinner, and you usually have two glasses each. By the glass, that is going to probably cost you north of $60. A bottle may well be more than that (unless you go for the cheapest selection on the list).

So why not just bring a bottle from home or go to a wine store and buy a bottle on your way to the restaurant? Grab your favourite bottle, or tell an expert how much money you want to spend, what style you like, and let him or her pick one out for you.,

I can just about guaranteed that you will enjoy the result.

My last experience is a perfect example. It was a “boy’s night out” and there were six of us at a fairly high end restaurant. While I like the restaurant, I also know that the wines start at $60 for the low end. So I brought two reds from my cellar for our dinner, neither of which was on their wine list. Given that they were very good wines with some age to them, comparable versions on the list would have been $100 each. Instead, we paid $70 – total. Not only did we enjoy them, but the bill was a lot smaller than it could have been!