Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where's the good wine in the US?

         While Sarah and I were having dinner at Drago, the sommelier (not David Shearin, another guy) asked me what kind of wine I liked since we were having a "free" bottle that I had won. He actually offered to switch it out for something that I might enjoy with our meal, if we weren't feeling the Nero d'Avola. In the ensuing conversation, he mentioned to us that he had just returned from France, and that he had been drinking Grand Cru Saint Emilion Bordeaux for 9 Euro every night. I'm no expert on Bordeaux, and I know that according to Decanter, 2002 was a "modest to decent vintage," but that comment got me thinking.
         First, I know that people drink a lot of wine in France. It's more of a part of life than it is in the United States. But this would be a wine in the US that is probably at the least, 30$. Maybe K&L or someone else would have this for cheaper (I find Wally's to be excessivley expensive and precious, ie not worth going too, but if you live on the West side and don't want to go far, or if you want the latest Parker hysteria, hey, knock yourself out. They certainly have an impressive selection of "status-conscious" wine. I bet the stupid chicks from The Hills go their to buy...er...wait they probably get bottle service at the club, they don't drink wine. But whatever, Wally's is where the style cognoscenti go, you know. Maybe the paparazzi should go hang there? So LA!) I digress though--it's basically not an everyday wine. I understand why it's more expensive in the US--it has to be shipped here, there are shipping costs, customs fees, taxes, currency exchange risks, and the importer, wholesaler, and retailer that have to make money off of importing/selling the wine. Everyone takes their cut, and it adds up. If this didn't happen, they wouldn't be able to import/sell wine for all that long and would go out of business (unless they were a bank, or maybe a car company, in which case, they'd just get bailed out by the government and the taxpayers). This doesn't surprise me at all. I know that people have to have an economic incentive to do something. I do purchasing for a living, and I work for a business. I get it. Here's what I don't get--there is practically nothing, I repeat nothing, that you can realistically get in the US that is comparable for the same price.
            Is it significantly different cost wise to operate a vineyard/winery in the US? Is it prohibitively expensive to employ people and make wine in France as opposed to the US? My instinct tells me no. There may be differences, and France has a restrictive labor environment, restrictive tax structure, VAT, and a high cost of land, so seriously, what gives? If anything, it's probably more expensive to make wine in France. Oui? Where are the 10$-15$, 7 year old (ie relatively mature), killer wines for drinking with dinner on a Tuesday night on the shelf at the supermarket or your local wine shop that hail from the good old US of A? I don't think that they exist. Sure, you can get great 10ish$ wines--Kung Fu Girl Riesling, or Columbia Crest Estates Merlot, but I'm going to tell you something--they sure as shit are not 7 year old Grand Cru Bordeaux from a decent vintage. So, I'd like to know. Where the fuck are the 7 year old, great drinking, terroir driven wines in the United States for 10-15$. Do they exist? Or am I an insane, blathering idiot?     


CabFrancoPhile said...

This is a question I ask, too. Where's the effin' affordable non-spoofulated wine?

There are a few things working in the Grand Cru's favor beyond just import issues. Some Grand Crus make 10k, 50k or even 100k cases. I think we'd be surprised at the volume of wine many classified growths produced (especially given the prices they demand). I've seen St. Emilion Grand Crus for $15 or $20 at TJs (not 2002s, though), so these must be made on industrial levels.

The other thing is property. So many US wineries are new, the mortgage is still being paid. It shows up in the cost of the wine. In France many producers have owned the same land for decades, maybe centuries.

I think there are some older producers in Sonoma (Napa is out since they all shoot for prestige pricing) that can make honest wine for under $20. But not many, and those will be more fruity and certainly not 7 years old when you get 'em.

Tricerapops said...

i think part of the issue lies in number of producers we have domestically versus countries like France/Italy(?) when i look at california, with its inflated real estate, etc. - i find it hard to find any wines that I would consider great and of value. i assume it's because overhead is too high and that's passed on to the price i pay.

another theory could be that the domestic demand is too much along the extreme fringes(see two buck chuck versus cult california wines). maybe wineries have figured out the average american palate and can crank out relatively safe stuff at the right price point and we'll buy it, and only a small minority will raise the questions you are pondering. i'm not sure of the market viability or economics behind it, but i wonder how much of a demand there is for the wines you describe, and if wineries think it would be worthwhile to crank fucking awesome stuff at the prices we yearn for. i figure if a winery puts out something that is considered great for the price, and a cult following starts - well, you know the rest of THAT story....

oh PS, i also think the domestic demand wants stuff to drink right away, so you wont find too many domestic producers sitting on vintages for later release (which is a key aspect of old world wineries, from what i understand).

great question though - and if you find anything that fits the bill, don't hold out.

Tricerapops said...

only but two minutes apart and CFP makes my point about real estate prices (mortgage payments passed on to the consumer) - but more clearly. bravo!

Jeff said...

Great points...didn't think about the case production. I did, however, think about the real estate. I just figured that not everybody owned their land outright in France, which is probably wrong more often then not. However, when I thought about real estate, I was thinking about Washington, Oregon, and other places in the US, which might be inflated, but not to the extent of California. That's what vexes me. I expect California to be expensive. I live here...in Manhattan Beach. I'm familiar with "expensive." But I know that Washington wasn't always expensive. Even 10 years ago, it was pretty cheap, especially in Walla Walla. Also a great point about cash flow and immediate consumption. I thought that's why wineries had white wine or rose though? Cash flow is a bitch...got to have money to keep stuff running. I have heard it can take a long time to make a profit. Anyways, great points. However, on a certain level, I still am baffled.

Do you guys have any good domestic finds that are cheap and have some bottle age?

CabFrancoPhile said...

Yeah, the cash flow is a big issue. It seems like most wineries go from vine to bottle in under 2 years. Those that control vineyards have overhead in loans, while those who source grapes can't control their fruit costs. It seems like even French vignerons who source aren't so badly off. They probably do the work themselves instead of letting corporate vineyard managers do it for them.

Caparone, in Paso Robles, is one you could try. I saw their wines at Whole Foods for about $17. They're $14 'ex-chateau', meaning their garage. They have Nebbiolo and Aglianico from '05 out now, among other wines. These are old school non-interventionist rustic wines, made by experienced hands. All under 14% ABV, I think (from Paso Robles, crazy!!!!).

I just had an '07 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cab S. Obviously, younger than you'd like, but should be $15 to $20. Pretty refined, not over-extracted or over-oaked, somewhat leathery and floral, actually, but also with lots of fruit. Dry, cocoa-like finish. I bet in 3 or 5 years when the fruit comes in balance, it will be quite good I suspect.