When purchasing wine, Americans pay a premium due to the complex US three-tier alcohol system, which separates wineries and importers from wholesalers and retailers. Each middleman adds a markup resulting in a significant price difference between a wine purchased in Europe vs the same wine purchased from a retailer in the US. Learn how you can take advantage of traveling in Europe and save money on wine!
Tyler Colman of wine-searcher recently posed the question, How much is a $10 bottle of wine really worth? The answer, $2.40!
That was the number given by Steve Melchiskey, director of importers USA Wine West, at ProWein 2015, the annual wine trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany.
His example compares the price of a wine purchased directly from a winery in Europe compared to the cost of the same wine imported into the United States, and purchased a local wine store.
For easy math he started with a wine that leaves a European winery costing the buyer €2, or $2.40 a bottle at the moment's exchange rate.
The unfortunate truth is that a typical wine that leaves the winery costing the buyer €2, or $2.40 ($28.80 per 12-bottle case), would end up costing the consumer $10 in the US after shipping, taxes and markups!
Based on Melchiskey's calculations, if purchased in commercial quantities, it would cost the importer $10 to get the case from the winery, pay the duty and land it in a warehouse in the United States, increasing the case cost to $38.80. Then there are the costs of navigating the complex US three-tier system, which separates wineries and importers from wholesalers and retailers. First comes the importer, charging a 35% markup, which brings the case to $52, he said. The wholesaler markup is 40%, increasing the price to $80. The retailer tacks on a 50% markup, taking the case price to the consumer of $120, or $10 a bottle.
How do you avoid these markups? Eliminate the middlemen and purchase directly from the wineries!
We all know that when you're thirsty for some Champagne, it's not that easy to jump on a plane and travel directly to, well... Champagne, as tempting that would be! However many travellers visiting Europe often don't think to take advantage and purchase regional wine to take back with them.
Some would like to, but are frustrated to learn that shipping wine back from Europe to the US is, in most cases, illegal, extremely expensive, and risky. Others are not sure how to fly back with wine, or think it would be a hassle.
If you look around the world of wine today, you'll notice that most wine is made with the same grape varieties. Pretty much every 'New World' country produces wines made from grapes native to France; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot... the list goes on. This is no bad thing as stylistically, all the above varieties can be drastically different depending upon climate, soil, viticulture and vinification. The vast majority of glossy, bold Shiraz from Australia is, literally and figuratively, a world away from the savoury, peppery wines of the Northern Rhone, for example. However, in the last 10 years the fashion has been to move away from seeking out the 'best' examples of these well known varieties and instead to look for unique expressions, typically from grapes native to specific countries and regions. This has seen the emergence of some new stars in the world of wine, from the austere, mineral wines of Mount Etna in Sicily to the powerful, racy Assyrtiko of Santorini in Greece. Austria has re-modelled its vinous reputation with the versatile Grüner Veltliner and even as afar as South America, Bonarda and Pais are resurging on both sides of the Andes, in Argentina and Chile respectively.
However, no country has been rediscovered in quite the same way as Spain. There are somewhere in the region of 600 grape varieties on the Iberian Peninsula, the vast majority of them indigenous and regionally specific in production. Despite this, Spain was for decades synonymous with oaky, extracted wines from Rioja, and to a lesser extent Ribera del Duero, with Tempranillo the only celebrated indigenous grape hailing from the country. Short-sighted producers ripped up their old, unfashionable vineyards and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and anything that was currently selling, not realising that in doing so they were giving up their major point of difference on the international market-place. However, this wasn't true for all producers and quietly, many went about their business as they had done for centuries; cultivating their families vineyards and producing wines of distinction and style, as their vines slowly became older, sturdier and produced better quality fruit. To look at the market now compared to 20 years ago is staggering. Shops in Barcelona are awash with local Catalan wines, Galician field-blends are appearing in top restaurants across the world and even Sherry is making a come-back! To cover the entirety of this resurgence would take a strong liver and a lot of time, but I'd like to share a few exciting varieties from my own little corner of Spain, the fiercely independent Catalunya:
Wine is a fussy product. Starting from its very beginnings as embryonic genetic material located on the buds of vines, to its moment of glory in your glass, there are countless chemical reactions, pitfalls and opportunities to be navigated and controlled in order to create a good bottle of wine. The vast majority of these is, fortunately, taken care of by the time we actually buy a bottle of wine, as the vigneron has spent the entire year wrestling against nature, ensuring the right balance of sugars, acids and flavour compounds, before handing over the baton to the wine-maker. This is where the grapes will be converted into wine through the magical process of fermentation, possibly aged and then bottled with care being taken to ensure biological stability. Then depending on where the wine is to be sold, it will go through a long or short supply route, potentially crossing oceans, continents and all sorts of checks before it finally appears on a shop shelf or restaurant list somewhere in the world.
Enter us; the consumer. We purchase the wine with the intention of one day drinking it, whether that be within minutes of the purchase, or 20 years down the line, after extended storage to allow for it to evolve within the bottle. Assuming the bottle has been purchased close to home and you intend to drink it in the near future, this is all well and good as any issues of storage are very much the responsibility of the retailer/restaurant and bottles can be returned for a refund. However, if you're buying the wine far from home, possibly, abroad, we run into some potential issues quite quickly.
Having just come back from a two week trip to the Mount Etna region of eastern Sicily we thought we'd share some of the best wine stores we came across travelling in the region. I must say I love the "enoteca" concept in Italy, where you can come for an aperitivo, taste local wines by the glass with some food, and then purchase bottles that you've tasted and liked. We loved visiting and tasting wines directly at the wineries of course, but the experience of tasting different producers side by side, and the ability to try older vintages can only be done at an enoteca.