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Friday Fishwrap
Who Can Afford Wine Today?

By Charles Olken

In his blog entry on Wednesday, my writing compatriot, Steve Eliot, spoke wistfully of the days when he could afford the wines that we now review. And that got me to thinking. Can we really not afford them? Has the world changed that much? Or, is it that we are experiencing future shock? The future has arrived and we are not ready for it.

Wine prices, it is true, are racing off the charts. And the Ridge Cabernet I purchased from the 1970 vintage at under $10 is now somewhere around $150. Other wines, when they can be tracked more or less directly, are also twelve to twenty times what they cost back in the day. In other words, what seemed affordable then seems out of reach today.

And yet, somebody must be buying this ocean of $100 and up Cabernet Sauvignon. The marketplace simply would not, could not support those kinds of prices for what seems to be a rapidly expanding supply of such bottles if they were not buyers. It does not take a fancy degree in economics to understand the basic idea that three-digit prices can only be maintained if there are buyers at those prices.

Obviously, someone does not find that kind of pricing to be excessive. It is not, I suspect, people of my age who are experiencing future shock, and it is not the Millenials who, we are told, are in love with $15 Malbec from Argentina. It is, as it has always been, the newly wealthy, emerging middle to upper middle-class professionals who have rushed past their thirtieth birthdays and are now making lots of money as doctors, lawyers, investment bankers and Silicon Valley computer jockeys. It has always been first about the new money, and it is today.

New money is also about future shock. Look ma, no worries, my salary just jumped ten-fold. I can afford Von Strasser and Blackbird, Alpha Omega and Quintessa, Dominus and Duckhorn, Loring and Lail and the tidal wave of others who have jumped on the hundred-dollar bandwagon.

Here is where I think my generation of complainers has missed the boat. I compared what I paid for my very nice four bedroom house in the suburbs back in 1970 with what my new neighbors just paid to move in directly across the street in very similar house. It is sixteen times what we paid. So I compared what my first nice car (purchased as my salary kept rising and I no longer needed to buy a five-year old used car) to what that car costs today and it is about fifteen times. We will be in the market for a new car soon, and we may or may not pay that kind of price again, but we could if we decide that we need one more really nice car before we get too old to drive anything but a feather bed with wheels.

So, it turns out that some of the great necessities of life are about on par with wine when it comes to increasing cost. And the decision to pay for houses and cars but not for wine, because wine is SO expensive, is as much about future shock as it is about reality.

In the next couple of weeks, we are going to discuss another version of reality. Our April Issue is now in the process of preparation. There are, it turns out, a small but very noticeable number of far more affordable, very tasty and well-made Cabernet Sauvignons that deliver lots of character for the price. They may not be world-beaters, but they are highly recommendable, And, we will be back in a few weeks with an array of wines that caused us to smile when we unveiled them in our blind-tastings and found wines about which we could get excited over their high quality and then doubly excited because they bore price tags that were under $50. Stay tuned. We will deliver the antidote to future shock when our April Issue goes public.

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by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:3/15/2013 12:24:30 PM


wine prices
by Thomas Kruse
Posted on:3/18/2013 11:44:16 AM

At the end of the meal the bottle is empty. Why did I pay what I paid for the wine? Secure, happy, reasonable people don't need to pay more than ten dollars to enjoy a nice bottle of wine.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/18/2013 4:25:26 PM

Mr. Kruse--

I paid more than $10 for Thomas Kruse wines thirty years ago.

Fortunately, secure, happy, reasonable people are free to pay more for wine if they want to just as they can buy BMWs instead of Smart Cars.

It is not a question of palatable wine. A bean burrito is palatable, and I am happy to have a burrito from time to time but I cant see why eating lamb chops or a nice steak makes me insecure or unhappy or not reasonable. On the whole, yours is a pretty silly and self-centered thesis that suggests you know better than anybody else.

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