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Aug 27, 200901:53 PM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

The results of a recession

One bright spot in the recession is that good wines become available at a lower price.

Photo courtesy of gravityx9

 What has been left in the wake of devastated financial portfolios and stagnant professional growth is a new appreciation for bargains. Americans who never clipped a coupon for laundry detergent are now happily doing so and actually feel a sense of accomplishment from saving 59 cents.

The wine world has not been immune to bargains. Although couponing is not an acceptable form of marketing (some silly state laws prohibit it), we are seeing bargains on the shelves today that have not been seen for more than 15 years, if ever. And we are seeing wines of exceptional quality at prices that only two years ago would have seemed quite extraordinary.

What’s happening and why?

Big surprise: You are partly to blame.

In the “good ol’ days,” going back to 2007, major wine producers at the release of every vintage increased the price of their product. What did they do to earn a price increase? Nothing. How could they increase prices without justification? Because you would pay.

You and/or your friends just had to have the latest issue from Bordeaux. You would pay for it long before it even was sent to America. “Wine futures” were made popular by folks like you paying for wine they had never tasted before it left the châteaux, all because some critic told you the stuff was pretty good.

On the domestic front, have you heard of such brands as Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Abreu or Bryant Family? These wines never saw a retailer’s shelf. They were traded in private, and you had to know someone just for the opportunity to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a wine that, here again, you probably never tasted.

Those days are pretty much gone. Yes, there are no doubt still people out there who are scooping up these labels, but there are not as many people as there used to be, and they are not paying what they would have a few years ago.
The crash has hit. People who formerly drank only those wines that cost upward of $70 are now drinking only those wines that cost a mere $35. And people who used to drink only those wines that cost $35 are now drinking wines that cost less than $20. Another factor is that these high-flier wine-drinkers are drinking wines from their cellars. Some of these folks are currently not buying wine at all, merely living off “The Stash.” Retailers hate it.

Sales of high-end wines are off by double-digit percentages. Merchants who have some of these treasures in their inventories are holding on and hoping some still-well-off customers stroll through the door. After all, the retailer has already paid for them, and the wines will not go bad for a long, long time.

The point here is that those merchants are not ordering any of the new vintage, or at least they are not ordering as much. The pipelines are full.

So, you ask, what about those mid-range wines that cost about $30? They are holding their own –– nothing spectacular, but sales are OK.

The really sweet spot of the market is wine in the $15-$22 range. Those are doing well. Overall wine sales volume is up in this country, and it is in this price range that great growth is occurring.

Because the laws of supply and demand are immutable, let’s do the math. Formerly higher-priced wines are languishing in sales, and there is no grand demand from the marketplace for the latest harvest. Where then does that juice go? Grapevines have no idea there is a recession going on. Like so many people today, they are not readers of newspapers or magazines, nor do they get their news from television or radio. And they are still doing what they do best, putting out fruit that can be converted to a darn pleasant beverage. 

The growers and winemakers are taking those fine grapes and placing them in lower-priced wines. Can’t let it go to waste. The lower-priced wines that are ready to come to market have within the blend some grapes that formerly went to the high-priced bottling.

Wait, it gets better. Many wineries are not honoring their growing contracts. Wineries are telling their contract growers that they, the wineries, do not want the fruit that is ready to harvest for 2009. There is already too much product in the marketplace not moving, and wineries do not need to stuff more wine into the distribution system.

The growers are stuck. They have raised some beautiful fruit, all to the specifications of the winery. Now, there is no winery with money to buy the fruit. What are the growers going to do?

They will make arrangements with a contract winery to sell the juice to middlemen who will sell it in bulk to those wineries currently operating in the sweet spot of the market, that $15-$22 range, which in turn, in the coming year or so, makes the wine that falls into that economic category an even better bargain than it is today, based on quality levels. These wines will be released later, 2010 through 2012.

Or the growers will create their own labels and sell the wine with a new, and probably unknown, label affixed to the bottle, which means we all have to be on the lookout for some great wines fronted by labels that we have never heard of before –– and probably won’t again after one or two vintages.

There are more factors that will contribute to you and me having better wine at excellent prices in the very near future. The point is that it is happening. We are the beneficiaries of something pretty good coming out of a recession.
Although we never wish anything bad on anyone, sometimes it happens. We will all get through this. And indicators are that we have bottomed out. But as long as it is happening, I want to take full advantage of market circumstances that are in my favor and out of my control.

I’m committed to enjoying great wine at low prices. It makes me feel like I am doing my part to be a good American. Maybe life really is not too short to drink cheap wine.

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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