Several seemingly unconnected economic events have conspired in 2017 to provide wine lovers with some of the greatest bargains of the last decade, most of which are currently available on store shelves.
Let’s start with a few of the economic factors.
The worldwide recession: Starting in 2008, the impact of the collapse of world financial markets left the retail sector in the U.S. in recovery mode. Wine sales initially collapsed. Although they have recovered to some degree, a lot of wine that wasn’t sold over the past eight years remains in inventory around the country, undermining prices.
The impracticality of brick-and-mortar warehouses, malls and large stores: Over the past two years, it has become apparent that department stores are not a practical way to market goods. Rents are too high and employee salaries and benefits too great a burden.
The dramatic rise of online purchasing: The result of this, as well as the prior situation, has led not only to the discussion of the closure of large stores but the termination of higher-paid employees in favor of younger, less-knowledgeable associates.
The imminent shift in food purchases through online access: The purchase of the Whole Foods chain by online powerhouse Amazon signals a new strategy in how all food products, from canned goods to fresh produce and wine of course, will be purchased in the future.
The closure of some stores and the firing of skilled wine experts will mean that wine choices will shrink and most purchases will be of recognizable brands. No longer will we find wine experts roaming store aisles with stories to tell about new wine discoveries. For many years, well before I began writing about wine, I relied on store experts to tell me of regions about which I knew nothing and wines that offered excitement and diversity.
As stores close and key wine experts seek other employment, curious wine lovers will have no recourse. A 19-year-old clerk who restocks the shelves likely is little help.
I just returned from my eighth trip to New Zealand with a folder full of exciting new wines and regions to write about. Part of the problem, at this early stage, is that some of the wines are not yet imported to the United States. So there is no point in writing about them yet.
What is already here, of course, represents fantastic value because the New Zealand dollar currently stands at 73 U.S. cents, meaning that all New Zealand goods cost us less than they would if the two currencies were at parity.
The relatively unknown nature of many New Zealand brands and subregions also hurts recognition of the greatness of this country’s superb wines, with their racy acidity, distinctive varietal characteristics and astounding personality.
And yet none of this is evident when you see pricing so low that you make the assumption that the wines must be modest.
The most visible New Zealand wine is sauvignon blanc, almost all of which sell for between $12 and $17, and many are discounted even below $10. Prices like this belie the world-class nature of the wines.
More intriguingly, red wine from New Zealand has become the insiders’ best secret in the last three years, with pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and even syrah stealing the show in many wine competitions.