Cheap vs. expensive wine

Wine pricing—guaranteed to vex vino votaries.

In one glass, you have cheap stuff where bottle and transportation are major expense, not fermented juice. Oak and sugar mask faulty fruit, but you can buy it for less than a Lincoln (five dollar bill for readers who think cash is so 2015 in the world of smart phone apps). Oh, and it is at least 14.5% ABV.

In another glass, expensive stuff where cost is raison d’être (“reason for existence” for readers not into obscure, five-dollar-bill words flaunted by writers with a thesaurus). It comes in very heavy bottle, a cork closure, has 15.5% ABV and costs a Benjamin ($100 bill for readers who think cash is so 2015 in the world of smart phone apps). It partially exists so people can brag about buying it.

Wine marketeers say $15-25 is sweet spot for dry wine today. That price allows grower and his workers, winemaker and her workers, middlemen and their minions, wine store/supermarket and their shelf stockers, check-out clerks, and curbside delivery crews to earn enough to buy a $15 bottle of wine.

How did we get here? There are more than 10,000 wineries in the United States, and quixotic dreamers start new ones almost every day. But top five producers account for 75% of sales and top two distributors account for more than half of wholesale business.

Supermarkets do not really sell wine. They sell shelf space, requiring distributors to maintain inventory. They also sell “shiners”—excess production from a winery that allows the supermarket to attach a clever label and market it as “exclusive.” Usually, in the $15-25 price range.

Shiners are not a scam. Most wineries do not label their bottles until they are ready to be sold—helping ensure labels are not scuffed up. When they sell all they can sell under their label, extra bottles are sold for what market will bear. Shiners are crapshoot wine. It may be quality wine that that would be more expensive under maker’s label. Or less expensive, and for a reason.

This is not to disparage or discourage. With all its issues, gimmicks, and ruses, we are privileged to enjoy the greatest availability and quality of wine in world history. Often at $15-25 price point.

Last round: Where do people learn about ice cream? Sundae school. I prefer wine, however, and I religiously study by pulling a cork.