Wine glut pitfalls 5-15-2024

The world has a glut of wine. In some ways, a good thing for wine buyers. With supply up and demand down, wine makers have to make sacrifices to move their product. The old seller’s adage applies: “I would rather have 50% of something than 100% of nothing.”

Maybe that higher-end, higher-quality wine of your fantasies will move into your pocketbook possibility zone. But danger also lurks. The brand that now looks like a bargain may not be exactly what initially enchanted your imagination.

Fortunately, the label must give you clues. But you have to know what to look for.

There is so much excess wine today makers are conjuring ways to use some of the glut to tempt you with a bogus bargain. A key ploy is to produce bottles with labels that look almost identical to their existing, higher-priced offerings. All seems the same, but there is one tell—the place where the fruit came from may be different from the one you think you are buying.

Example: a wine labeled “Sonoma County” typically is a reassurance of quality, and indicates all—or at least 75% of the grapes—come from that premier grape growing region. When the wine label reads “California,” that is something else. The wine could have come from anywhere in California.

If the label says “American,” 25% of it could be imported from overseas. Federal records indicate 68 million gallons of imported wine—most of it bulk wine—came into the U.S. in 2022, compared to 51 million gallons in 2020.

You will most-often encounter vague designations in supermarket wines and discount wine stores. Many supermarkets sell wines under their “exclusive” labels. What that really means is the supermarket buys “shiners”—wine bottles without labels—and puts their “exclusive” label on the bottle. Two supermarkets can sell exclusive wines that came from exactly the same maker off the same bottling line. The only difference is the label.

This is not a scam. If you like the wine, great. Enjoy away. Makers of shiners can make very acceptable wine. The wine may be a commodity wine made in huge amounts to a certain flavor profile concocted from bulk wine, but millions of people enjoy those wines. You can, too, with no shame.

But if you always wanted to try the genuine article of your vino dreams, carefully examine the label. If a deal is too good to be true, it usually is not.

Last round: The CEO of IKEA has just been elected prime minister of Sweden. Currently, he is assembling his cabinet. Wine time.