Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com
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Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

Nobody’s happy about the state of the economy.

The period of “irrational exuberance” that we went through in the last few years before the crash of 2008 saw wine flow like, well, wine. Times were flush and wineries flourished. There was seemingly no end to America and the world’s collective thirst. Credit was easy to come by and if you had grapes, a catchy name and a cool logo, being in the wine business was a piece of cake.

No more, I’m afraid. Like it has for many people in “glamour” jobs, the romance has disappeared for those in the wine industry. Today, with supply having mushroomed in the previous decade and demand, especially at the high-end, contracting almost daily, it is all business all the time for those who sell wine.

A look around the world of wine shows the hard times.

Restaurant wine sales, long a source of profit, have plummeted with the demise of expense-account business. The people who used to drink big haven’t just cut back; they aren’t even there anymore.

The class-A shares of Constellation Brands, the world’s largest wine sales company with brands like Mondavi, Simi, Ravenswood and Hardys, amongst many others, closed last Wednesday at $11.96 per share. That is about half of its 52-week high of $23.48 on Sept. 19 of last year. This despite increased sales in fiscal 2009 and the company’s positive outlook for 2010.

The consensus of those in the industry is that the trend for the foreseeable future will show a slight increase in consumption of wine and spirits as dollar volume declines. Simply put, that means more juice will be sold but people will spend less for it.

But if things are tough for those who sell wine, I don’t have to tell you how tough it is for those of us who buy it. This recession is an equal-opportunity event that has effected both sides of the sell/buy equation.

So what to do? Well, to begin with, don’t stop drinking. This is, of course, a good time to reevaluate how you spend your money on wine, but if you try a little harder you can enjoy wine and still save.

Start by experimenting. The greatest bargains in your local wine shop won’t be the Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay from Napa. Not that there is anything wrong with those wines, but the costs of real estate and labor dictate that they will be spendy.

Rather, seek out wines made from grapes that may not be familiar to you. From Spain, try Tempranillo and Albarino to round out your red and white wine cravings. Look for red wines made from Malbec and whites made with Torrontes from Argentina. These can be found in most wine shops and are frequently in the bargain bins at less than $15 a bottle. Sometimes much less.

If you are eating out, check out the wines-by-the-glass list rather than the full bottles. Over the last few years, restaurants have become much more savvy about offering good wines to customers by the glass and you should take advantage of the upgrade. Here too, try to look for something a little bit different from what you are used to drinking. Maybe an Australian Shiraz would work as well with your Steak au Poivre as that California Cab you always order. And a glass, even two, should save you a few bucks on the final tally as opposed to a full bottle.

And when you can, buy in bulk. Nearly all wine shops give a case discount on their wines that can range from 10 percent to even 15 percent. If you buy 12 bottles that average $15 each, that’s pretty close to getting two bottles gratis.

Finally, it may be tempting to drive to Costco or one of those big liquor stores in Denver to buy your wines, but resist. You may save a few dollars but when you consider the extra money spent on transportation and the crowds and the whole experience, do you really want to buy your wine that way?

Here in this valley are a number of liquor stores and wine shops full of folks who get it. They want to help and they have both knowledge and passion for the products they sell. They are going through tough times as well and we all want them to be here when this recession is in the rear-view mirror.

So, my number one tip for wine drinkers who want to continue their habit? Shop locally, buy globally.


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