Arts & Entertainment

In Wine World, Values Remain Amid Rising Prices

SAN ANTONIO — With talk of recession in the air along with the weakened dollar, rising fuel costs and the troubled housing market, what's the poor wine drinker to do?

Or, even the middle-income wine drinker?

While there might be a few reasons for tightening our purse strings, the news isn't all bad. People still are buying wine. Yes, prices of many European products have jumped, but there are plenty other good ones out there that can be had for reasonable prices, say local wine

Don White, at Fine Spirits Emporium here, says that a trend he noticed during the holidays also carried through the first quarter. That is, fewer people came into the store to buy wine, but the numbers, in terms of sales, were up.

Wine, he explained, is a comparatively small luxury item. "Some people have shown sticker shock, but they still want to buy. They may not be traveling the world or buying a new Porsche, but they can still afford a good bottle of wine," he said.

Other factors besides the weakening dollar can contribute to higher prices of imports, he says. One of these is taxation, which fluctuates but isn't a big issue at the moment. Another is fuel cost. This is a factor that can drive up prices of wine that are bargains, shipped from countries such as Australia, Chile or South Africa.

This can mean good news for domestic wines in some cases. A Texas or California wine doesn't have to travel as far. "I think that domestic wines sold at a fair price should benefit," he said. But, he pointed out, some people still would rather drink Old World-style wines even if they can't afford the top French products.

For them, there are a couple of factors to consider. White says he still has a big flow of premium level, good European wine at good prices — he just doesn't know how long this flow will last.

The reason for this supply, he says, can be attributed to strategies used by some of the largest businesses, including importers.

Some bought euros with dollars before the dollar's value fell, then held the money in bank accounts. Then, they purchased wine with these less-expensive euros. Others purchased large quantities of wine when the dollar was stronger, holding it for later release. Some purchased insurance to cover potential losses, or simply reduced their profit margins to ameliorate the impact of higher costs to customers, says White.

Consumers, though, can also take matters into their own hands by some savvy shopping.

At Central Market here, wine and beer director Heidi Holcomb says, "There are still some great values in Spanish wines."

One example: the "G" Series of five wines from the young producers of Vinos Sin-Ley, meaning "wine without laws." The wines are called G1 2005, G2 2005, and so forth. The "G" refers to the varietal used to make each wine, garnache (the Spanish name for grenache).

Each wine is made from the same grape variety, but comes from a different region. This offers the wine aficionado a glimpse of the difference a terroir can make in the taste of wines using the same grape. Prices run from $10-$16.

"I tasted these wines in Spain and visited the regions they were made — and I was super impressed," Holcomb said.

White also pointed at Spanish wines as good values, as well as Italian wines from lesser-known regions such as Sicily, Montepulciano and Apulia.

"At this store, I'm not aimed at high-end buyers," said White. "I want to educate and entertain wine lovers at all levels," he said. Two examples priced between $7-$8 were a Spanish wine from the Costa Brava region called Marola, and an Italian wine, La Villa — "an honest, dry, good Montepulciano," he said.

             

              c.2008 San Antonio Express-News

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