There is a big debate within our borders regarding whether or not we are in a recession. The reality is that the US economy is not in a good shape to say the least, and the average level of spending is declining. I feel the repercussions of that in the store, where I'm paying against the strong Euro which is pushing the prices up, creating a dangerous gap between retail costs and the money in people's pockets.
So what should one do in order to maintain the quality of his healthy habits without going broke?
The first suggestion is simple: STAY AWAY from Bordeaux. The top quality Chateaus are amazing, as well as some second and third growths (Leoville Barton is a splendid example of my theory) - but if you could find a few deals in those categories six months ago, chances are, they too are almost untouchable today. The above-mentioned Leoville Barton went from being in the $50 range no more then 3 years ago to well over $100 on the shelf today. And in most of the wines below that level, you'll start to see the "high-tech" wines; the ones that are part of the "Constellation" philosophy. Like McDonald's, they might taste good, but they are not expressive nor are they experientially satisfying. Burgundy is still holding up its quality standards, but the prices are prohibitive. That region in particular would not allow, for morphological and historical reasons, the discussion of higher production levels, so the amounts available are very limited. And since the wines are sought out from all around the globe, the prices are pushed up to the moon, and rightfully so, I might add. So where should one go in France for quality that won't break the bank? I would look for Rhone, Cahors, Sancerre (a good Sancerre Rouge is better then an average Burgundy and cost less) The wines I believe are still fairly priced, considering that today because of the note exchange we are paying 60% more than we were 6 years ago. But with a keen eye, you can still find a good selections of Cotes du Rhone, and other more obscure appellations for under $20 on the shelf.
In France there is also still the Champagne phenomenon - a small, tough region in the north that still manages to have monster productions, lower the overall quality of the non-vintage products, and after all of that, still claiming a shortage of it, resulting in the prices doubling over the course of just a few months. Want an example? Here's a good one: the wholesale price of the Laurent Perrier Brut NV in April will go from $174 to $ 204 for a case of six and from $ 510 to $ 990 for the Grand Siecle La Cuvee (these prices are published with the State Liquor Authority and are both the 1st case price). So if the 30% increase in price for the NV Brut can be justified buy the Euro's unstoppable strength (although there was another increase of 20% in September) the close to 100% increase for the Grand Siecle cannot be. As an alternative, sparkling wines from Italy, especially Piedmont, Lombardia (Franciacorta) and Trentino have the potential for very serious quality at a fraction of the price of Champagne (this category doesn't necessarily include Prosecco, which is not made using the traditional Champanoise Method). An additional similar alternative can be found in Spain as well, with some of the better quality Cava.
In Italy, most economy-related things are better off than they are in France - but still some of the more sought-out wineries can charge an arm and a leg for a bottle. If you compare the best from Barolo, Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino could be a good example, which sells for little over $ 300 retail. For the best from Burgundy, Romanee Conti and Henry Jayer sell for well over $ 300, and in some cases, they're getting closer to four figures. And while you can find great quality in the $40-$50 range with wineries like Fantino, Rocche dei Manzoni, Eraldo Viberti and many others, but then again, it cannot be the wine of choice in a moment of crisis. Once again I would look at different "Denominazioni." A Carema or a Gattinara has a more down-to-earth price point, while maintaining a good level of quality. I think it's better to spend $29 for a great Carema than 30+ for an average Barolo. Even if you have an occasion where you cannot live without Nebbiolo but your budget is $20, Valtellina is the place you want to look. A good Rosso di Valtellina can be found in the $15-$20 range and in some cases tastes better then the 20+ dollar Langhe Rosso from Piedmont. A similar argument can be made for Tuscany and Veneto and if your taste is open enough you can also substitute the wines with monumental stigma with something coming from a not-so-well-known wine region, like Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria, Apulia, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia. The same thing is generally true for the rest of the world as well , regarding where you can find great wine without inflated prices. Argentina's prices are stable, because the peso is the only currency in the world that has depreciated against the dollar in the past year. So my recession remedy suggestion is this; don't lower your quality standards. Instead, try choosing a less expensive, little-known denomination, but spend the same money on a higher quality wine.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti