Thursday, May 1, 2008

What Makes Inexpensive Wine Inexpensive?

I'm often asked why expensive wines are expensive, but the question in the title of this post is probably more interesting. First, it's important to understand the difference between cheap wine and cheap wine. Cheap wine can be really good and a great bargain. Often they come from countries, such as Argentina, where making wine is very inexpensive and they can thus charge lower prices for their wine. Our own kybecca malbec is from Argentina. Another technique is to make wine in large yields, which drives down the price of each bottle. Many good wines can be made this way. The result is that there are many wines less than $10 that are very good.

In the last ten or fifteen years, however, we have seen a 'race to the bottom' when it comes to wine. Clever marketers have convinced the public that the less you pay for wine, the better the bargain you're getting. It has now become common to see people boasting about how cheap their wine is. We don't even apply the same standard to beer - how many of you would boast about how cheap your six pack of Milwaukee's Best was? You wouldn't, because you wouldn't buy that stuff no matter how cheap it was (unless you are in college). Or imagine if somebody was selling hamburgers for 25 cents each. Your reaction wouldn't be "what a bargain!", it would be "25 cents for a burger? That's disgusting."

This trend has reached its peak with the Bronco Wine Company, a company that believes wine is a common commodity good for generating profits rather than an art and a very enjoyable part of life's leisure. Bronco is responsible, among other things, for the extremely popular Charles Shaw wines that you find at Trader Joes. I'm going to let you in on some trade secrets for your own benefit. Here's how this wine is made: Grapes are grown in huge yields with no regard for quality (good winemakers constantly prune and trim their vines to ensure quality). The vines are tended by machines and in many cases go from seed to grape without a human hand ever touching it. The grapes are watered just before harvest to increase the juice yield (but eliminating whatever flavor they had). The juice is spun in a centrifuge to separate out the tannins and other stuff normally found desirable. The juice ferments with oak chips, which are dunked into the fermentation tanks like giant tea bags. At the end, sweetness is added using grape extract or plain sugar. In fact, most of the flavor you get from these wines is from oak and sugar and nothing else. These people are chemists, not winemakers. Bronco then takes these wines and markets them under all sorts of names like Napa Creek, Forest Glen, and stuff like that. Trader Joe's Charles Shaw wines is just one incarnation of the same product. All of this also applies to another very popular wine from Australia with a kangaroo on the label.

My point is this: cheap wine is fine (we sell lots of it), but don't be fooled into buying cheap wine. You're not getting a bargain, you're getting ripped off. Why spend $3 on wine made by scientists when for $4 more you can get wine at 10 times the quality?

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