Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Trip Down Memory Lane with Wine Prices

In order to illustrate changing values put on wine, I dug out the May, 1985 Spring Wine Sale Booklet from Village Corner. That was a time when the American dollar was particularly strong against the French franc. And it was also a time when many excellent French wines were being made and introduced to the American public, primarily by Robert Parker.

A look at the Rhone section shows that Jaboulet's Hermitage la Chapelle was selling for $10.95, Domaine Thalabert Crozes Hermitage for $5.25 while Domaine Sainte Anne's Cotes du Rhone Villages was $3.59. By comparison, the current vintage of Hermitage la Chapelle commands upwards of $150 a bottle while Domaine Thalabert is $20 to $25 and Domaine Sainte Anne $10 to $12. So there's clearly a lot more than inflation at work here. An income of $15,000 to $20,000 a year was pretty good in the mid-1980s, so a $10 bottle of Hermitage was not really considered a bargain. But Kistler's Winery Lake Chardonnay was $11.50 and Caymus Cabernet (regular bottling, not the Special Selection) was $14.50.

At the upper end, wine prices today have soared. There are many Americans who can afford to spend $100 or more for a bottle of wine and will bid prices ever higher to make sure they get the wines they want. And there are many who can't afford to spend that kind of money who do anyway. On the other hand, Domaine Sainte Anne CDR Villages and comparable wines are selling relatively close to their 1985 prices. In my opinion, these lower level wines have become substantially better over this 23-year period while the quality of the Jaboulet wines has deteriorated.

My quantity purchases in 1985 were of wines in the Sainte Anne and Domaine Thalabert range. That was what I could afford, and they turned out to be wines that were most useful and satisfying. I could and probably should have bought more of the Hermitage la Chapelle, but realistically I wouldn't have had as many occasions to drink it, and while it's better than the Thalabert, it's certainly not twice as good. So even at 1985 prices, the Thalabert was a good deal.

Looking to the future, there's no way of knowing which wines are going to increase the most in market value; nor which wines are going to last for 25 years. But there's a sure way of knowing what wines are going to bring you the greatest pleasure...today, next week and next year. Taste carefully, make note of which wines improve with time in the bottle and at what stage you like to drink them. And don't worry about opening a wine that tastes fantastic to you right now and matches well with what you're putting on the table.


  1. Any help on what tastes good and goes together? We had a nasty swiss and chardonnay experience tonight. Love the swiss. Love the chardonnay. But so not together. Teach us please. Generally I am a fan of, "If you like it, it works!" Not. So. Tonight.

  2. Generally, cheese makes wine taste better. The old saying is: buy on bread, sell on cheese. In other words, serve cheese when you're selling wine, eat bread when you want to be critical in your judgment. It must be the bitter streak in (some) Swiss cheese that's clashing with the Chardonnay.

    Matching food and wine is mostly trial and error. I've found, for example, that spicy foods (like Chili or Indian food) go better with fruity red wines rather than spicy or tannic ones. Salty foods (like Bratwurst or corned beef) go better with a low alcohol white like a German Riesling.

    Thanks for the tip. I'll think about it and come up with some ideas about wine and food.