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Wine Prices: What's My Average?


These wines are all under $15 a bottle. (Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)

The complaint was predictable. I had written about Heart's Delight, the premiere wine charity event in the Washington area – one of the premiere events in the country, an event that over the past decade has raised more than $8 million for the American Heart Association and its fight against coronary disease and stroke. The column combined elements of drama, or at least what passes for drama among wine lovers: The world's pre-eminent wine critic, his recent pronouncements on the surprisingly high quality of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage, the havoc the economy was playing with prices in Bordeaux, and how the turmoil is hurting one of D.C.'s finest wine stores as it struggles to sell its inventory of previous vintages.

This is the stuff wine lovers eat up, even if they can't afford to drink it up. But all the drama couldn't satisfy a chatter on the Food section's Free Range online live discussion. “Arlington, Va” complained about the prices of the wines presented at the charity auction, which ranged in price from $30 to $180. “I understand, just like the car column has to review Rolls and Mercedes once in a while to keep things interesting, but when will your wine column review a selection of under $15 wines commonly available at Giant, Safeway or Trader Joe's? Isn't The Post's budget for buying wine for you to sample getting a little thin these days?” the chatter asked.

Food editor Joe Yonan was prepared to come to my defense, noting that I routinely recommend wines costing under $15 and that he expected the complaint because, unfortunately, “people don't seem to be able to remember wine recommendations from one week to the next.” He didn't ask me to respond, perhaps fearing I might get a little too testy.

So I decided to look at my previous columns for some perspective. In the five weeks before that May 20 column, I recommended a total of 37 wines. If you had bought one bottle of each of those at the retail price listed, you would have spent $611, or an average of $16.50 a bottle. Those included a $50 pinot noir from New Zealand and a $36 California fume blanc, but also 31 wines at $20 or less and eight at $10 or less.

I devoted a column in December to wines under $15, and another in March to the effects of the recession on our drinking habits. I have consistently included inexpensive, overperforming wines in my recommendations. I am fully aware that the average price paid for a standard-size bottle of wine in America is about $5. However, I am also aware that most wine at that price is boring at best and horrible at worst. That's why I recently started a monthly “Recession Busters” feature in which all wines recommended will be over-performers that cost around $10 or less.

A newspaper wine column should not be just about wines from Giant, Safeway or Trader Joe's. It should be about wines that offer value at any price – by which I mean wines that taste more expensive than they cost.

Those wines, frankly, will mostly be found in specialty wine stores, such as those listed in my articles. These retailers seek out value-performing wines. We are lucky to shop in a highly competitive market that has importers and distributors searching out great-value wines at all price ranges. Some of these wines are produced in the hundreds of cases, or thousands, but usually not in the hundreds of thousands. So they won't be available everywhere. Stores and distributors may run out of them, because they are not made by the boatload. Those are the wines I feature in my column.

Sometimes we might find one of them at a supermarket, and I have mentioned those in my store listings. But the wine column should find wines that overperform, not wines that speak to the least common denominator. I will continue to write for the entire spectrum of wine lovers: the collectors who might support a charity auction, as well as average readers worried about the recession who want to find a tasty wine for Wednesday dinner. (For the record, I belong to the latter group.)

And to “Arlington,” I would just say this: I can't persuade you to spend more for your wine, but I hope you will read my columns carefully and try some of the $10 and $15 gems I recommend. You might be surprised. And on those Wednesdays when my recommendations don't fall into your price range, please remember that wine is a bigger subject, even in these tough times. Take another sip of your budget find from last week's column, and remember that I'll have more for you in future columns.

-- Dave McIntyre

By The Food Section  |  May 27, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags: Dave McIntyre  
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Comments

I am glad that Dave addressed this question from the chat. I think the writer seems more concerned with the convenience of picking up wine at the grocery store than with seeking out quality wines that are also inexpensive. I would like to remind him or her that although the grocery stores in Virginia may all carry wine, those of us living in DC or Maryland do not have that luxury. We have to make a special trip to the wine or liquor store. It seems silly to me to limit yourself to what can be found on a grocery shelf and to expect that a wine columnist should review accordingly. I read the wine column and have bought some of the wines recommended. And, I almost always buy wine in the $10-$20 range. Please use Dave's reviews to help you broaden you wine horizons.

Posted by: SweetieJ | May 27, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Keep up the good work, Dave! I love your columns, and even though I can't afford the Heart's Delight bottles, it's fun to read about them!

Posted by: zaatarweeblycom | May 27, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

While I did not partake in the online discussion, I must rush to Mr. McIntyre’s defense here. The wine column continues to move in the right direction since he took over the helm. His reviews represent a wide spectrum of wines at a variety of price points. He should continue to review wines based on their merits, not their convenience. All of the wines that he recommends are available at local wine merchants. Just because you can’t put them in your shopping cart alongside your frozen chicken Pomodoro, it shouldn’t debase the fact that many of his recommendations are good values at reasonable prices (including $15 and under). Mr. McIntyre – keep up the good work.

Posted by: skipotpie | May 27, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Mr Mcintyre should be shown the door at the WP. He reviews are wrose than his predecessors and don't hold a candle to Ben's.

If the WP keeps him he needs to concentrate more on VA and MD wines and throw in East Coast wines for good measure.
At least one column a month should concentrate on local wines only. You have more than enough material for 3 local wine columns a month and tastings. With all hoopola over eating local the Food section of the WP needs to get with it and concentrate on local wines along with local produce, local cheese and local meat
especially locally raised lamb! And lets not forget the stock dogs that work local livestock. Nothing beats watching a a good herding dog moving 500+ sheep and lambs on beautiful spring morning with fog just lifting.

Posted by: sheepherder | May 28, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Sheepherder, wake up and smell the sheep dip. I've written more about local wines in my eight months with the Post than anyone ever has, including Ben (who doesn't like local wines, by the way). Remember my recent column on Virginia Viognier? My column about local wines in October (and my creation - with a friend - of the DrinkLocalWine.com Web site and "Regional Wine Week")? Or that I recommended Virginia wines for Thanksgiving, including them along with wines from elsewhere because they are good enough not to be treated as novelty items anymore? I reported on Jim Law's shift to lighter bottles at Linden, and I included Virginia in my recent column on US Sauvignon Blanc. Did you see Mary Jordan's fine piece about Virginia wines wowing the British vinoscenti at the recent London International Wine Fair? It was published merely ONE DAY before you posted your comment. Who do you think alerted her that Virginia wineries were coming to London?

You have seen plenty of coverage of local wines and the local wine scene in my columns - and you will continue to, if you pay attention.

Thanks for reading - and thanks to everyone else for the kind words and support. I appreciate all feedback, including negative (as long as it's justified, which sheepherder's complaint is not.)

Cheers,
Dave Mc

Posted by: DaveMcIntyre | May 31, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

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