Wine aficionados such as Joseph R. Mathewson know that ordering a glass or two at dinner could very well be the most expensive part of the meal. While many people know going into the hobby of wine loving that it is not a cheap endeavor, the rising price of wine over the past few months does not help.
According to Restaurant Sciences, which is a firm that works independently to track food and beverage sales, prices of wine by the glass rose every month for the last half of a year. The study only looked at stand-alone restaurants and excluded nightclubs, hotel restaurants and concession stands. The biggest reason appears to be the shrink of wine production from everywhere around the globe. Last year’s production shrank more than 6 percent, which put wine production numbers at the lowest point in nearly four decades.
Through the simple nature of supply and demand, with less wine to go around people need to pay more to drink it. That is why it is getting rare to find bottles of wine at less than the cost of a nice entrée at most restaurants around the country. Buying wine by the glass has always been more expensive, but now may not even be an option for the casual wine drinker who doesn’t have a huge wallet.
The biggest part of the industry to get hit was the family dining sector, which saw prices of wine inflate more than 8 percent. At high-end restaurants the hit was felt as well, with wine prices increasing more than 5 percent. Casual restaurants, where the bill typically falls in the range of $40 to $140, did not see a huge price increase. Those prices only rose about 2 percent.
One wine bar owner who spoke to the Los Angeles Times said she has been combating the inflating prices by finding newer, smaller companies to get wine from. She says she typically aims to keep wine at less than $14 a glass, because even in Hollywood people are still feeling the crunch of the tough economy. Even though she has an incredible passion for wine, she is even straying away from the red and white delicacies while dining if prices are too high. She says she has supplemented her diet with plenty of beer instead.
One reason why the cost is rising is because many vineyards are still replanting and trying to recover from the recent recession. Since wine is a luxury, many of the jobs in that area suffered and now it is harder to find people who can do the jobs necessary and have the knowledge needed to manage vineyards and aid in winemaking and grape picking. Poor weather also attributed to the shortage last year. That shortage could continue into this year as well, with some estimating 1 billion bottles or more off the average.
Almost every wine has felt the pinch. Some wines that were good for consumers who had a mid-range price in mind like Pinot Noir are now at their most expensive. Even discount wines such as Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw wine have been affected. The wine, which was lovingly referred to as “Two-Buck Chuck,” is now more than $2 a bottle for the first time in more than a decade.
Of course, the shortage does not affect every area of the market, Joseph R. Mathewson says. It very well could be that a lot of the rising prices at the restaurant level could be because they have not fully recovered from the economic crash a few years ago and are still looking for ways to make up the lost funds. Similar to the way that a cup of coffee might only cost a few dimes to make but can go for $3 or $4 on a menu, restaurants are going to charge more for bottles and glasses of wine to help cover their overall costs of labor and overhead.
As the owner of Solana Farms, a vineyard that spans 160 acres in California, Joseph R. Mathewson knows a thing or two about good wine. While some wine aficionados have strict allegiances to either red or white wine, every wine drinker is looking for the same thing: a good-quality wine at a decent price. There are a few things that go into what makes a good wine.
First, in order for a wine to be considered good quality, there can be no faults. A good to great wine will be made from the best grapes. Many winemakers believe that the quality of the grapes determines the quality of the wine. If the wine has faults it is usually the result of low quality grapes or mistakes in the storage and care of the wine while in the barrel. These faults usually have little to do with the ingredients in the wine and more to do with the process of making the wine. Faults include poor corking, barrel taint, over-oxidation and more. Unclean barrels or wines that are corked improperly can taste musty or sour, even to a wine drinker with an untrained palate.
The best quality wines are also well-rounded when it comes to their flavor. A wine should include the characteristics of its specific variety but should also add a personal touch as well. There needs to be something unique to distinguish one winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Merlot from another, Joseph R. Mathewson says. Most good quality wine today is usually a slight blend of different varietals. “Blenders” such as Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah are carefully added up to 20% with many other stand-alone wines to enhance both color and taste. Wine lovers enjoy taking notes on their wines and being able to pick out the specifics of what they taste. In short, the more notes the better—as long as they are positive notes, of course.
The aroma of a wine is clearly crucial to its quality. A wine with a bad aroma may not even get the chance to be tasted by the most adventurous of wine drinkers since the smell is usually a good indicator of the taste. Smells enhance the drinking experience, so even if there is a good taste to a wine, its bad smell can ruin the experience, Joseph R. Mathewson says.
Joseph R. Mathewson owns and operates Solana Farms with his brother Jim. The vineyard has earned various awards and medals in the past few years for its wine and olive oil products.