Four major factors seem to be producing a significant impact on the wine industry. They are:
* The stagnation in sales of boutique and higher-priced California and other domestic wines.
* The availability of large stocks of European wines, especially French wines, at very reasonable prices.
* An international recession.
* A series of successful European harvests culminating with a mammoth, potentially very fine 1982 vintage throughout Europe.
This fall and next year, given these four factors, should be a simply splendid time for consumers. In short, the wine trade is confronted with a burgeoning wine glut, and simple laws of supply and demand will operate to benefit wine consumers.
The following buying strategy might be construed by nationalists as rather un-American, but given the bullish dollar, the political and economic uncertainties creating apprehension in the French wine industry and a series of above-average European vintages to cherry-pick from, this is clearly the time to buy European wines, especially French wines.
With the exception of champagnes, virtually all French wines are lower in price. I still recommend generally avoiding burgundies because the majority of them, despite lower prices, remain quite expensive and overrated as quality wines. However, there are values to be found in this region of France. The white wines from the Ma connais area, and the soft, fruity red wines of the Beaujolais district are both attractively priced, and the 1981 vintage, now appearing on the market, was very kind to both regions.
In Bordeaux, a number of wine brokers and chateaux are unloading their inventories of older vintages because of the French government's tax on wine inventories. Expect to see older vintages of bordeaux on the market at quite reasonable prices. However, the best current buys from Bordeaux are the lovely, supple 1979 wines, which are actually lower in price now than when they were first offered. This is a result of America's strong dollar, which has soared from four francs in 1979 to almost seven francs, a whopping increase in purchasing power of more than 70 percent. While the 1979 vintage represents the best values in bordeaux at the moment, the 1978 vintage, an excellent year in the Medoc and Graves, was purchased at very high prices with a weak dollar, and has continued to remain expensive. Interestingly, the early offerings of wine futures for the 1981 bordeaux vintage -- certainly a good vintage, with the top wines superb -- have revealed prices for all wines but first growths such as Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour, Petrus, Haut-Brion and Margaux, to be very reasonably priced. Most of the other famous, non-first-growth chateaux are selling at prices of $65 to $130 a case, prices the consumer has not seen for at least five years. The trump card in the bordeaux wine scenario is, of course, the quality and size of the 1982 vintage. Big as this harvest will certainly be, even the guarded optimism of the Bordelais at the time of this writing suggests that this will be a very good vintage. If the vintage turns out to be both big and very good, existing unsold stocks of bordeaux, primarily 1980's and 1979's, will be unloaded at spectacular prices, and prices for the 1981's will certainly stabilize. Certainly for the consumer, the next year will be a year to buy the wines from the Bordeaux region of France.
While top quality bordeaux remains the French wine most sought-after by collectors and wine enthusiasts, other major viticultural regions also will be offering values that have not existed in some time. First, the Rho ne Valley, which produces an ocean of wine, mostly red, has not had a really bad vintage since 1975. The last three vintages, 1981, 1980 and 1979, have been as successful here as anywhere in France, and the wines from the 1978 vintage, which have largely vanished from the marketplace, are considered by many vignerons to be the most concentrated and greatest wines in this area since 1961, and in some cases, 1929. These wines are justifiably the most expensive Rho ne wines on the market, but are well worth cellaring, particularly if you can find the top wines from reputable growers/producers. However, the real values from the Rho ne Valley are the wines from the recent 1979 and 1980 vintages, which are intensely fruity, round and generous, and successful in both the northern and the southern parts of the Rho ne Valley.
In France's other major wine regions, the 1981 Alsatian wines may be the best since that area's 1976 crop, and will be arriving to the retailers' shelves this fall and spring at the lowest prices in several years. France's Loire Valley white wines, always commendable drinking with the area's seafood, should remain stable in price as this region has not had a really big, good-quality vintage since 1979.
While France's wines stand out among the European imports showing the most notable price reductions, wines from Italy, Germany, Portugal and Spain will all offer better values to the wine consumer.
All things considered, times could not be better for the consumer. Wine Briefs
The Wine Institute has just released the new California Wine Wonderland 1982/1983. Copies are free if individuals send 37 cents in postage together with a self-addressed envelope to: The Wine Institute, 165 Post St., San Francisco, Calif. This booklet contains a wealth of useful information about visiting hours, addresses and phone numbers for more than 400 of California's wines.