COULD it have been only two years ago that wine prices for such modest French wines as macon-villages and beaujolais were approaching double digits? Furthermore, wasn't just about every pricey new wine release from California being snapped up by a ravenous public?
The period of spiraling imported wine prices, especially for French and Italian wines, suddenly ended about a year ago. At about the same time, California premium wine sales became stagnant. At present, the consumer is confronted with a glut of both domestic and imported wine, and the result is a mind-boggling array of wine-buying and drinking alternatives.
In short, 1983 will represent the best of all possible worlds for the wine consumer.
There was an oversupply of good wines as recently as 1974 to 1976, but the situation then was strictly an imported wine crisis. The speculative bubble burst in 1974 because of myopic dealers of European wines, primarily French dealers who had irresponsibly pushed prices too high without regard to the quality of the wine they were buying.
Since the early '70s, the acreage under vine of both domestic and imported wine producers had increased significantly. In addition, this increased flow of wine from new and larger vineyards has been augmented by five successive good quality, bountiful crops in America and Europe. In short, the current worldwide wine bloat is a textbook supply and demand problem; production of fine wine has outstripped consumer demand.
Other factors are exacerbating an already serious condition for the wine trade. The macho American dollar, which has been pounding a weak French franc, Italian lira and British pound on the international money markets, has soared in value against these currencies by well over 70 percent in three years. Even after factoring in the effect of inflation in key foreign wine-producing counties as France and Italy, the cost of top-quality French bordeaux, burgundy and chablis is less now than in 1979.
Needless to say, French wine imports, once deemed tres che r, and judged overpriced by consumers in 1979 to 1980, are taking a bigger and bigger chunk of each wine consumer's dollar. The principal casualty of this in the wine buyer's allegiance has been the top highly priced, premium California wines, only three years ago considered great values.
The end results are all positive for the consumer . . . better and better buys for both domestic and imported wine.
One overlooked contributing factor to the current oversupply of good wine is that the fine wine market is no longer only represented by such glamor wines as bordeaux, burgundy, French champagne and California's cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays. One of the significant wine trends that occurred as an outgrowth of the exorbitant California and French wine prices in 1979 to 1980 was that smart, innovative merchants and importers turned increasingly to wines from areas that had been ignored by the fickle, label-conscious American buyer. Consequently, the '80s have witnessed the importation of large quantities of the top-flight rho ne wines from France; rich, fruity full-bodied Italian wines from regions such as Piedmont, Veneto, Friuli, Tuscany and Campania; cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays from Australia; and a plethora of well-made bargain-priced wines from Spain, Portugal and South America. Their presence has crowded an already congested marketplace.
The bottom line is, of course, that the wine consumer has never had it so good. And, when America's dollar plummets from its celestial heights against a rejuvenated franc and lira, or when France and Italy suffer through one or more dreary, miserable vintages, imported wine prices will again skyrocket, California wineries will take the price freeze off their products, and high-quality wines will again be affordable by only a privileged few.
When this happens, as it surely will, I hope you will feel safe and secure in the knowledge that in 1983, you had the foresight to anticipate history repeating itself, and that you stocked up on reasonably priced top French, Italian, German, Spanish and California wines.