Sunday, February 14, 2010


This week, while preparing for a Napa visit, I got this email from a winemaker inviting me to taste their new Cabernet. Under 300 cases, a grower since the late 1980’s, Oakville appellation, all good markers. And then I looked at the price. At first I thought, not bad, about $22 a bottle. Then I saw that was just for the shipping. The actual asking price for this bottle of Napa wine was well over $100. Excuse me, but do they not get the news in Napa? I’m quite impatient with this denial of a reality that many have to deal with everyday on the streets of America, but for some reason the winemakers in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Tuscany and Napa seem to think they are immune from. [insert soap-box]

We’re beating folks up over a $14 Soave and a $12 Montepulciano and then we run into this – I don’t know how to respond. And it’s going on it Italy too.

Earlier this month at the Vino2010 wine event in NY, I was tasting Tuscan wines. One fellow pulls me aside to sample his Rosso di Montalcino. The owner is a wealthy young man whose family sold a great estate and he is building his empire. Nice young man – good businessman. The wine is a little modern, but not off-putting. And then the price. Retailing for around $32-36- a Rosso di Montalcino, in my world? Come on folks, that dog won't hunt.

Example: I get a call from a restaurant owner in the suburbs. They are hunting for a Brunello, an Amarone and a Barolo for their list – seems a lot of folks from New York and Californian have moved to their areas and are asking for those wines. “Do you have anything for, say, $18? I’ve seen an Amarone at Trader Joe's for under $20 the last time I was in California.” That’s the bloody reality of these times.

I know the wine he is talking about. But I doubt if it is an authentic Amarone. Look, it’s just too expensive to produce a wine like an Amarone and sell it off a retail shelf in San Francisco for $19.99.

This is the quandary the Napa Valley producer has – being able to compete in a market with wines from South America, South Africa and Australia. Even as people who usually buy those wines are trading down (from $20 to $10, etc.) for the Napa Valley winemaker, one who has been growing grapes for a generation, what is their next move? Discount? Find all the wealthy people who will buy those 300 cases at $100+ a bottle? Hold onto it until (if?) the market bounces back? Keep hunting?

Are we in the winter of this current economic decline, or is it only Indian Summer? Do we have another 18 months, or is there something else going on, like reducing the consumerism we all have been taught is good (for the GPD)? I do not like telling wine producers their wine is over-priced for the market. They tend to want to shoot the messenger – it’s like telling a parent their child is ugly. No one wants to hear that or be the bearer of the bad news.

But that is exactly where we are right now – we are dug in – how many people do you know who are trying to recalibrate with lower pay, lesser health insurance? [stepping off soap-box now]

This week, life handed me chicken (not rabbit), so last night I made pollo alla cacciatora. Seeing as today is Valentines Day, I figured I’d make a whole pile of it and eat on it for a few days. Anyone who knows me knows this is a special day, as it was the birthday of my dear wife Liz, who died in 2001. I still miss her very much. There is no closure after a year – or ever. Loved ones depart, but they never go away. And why would we want them to? My co-conspirator in food and wine knows this – she lost her man to a heart attack in 1998. Maybe that’s why I always make so much food. Last night I cooked for all of us – even those who weren’t here to enjoy it with us – and opened a bottle of 2001 Barbaresco (one that I can no longer afford) in remembrance of Liz. The food and wine was memorable – but not as sweet as the memories of love, lost and found, along life’s trail.



Unknown said...

Bel post, Cevola.


Tracie P. said...

we'll raise a glass tonight in their honor, as well as those we have lost in our own lives.

Marco Marzipano said...

As for the old wine guard (no pun), "if the old were not ripe for death, nothing new would appear; and if the old were not blocking the way for the new, it could not be and need not be rooted out."

"Rebirth is an affirmation that must be counted among the primordial affirmations of mankind."

Pace and pazienza, amico.

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks for the kind words, folks!

Michele Connors said...

Great quote, Marco Marzipano.

There is a consistent negative behavior of refusing to roll with the times here in Toscana when it comes to business matters... maybe those with young and internationally-minded staff that keep up with the outside world may be able to modify pricing. But I think this is the moment for Southern Italian wines and even some little known Northern wines to shine since they can be just as pleasurable at a decent price. I just wish some regions to get their act together more to be able to promote these wines and get the word out. I hope that you tasted some good QPR Calabrian stuff at the NYC event that overshadowed any overpriced RossodiM!

Don't let the Hallmark holidays get you down, Alfonso. Some people that are no longer here are still closer to us than the ones we see every day.

Anonymous said...

Love the post, the pollo, and the wine you opened (and no, i can't afford it anymore either)!
Getting ready to open a good bottle for my Mamma later this week.

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