The year 2015 should be good for U.S. wine fans, whether they’re buying $100 California cabernet sauvignons or $6 grocery store jugs and boxes.
That’s my take on the Annual State of the Wine Industry Report for 2015 by Silicon Valley Bank, a high-tech commercial bank with offices in San Francisco and around the world.
Some of the best news is for consumers and producers of “fine wine,” bottles that sell for $20 or more. Sales could increase by as much as 18 percent, with only modest price increases. “We’re predicting a breakout year,” the report says.
Most wine in this higher-priced category is purchased by the top 25 percent of wage earners, making $75,000 or more a year, it says. That group, made up largely of boomers and the following Generation X, has largely recovered from the 2008 recession. Its consumer confidence is soaring as gas prices remain low and the economy continues to improve. It’s the 20th straight year of increased wine sales in the United States.
Buoyed by those factors, consumers are “trading up” to expensive wines, it says.
But the report also has good news for consumers of cheaper wines. Prices of U.S. wines in the $9-a-bottle and under category are falling, and likely to continue falling, driven down by booming imports of low-priced wines. It’s partly because a strengthening U.S. dollar makes imports cheaper, partly because consumers in France, Italy and Spain are turning away from wine toward beer and soft drinks, leaving more wine to export.
This is not entirely good news for U.S. growers, of course. Some vineyards in the Central Valley are pulling out acres of grapes that were aimed at wines priced under $7, citing oversupply, the report said.
Prices and sales of domestic wines in the $10-$20 range are expected to hold their own, the report says.
Are expensive wines better than cheaper ones? Not always. But they can be – for good reasons.
First are vineyard land prices. Prices in Sonoma and Napa are higher than in the Central Valley. Sonoma and Napa have the climate – hot days and cool nights – to make great wines.
Second is yield per vine. Makers of top wines sometimes prune away up to half of the grapes on a vine, letting it put its energy into the remaining grapes.
And there are more intangible reasons. A winemaker once told me that any price over $15 a bottle is simply the winemaker’s ego. An exaggeration, probably, but not without some truth.
Today I’m featuring some of those “fine wines” that cost $20 or more.
▪ 2012 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley (100 percent cabernet sauvignon): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums and bitter chocolate, intensely fruity and smooth; $40.
▪ 2012 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, “Meredith Estate,” Russian River Valley: lush, intense aromas and flavors of black cherries, spice and earth, ripe, smooth tannins, long finish; $57.
▪ 2011 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese, Napa Valley (96 percent sangiovese, 4 percent merlot): toasty oak, intense aromas and flavors of red raspberries and Asian spices, smooth, ripe tannins, long finish; $30.
▪ 2012 Grieve Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley (100 percent sauvignon blanc): floral aromas, flavors of white grapefruit, very crisp; $42.
▪ 2012 Niner Wine Estates Syrah/Grenache, “Jespersen Vineyard”: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries and strawberries, lush and fruity; $45.
▪ 2012 Tooth & Nail Malbec/Syrah, “Tolliver Ranch,” Paso Robles (80 percent malbec, 20 percent syrah): intense aromas and flavors of black cherries and dark chocolate, lively acids, long finish; $27.