"A slap in the face for loyal New Zealand customers," is how Jeff Poole of the Fine Wine Delivery Company described the price hikes of the recently released Penfolds Bin range. It's a move that means for the first time in 15 years, Poole will not be promoting the wines and highlights the issue of wine pricing at a time where more wines than ever are being priced beyond the pockets of the majority of wine drinkers.
Poole took umbrage after Penfolds - now owned by the Australian multinational wine company, Treasury Wine Estates - put up the prices of its premium "Bin" range by double figure percentages, which have "forced retailers to increase their prices between 36 and 50 per cent without increasing margins", he maintains.
Treasury Wine Estates justified a growing demand that they have not been able to match with supply. "Demand for luxury wine has been growing in developing and mature and emerging markets over the past two decades," counters its global brand director, Sandy Mayo. "Penfolds have traditionally sold out at release in all markets around the world while our supply of luxury fruit has not increased, leading to increased scarcity of our wines around the world."
While Treasury Wine Estates claim demand has been rising in all its markets, Poole considers the company used a surge in demand from the premium-wine-thirsty Chinese market as an excuse for higher prices.
Skyrocketing demand from wealthy buyers in Asia has certainly helped bottles from top Bordeaux chateaux become the preserve of the rich. While it's been de rigueur for the Bordelaise to set prices from the hype surrounding an individual vintage and up them rapidly with growing demand, this practice is seen as less acceptable in newer winemaking nations.
Australia already saw some humungous price leaps for its cult labels over a decade ago following rave reviews from the influential critic Robert Parker. This makes many of the Penfolds bins still appear pretty affordable. But Australia's top drops appear poised for another spate of inflation.
"Ultra-fine Australian wines have struggled to keep up with the price evolution of their European counterparts," noted a report by Australian fine wine auctioneers, Langton's. "Over the last few years demand from China has primed Bordeaux prices to previously unimaginable levels. This market is now falling. Ultra fine Australian [wine] could fill that breach in the future."
Even the most expensive Aussie wines are cheap in contrast to top Bordeaux, which as luxury goods demand prices that no longer reflect their intrinsic value. For example, the last release of Penfolds' flagship wine, Grange was $599 a bottle - which Treasury Wine Estates say is not set to increase next vintage. In contrast, the latest Chateau Mouton Lafite will be selling for over $2000 - yes, that's just for one bottle!
If we look at our own icons, they're a veritable bargain with Te Mata's Coleraine - whose price rose by 10 per cent this vintage - sitting at $84.99 and Dry River Pinot Noir at $83.50.
"It's still an emerging market for New Zealand's top wines," notes Te Mata's Nicholas Buck. "This reflects the fact that their reputations are still primarily New Zealand reputations." However he notes that as the world is increasingly realising New Zealand can produce fine wines, prices are starting to rise in tandem.
I always feel a great sadness when I wave goodbye to the wines I've followed and enjoyed as they disappear out of my price range. But if buyers are prepared to pay elevated prices for them then there's very little I or wine retailers like Poole can do.
What we can do is seek out new and undiscovered labels to fill this void. Thankfully New Zealand is great place for this, while our finest home-grown wines are still within the reach of many ... for now at least.
STILL WITHIN REACH
Incognito Hawkes Bay Syrah 2009 $15.99/$14.99
With its rich and juicy dark berry fruit and aromatic thread of black pepper and spice, this stylish syrah is silly priced in the best sense of the word. (From Fine Wine Deliver Company.)
FAIRLY PRICED FLAGSHIP
Chapel Hill The Vicar McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 $67.90
Chapel Hill is a long-standing Australia label that has kept the price of its flagship wine in the realms of the reasonable. With its concentrated mulberry fruit and notes of liquorice, spice and cedar, it's an opulent wine, but possessing an elegance in its freshness and aromatic definition (From Glengarry, First Glass Wines & Spirits.)
Te Mata Coleriane Hawkes Bay 2010 $84.99
A great vintage of one of New Zealand's iconic wines with elegant savoury-edged blackcurrant fruit and fragrant notes of cedar spice, herb and violet, supported by a silky acidity and fine tannins. One to cellar. (From Fine Wine Delivery Company, Caro's Wines, First Glass and Glengarry.)
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