It’s the times we live in: connectivity and virtual media have leveled the playing field for wine pricing in our country.
Sommelier Rory and I see it all the time on the floor at Sotto in Los Angeles: a guest is seated, she/he looks at the wine list, and then immediately compares the prices of the wines with their retail price listings on WineSearcher.com.
Like combing your hair on the floor of a restaurant, comparing wine prices while out for dinner is one of those things that is regrettably tolerated in society today.
I’ve been spending a lot of time browsing WineSearcher these days (at home and not in restaurants) because I’ve been writing about mostly under-$25 wines for the Houston Press food and wine blog.
A quick search this morning for one of my favorite expressions of young Nebbiolo — Renato Ratti Nebbiolo d’Alba Ochetti — reveals that here in Texas I pay up to $10 more per bottle than my friends in California (my friend Ceri Smith, super cool Italian wine lady, sells it for $21 at her shop Biondivino in San Francisco; $28 is the lowest I can find it in Texas).
Other than the fact that the virtual monopoly of the big distributors and the greed of the Texas wine brokerage system often adds to the cost of favorite wines, there’s really no reason why we should have to pay more here in the Lone Star state. But I love this wine so much it’s well worth the extra ten bucks.
The other night, Tracie P and I brought a bottle over to friends Misty and Nathan’s house (remember Nathan’s ribs paired with Nebbiolo, back when Tracie P was still Tracie B?).
Nathan had marinated some skirt steak, giving the beef a tangy note that played beautifully with the earthy, salty undertones of the Ratti Nebbiolo, which made from 30-year-old vines grown in the sandy subsoils of Roero and macerated for under a week (according to the winery’s website), giving the wine gentle tannic structure.
Where Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo d’Alba (a top under-$25 wine for me) tends toward bright fruit (especially for the 2009), Ratti’s always leans toward earth and mushroom. They’re both old school expressions of the variety but Produttori del Barbaresco’s can be more lean and show brighter red and berry fruit while Ratti’s digs in with a little more muscle and a lot more barnyard. I love them both…
These days, it’s hard to imagine the pre-WineSearcher world and it’s hard to resist the urge to compare prices around the country. But when it comes to Nebbiolo, I just can’t compromise for the sake of bargain hunting. Pork chops at half price still ain’t kosher…
Agreed. Sometimes you just have to buy the wine your heart desires… price comparing takes the fun out of it! Salute!
“The virtual monopoly of the big distributors” – sounds like a tea party line…
how does that explain that smaller distribs charge as much or more?
I can’t see where playing the blame game over and over in this society ever elevates the discussion…
I love u man but why is it that the Ratti costs 30 percent more in Texas when it costs the same ex cantina? I’m not blaming anyone and I bought and buy the wine. But it’s true dude.
BOYS!! let’s just stay calm.
Yes, I think the playing field has been leveled for, and perhaps, by, the punters (I’m a wannabe anglophile, sorry!). I was at a very high end Burgundy tasting, feeling quite out of place, when to my dismay, the House Wives of X County were searching Wine Spectator (Etc.) scores of their wines, and cackling about it rather loudly! It was rude and doing it in a restaurant is the same. Not for prices, not for scores, its rude. How about for the food, maybe you can find a pizza, steak tartare, or moules frites at a better price just down the road? If you are in a good, if not great (Sotto!) restaurant, trust the experience. Trust the staff, trust the Sommelier, trust the Chef. Surrender to the experience. Communicate about what you like, what you want, and what you are willing to spend and then trust. If you are not doing your home work before hand on where you are dining then shame on you. And by homework, I mean not wasting your time on lackluster or over hyped restaurants. You will never get anything there unless you are looking for that experience. Needless to say I could heap praise on Jeremy and Sotto, but I will anyway. I have surrendered there twice and it was great. I would not compare prices on wine ever, though I may look for bargains hidden on the menu. That is not a problem at Sotto however. Moral of the story. Study before the exam, there’s no notes, and no cheating. (z)
I have found that prices vary around the country. For example, I pay less retail for The Prisoner in NY then I can get it wholesale for in Houston, but I can get Waterstone (Napa) Cab for 25% less in Houston then I can in NY.
That being said the Renato Ratti sounds really good right now! Happy Friday!
Maybe checking prices in a restaurant is a step to far but I’m not willing to pay triple the wholesale price+tax for wines as you have to do in a lot of high class European restaurants especially when a lot of those lists are ‘boring’. Luckily in Italy you can still find places where they are more sensible last week for instance small Radikon Stanislao 2002 for €28. Never understood the distribution in the USA to me it is a protective retarded scam.
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