The plummeting economy is bad news for most Americans. But it offers one consolation for wine lovers — very expensive, impossible-to-get wines are coming down in price and becoming more accessible. High-end wineries are discounting, placing their vino in restaurants and retail stores, and moving consumers from waiting lists into their wine clubs for direct purchasing, according to winemakers, retailers, and wine industry experts in Washington, Oregon, and California.
"I don't want to mention names, but with very few exceptions, you can go to the top of anyone'ês list of Washington producers and they are working to move inventory in very aggressive ways, unlike we've ever seen before," says Chris Sparkman, general manager of the Waterfront Seafood Grill in Seattle.
Arnie Millan, a sommelier at Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle, says wineries and distributors are discounting heavily, allowing retailers like Esquin to offer good prices to consumers looking to pay less for good wine. He also hears that wines like Screaming Eagle, a cult California cabernet sauvignon which sells for more than $1,000 a bottle on release, are starting to show up for the first time on the wine lists of pricey restaurants.
Sparkman says he just reworked his restaurant's wine list to take advantage of the "glut of discounted wine" and to offer more affordable wines for increasingly budget-conscious diners. His patrons, whose average bill is $110 a person, are moving from a "comfort zone" of about $120 a bottle to between $60 and $100.
"We'êll be including a page in our wine list called "Unbelievable," says Sparkman, who's also the owner and winemaker at Sparkman Cellars in Woodinville. "You'll see cult wines like Quilceda Creek, Sloan, and Abreu on our list."
Mark Freund, senior relationship manager at Silicon Valley Bank in St. Helena, CA, said "it's a good year for consumers if you can buy. A lot of wine will have to be dumped. There should be good deals out there."