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Pricey wines fall out of favour as recession bites

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The drop off in international business is putting a cork in pricey wine sales.

The days of popping open $100 and even grossly expensive $1,000 bottles of wine over business lunches and dinners are over, according to restaurateurs and wine merchants.

A number of the Island’s restaurants have been forced to change their wine lists to reflect decreased demand for high-priced vintages. Some are even selling their more expensive wines by the glass because today’s price-conscious customer is reluctant to buy a whole bottle in the $100-$500+ range.

But wine sales are not drying up altogether. Sales of certain wines are up, with higher demand for lower priced quality wines, they said.

Also, for the first time ever, overall US wine sales have topped the wine-loving French, so the industry is growing.

However, Little Venice Group manager Costanzo DiMeglio said there are definitely fewer business executives out dining and those that are, are spending far less.

He said he has had to “drastically” change his wine list with the tight economy and the brakes apparently being put on corporate expense accounts.

“Before there was not really a limit on spending,” Mr. DiMeglio said. “They could spend up to a $100 or more on a bottle of wine. But that is not the case now.”

He said it was the case during what he termed the “golden wave” of international business growth in Bermuda- from the mid-80s through 2008.

But in the last year and a half especially, he said, sales of higher-priced wines have gone flat.

He said that his restaurants used to sell $100 up to even $2,000 bottles of wine almost every day, but now far fewer bottles in that price range are uncorked.

“At Little Venice Wine Bar we are doing everything we can to hold on to our beautiful wine list, but it is very difficult,” Mr. DiMeglio said. “The demand is not there.”

“People used to come into the wine bar and probably they would choose $120-$160 bottles of wine and have three bottles with their friends, but now they are coming in, and instead of having three, they are having two bottles, and spending about $80 or less a bottle.”

He added, “The international business community is definitely shrinking.”

Michael Robinson, director of wine at merchants Burrows and Lightbourne said he’s not unhappy with their wine sales, but he has noticed a definite demand for lower priced wines from restaurants, supermarkets and individual consumers.

He said sales of wines from New Zealand and Argentina are “very strong” because they are a good value.

And demand has also rocketed for the California Barefoot Cellars label wines, which have become hugely popular in the US.

Mr. Robinson said people now don’t want to pay more than $10-$20 for a “Monday-Thursday night” bottle of wine.

And, he said, “A lot of restaurants who before did not mind having the over $100 wines on their wine lists have come to us and asked us if we have lower or more reasonably priced wines. I think the consumer is looking for bottles of wines now in the $40-$70 range in a restaurant, whereas before they did not mind too much a wine of $125 or more.”

Fresco’s Group president Claudio Vigilante said he has seen a similar trend of customers being far more price conscious and opting for $30-$40 wines rather than $100 to $200 bottles.

“People are going more for value for money,” he said, “They are not looking necessarily at name, brand or price. Everyone is more price conscious.”

He said corporate clients especially have cut back on higher-priced wines.

He said he can’t even charge $15 to $20 a glass at his restaurants anymore. People want to pay no more than $10 to $12, he said.

Being a wine lover himself Mr. Vigilante said he has done a lot of research to try to find more boutique-type wines that offer better value for money without compromising quality.

Photo by Glenn Tucker Wine economics: Michael Robinson, of Burrows and Lightbourn, examines cases of wine in the company's warehouse in Pembroke
Economising: People are favouring less expensive wines

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Published September 23, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated September 23, 2011 at 9:31 am)

Pricey wines fall out of favour as recession bites

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