Numbers can be fun, and they can be weird, and they can be both. My way better half often glances at digital clocks when it’s 1:11 p.m. or a.m. And lately it seems as though every time, or at least every other time, I go to look up the price of a wine I really like, it’s $18.
Not $15 or $20. $18. It happened met recently with the outlandishly good Soter Vineyard North Valley Compass Cuvee. Just since July, my “everyday” Wines of the Week have included these $18 gems (average at wine-searcher, so your price might differ): Tami Grillo, La Crema Pinot Gris, Domaine Dragon Rosé, Gavalas Santorini, Li Veri Salento Negroamara Riserva and Oddero Barbera d’Alba. And countless wines that I’ve recommended in my Sunday “Wine Deal” in the Star Tribune hit that mark.
Now granted, to many folks, $18 is not a suitable price for an “everyday” wine or for a “Wine Deal.” But in both of those cases, I’m looking for the absolute best under-$20 wines that I have sampled — and I sample thousands of wines a year. So it shouldn’t be a big surprise that a lot of them nudge right up against the $20 cap.
They are, frankly, good enough to be “occasion” wines, but $20 is the line of demarcation I’ve set. The New York Times’ estimable Eric Asimov has for a while been touting $20 as his “sweet spot,” the ideal place to explore and discover intriguing stuff. I could write that off to Big Apple inflation, but it’s probably more the availability of more swell imported wines that don’t reach Tundraland.
And make no mistake, these are “deals,” major or often screamin’ bargains in terms of quality-price ratio. With the under-$10 category packed with OK but very rarely distinctive wines, the “sweet spot” for consumers has been $12 to $18 for some time now. One positive result of the downturn was that a lot of wineries punched down the prices of $25 wines to the teens.
For years, gruner veltliner fans talked about how “you get what you pay for” with that varietal. I would hold that that’s true in the entire wine world. Except when it isn’t: Some stuff still is overpriced, often massively so. I’m seeking out, and passing along, what I consider to be underpriced, often massively so.
And quite often, it seems, they cost about $18.