Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sign of the Times? Big Discount on Big Syrah

In a recent post that can be found here, I referenced and commented upon a New York Times article that reported on collapsing demand for big, fruity U.S.-made syrahs.

Today,  I received an email from a prominent Northwest online wine merchant offering a significant discount on a big syrah made by a highly regarded Washington winemaker.

(I do not mention the names of any wine retailers on this blog lest that be viewed as an endorsement.)

Here’s what the merchant had to say:

“Over 30% off on Mark Ryan Wild Eyed Syrah 07 - one of the biggest rock'n roll, monster reds from Washington State - usually $47.95 a bottle, it's only $36, or $32.40 with our Facebook coupon. The last vintage got 94 points in Wine Spectator. This one hasn't been reviewed yet, but it's a better wine.”

The merchant goes on to describe the wine as “catapulting intense fruit” such as sweet blackberries, black cherries and black raspberries while “sneaking in” flavors such as espresso, anise, licorice, bacon, purple flowers and vanilla.

No wonder a lot of consumers are intimidated. There must be something wrong with you if you can’t sip a glass of wine and, after a suitably pregnant pause, wax rhapsodically over that hint of purple flowers you’ve just experienced. I mean, we all know what purple flowers taste like, right?

Sorry: couldn’t resist. Now back to business.

Is the hefty discount for what is apparently a blockbuster of a Washington syrah a sign that consumers really are moving away from such wines?

It’s a tantalizing thought, but to be fair, it is hard to tell. There could be other reasons for the price cut.

First, there is the lengthy recession, which has cut consumer purchasing power and not just at the bottom end of the income scale.

I’ve heard from a number of retailers that it is tough to sell wines costing more than $30 a bottle in the current environment – syrah or any other varietal for that matter.

Here’s what one local bricks-and-mortar retailer recently had to say on the topic:

“I get asked all the time; ‘how is business?’ One of my replies involves customers spending less money for a bottle of wine. Many people act surprised by this. If they do, I figure that they are not regular wine drinkers because the regular wine drinker wants to continue being a regular wine drinker but wants to do it for less money. Makes sense to me. As a result we have been sharpening our focus in order to find the very best value wines on the market.”

Increased competition could be another reason the Mark Ryan syrah is being offered at a discount exceeding 30%. Every year, more wineries open in the state of Washington, a small percentage of which are typically hailed as making fabulous wine – and hard to get because there is so little of it. This puts pressure on established Washington producers of premium wine as the consumers of exotic boutique offerings chase  after the latest and greatest.

Lastly, on a more pedestrian level, the winery or the retailer could be cleaning out inventories to generate extra cash. Or the winemaker might be offering a promotion in the hope of attracting new customers who will presumably make follow-on purchases at higher prices.

I have no idea which explanation is correct in this instance – and I doubt I would get a straight answer if I tried asking questions. But I do find this development intriguing.

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