Posted 2009-02-17 12:11:54 ID=247:0

© 2009 The Romantic Table
©2009 The Romantic Table 2009-02-17 09:52:55:123
©2009 The Romantic Table

Larry McGourty writes about wine and food

California Central Coast wines are a beneficiary of the current economic down turn.

In my last blog I predicted that Central Coast wines would be a beneficiary of the current economic down turn. A couple of things have happened in the past few days which confirm my ruminations.

When I received the latest issue of Santé and I was not too surprised to see in the food, wine and spirit reviews the very strong showings of Central Coast Wines in the premium ($151 - $200 a case) and prestige (more than $200 a case) categories. We were pleased to see two Zinfandels from Paso Robles icon Peachy Canyon on the Santé list as well as Rhône style wines from other Central Coast wineries like Vina Robles, Bonny Doon, Robert Hall, Ortman, and Paraiso to mention a few.

Maybe just anecdotal evidence, but the inside skinny is that Central Coast Wine sales are actually up for the latest period. We dropped in to see Linda Cooks, the wine and spirits department manager of Paso Robles Albertsons for a couple of wine picks for January. Linda told us that she is also hearing from her suppliers that Napa and Sonoma are definitely down in sales, while Paso Robles in particular is up twenty percent. Linda does a great job tracking and discovering local Paso Robles wineries and getting their product into her store area. It is a place where even the local and notable winemakers go to look for new local wines. If you haven't stopped yet to meet Linda, make point of doing do so!

Finally, for the first time, California wine sales have topped French wine sales in the UK market. Obviously the weak dollar is one of the factors. But another factor is that the relative price to quality of the average California wine exceeds that of its French counterpart. This is not to demean French wine makers in any way. They are no doubt still the top wine makers in the world. It is more a reflection of the fact that the California climate is a lot more benign then the French climate, and California wine makers have an easier job by starting off with more consistent fruit quality. High end French wine are still wonderful, but now UK consumers are reaching for more competitively priced California wines for their table cru. (One wag pointed out however that the Australians are still the top UK supplier, and in the market there is more 'roo than cru!)

At the same time, it also appears that domestic Napa and Sonoma brands are moderating in price. The same Santé article had a number of Napa and Sonoma wines listed in the value range. Of course the fruit may actually be from the Central Valley, topped off with some good wine from the Central Coast. But the point is reality has set in, and the bottom line is there is a lot of really good wine out there at reasonable prices.

It will be interesting to see if the restaurants moderate their prices to match. Usually for a high end restaurant, the food cost is approximately one third the cost of the item or entrée. Labor, overhead and whatever slim profit the owner can manage (and trust me, in most cases it is very slim) makes up the difference. Wine pricing usually follows a similar pattern. In this case the labor is not high, but the lower end, high turn-over wines are subsidizing the purchases and storage of the more expensive vintages. In this economy I suspect that wine purchasers are more interest in exploring horizontally within a price range rather than springing for the higher end wine.

It looks like the restaurants are adapting by providing more variety - more moderately priced wines than a few high premium wines. I have noticed a lot more of different kinds of wines - especially the Rhône varietals like Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, Syrah etc.., showing up on the wine menu. In our mind anyway, these are especially food friendly wines since they evolved in the Mediterranean areas where we especially like and closely matches the culinary style of the Central Coast.

Of course, to draw in diners, our local chefs are being a lot more creative with their menu offerings, using a lot more of the local produce in ways that may be new to local diners, but have firm roots in Italian and French Mediterranean culinary traditions. These new menus pair very well with the Rhône style wines especially, and many a firm red-wine-only-drinker has been won over to a fine Viognier or Roussanne - at least on occasion!

So, as I said before, even in adversity there is opportunity if you look for it!

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A tip from Sue!

Frying high fat meats

You can cut down on the calories of high-fat meats, by just adding a little water (instead of adding oil) to your frying pan until the meat's fat starts releasing and lubricating the pan, then cook with the frying pan covered. If you want a crispy coating, you uncover the pan or cook with the lid partially ajar.