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Robert Parker on Wine Trends: Huge Increases in Popularity & High Prices

The increased popularity of wine has resulted in an enormous upsurge in prices of the world’s finest wines, a scarce commodity under the best of circumstances. After all, the best vineyards in the world are limited in size, and often, the laws of a particular country and production will go up or down depending on Mother Nature. The actual acreage under vine in any famous appellation for most famous estates is fixed, and production doesn’t vary dramatically. Take, for example, the famed first growth Château Latour. In a high-quality year, when the crop size is small, the château is lucky to produce 18,000 cases; even in an abundant year, it rarely exceeds more than 20,000 cases. That’s no different from the production of Château Latour 50 or 100 years ago, and it likely won’t be any different 100 years from now.

But the demand for great wines like Latour has grown exponentially. When I first began writing about wine, the principal markets for Château Latour were a handful of luxury hotels and restaurants in Western Europe, England and the United States. Today, the marketplace is Europe, South America, Central America and, of course, the emerging giants in the fine-wine market: China, Japan, South Korea and the rest of Southeast Asia. It doesn’t take much of an increased demand to sorely strain allocations for a property that only produces 18,000 cases of wine. This applies equally to even smaller estates in Burgundy or in the Rhône Valley, as well as tiny boutique operations in the New World. The supply is limited, but the demand continues to grow, almost insatiably, seemingly resistant to higher prices or economic downturns. In short, there is simply too much discretionary wealth in the world, and too much demand for the world’s best wines, to cause prices to drop.

In 1995, I predicted that first-growth Bordeaux would hit $10,000 a case within 10 years. Well, that has happened and then some in a much shorter period. This will only continue, and unfortunately, many of these wines will become nothing more than museum pieces, to be traded and talked about but rarely consumed. That is perhaps the only sad aspect to this extraordinary enthusiasm for wine that has taken place throughout the civilized world.

I would not have dreamed that the enormous progress in wine quality over the past 30 years would have been possible during my personal quest for the vinous Holy Grail. And while the time has passed altogether too quickly, I have been fortunate to see and taste an array of wines with more personality and individuality (at a wide variety of prices) than has ever existed. Three decades later, my glass is not half-full, it runneth over.


Robert Parker: 30 Years of Wine Trends

Published September 2008
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