Exploring Wine Value

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Experienced wine political-economist Mike Veseth asserts there is no sure relationship between price and quality.  This is because wines in recent decades have been blended so that even cheap wines are palatable instead of “plonk,” and individual tastes for wine also vary with personal genetics and experience.  A third factor is wine-producer and -marketer pricing and distribution strategies for global markets, which are stratified.  This means that some very good wine (“seconds”) reach buyers at a relatively low prices.  At the other end of the price scale, some distributors set values according to what they think the market will bear.  Buyers are hoodwinked into paying higher prices for lower quality wines because they don’t have reliable guidance telling them what each wine is worth, and also, they don’t want to appear stingy when bringing a guest bottle that others may comparatively price at local wine shops.  Snob appeal has its price but not always substance.

The fourteen chapters are relatively short, and grouped into four headings: “Buyer Beware!”, “Get a Clue. Searching for Buried Treasures”, “A Rose is a Rose? Money, Taste, and Identity,” “What Money Can (and Can’t) Buy”.  The author, as do I, finds that “Sometimes the Best Wine Is a Beer (or a Cider!)” This is the case particularly at receptions that have limited budgets for wine, but offer tasty, often local, craft beer selections that are cheaper than wine.  He illuminates this emergent culinary world of craft beers and ciders, some of which straddle the border with wine because they incorporate grapes. Whether one finds them intriguing, delightful or distasteful depends on individual tastes. For those who are overwhelmed by the hundreds of choices now offered in big box stores, supermarkets, and wholesale liquor stores, this volume comfortably unpacks and offers reasonable guidance on how to navigate selections.  Expect surprises and complicated stories, and by all means enjoy the process and the products.  The author teaches political economy and is at his best when analyzing pricing of production, processing, and promotion in detail.  I might integrate parts of Chapter 7, “Bulk Up. Big-Bag, Big-Box Wines,” into instructional materials on food-value chains, especially pp.73-77.  There, the author demonstrates how to translate transport and marketing of large-scale wine commerce into “Green” economics, which in the case of wine means that vintners and wine merchants are using innovative packing and shipping technologies to lower costs related to food-miles and packaging. To reduce spoilage and waste, they also have developed bag-in-cardboard box as replacement for glass bottle, and added a spout that can eliminate oxidation and preserve flavor value. This globalization of wine story is quickly followed by a page describing globalization of apples and the economics of juice boxes, as a comparison for studying technological contributions to industrial scale-up of beverage products

Veseth, Mike 2015 Money, Taste, and Wine. It’s Complicated.  New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

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