You should have bought that fancy wine back in 1990 when it was just $300 instead of $5,000

Glass of red wine being poured from the bottle
Image: Peter Dazeley (Getty Images)

As I write this, there’s a very good chance that someone, somewhere, is dropping five grand on a bottle of wine—a bottle that used to cost less than $300.

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According to New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, that discrepancy is an industry-wide problem. In a recent Times article, Asimov reports that the prices of top wines have skyrocketed at a much steeper rate than the prices of other luxury goods. For example: In 1993, a bottle of famed wine Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1990 cost $285 (the equivalent of $513 in 2020). Today, a three-year aged La Tâche retails for about $5,000, which is almost 18 times as expensive. It’s also the rough equivalent of the front half of my glorious used Honda Fit, so. Something to think about.

Let’s be clear: Not all luxury goods are inflating at this rate. Asimov compares the La Tâche’s price discrepancy to that of another luxury status item: the Hermès Birkin 30 bag. According to Asimov, the 2020 Birkin is “only” about four times as expensive as the 1990 Birkin.

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What’s up with the wine prices? Supply and demand, baby. Asimov reports that global demand for high-end wines has expanded exponentially since World War II, leaving international wine connoisseurs to brawl over the same pool of great Burgundies that was available in 1990. Vineyards just can’t keep up. The rising price of Burgundy wine has also sent land values soaring, slapping small family estates with steep inheritance taxes.

The bad news: I’ll likely never get my hands on a La Tâche, and neither will you. The good news: Today’s market is bursting with alternatives for even the lowest budget. If you need me, I’ll be in the under $10 section.

Staff writer @ The Takeout. Pork shoulder princess @ Chicago.

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DISCUSSION

I once shared a pricey bottle with my father (who’d purchased it for $30-something 40 years before when I was born) at an Italian restaurant that was a BYOB place. The man at the table beside us was appalled at the amount of sediment (it wasn’t really that bad for its age). When we told him it was a 1959 Chateau Margaux he insisted it could possibly be any good. It was fine.

I had babied that bottle through many moves and protected it from roommates who would have had no idea how much it was worth. While it was good: complex, smooth and fairly soft (not at all tannic or “crunchy”) which you’d expect, I have had much less expensive wine be nearly as good.

My sister still has the bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild ‘64 or 65 he bought for her. She’s too afraid to open it. If it’s bad she’ll wish she’d sold it - and if it’s not - she’ll still wish she had sold it. LOL. I’m glad I have that memory of pissing off a wine snob stranger at an Italian place in S. Jersey. I’m sure the guy thought my father was too rich for his own good with a much younger girlfriend (me - his kid) and expensive old wine.