Society Marbella February - Penélope Cruz

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Ellen Wallace is longtime international news journalist and the author of the popular book Vineglorious! Switzerland's Wondrous World of Wines. She writes regularly about European wines and travel and splits her time between La Costa del Sol and the Swiss Alps. Ellen’s blog:



LIND PRICE TASTING: forget about the nose and palate of the red wine in front of us and just tell me what you think the price should be. Are we suckers to pay too much sometimes? Should we see every cheap bottle as plonk? Everyone fusses about this, at some point. The answer is more complicated than you might think and once you add it all up you wonder why wine doesn’t cost more.

The basics Here are the basic costs behind a wine bottle: rent or ownership and taxes on the land where the grapes are grown, grape harvest, stainless steels tanks and barrels and vats for the juice to ferment and then mature, cellar space for this equipment. Don’t forget about salaries for the employees who help the young wine along and keep a close eye on it so it evolves under healthy conditions. Time to bottle it: we need bottles, corks or caps, seals, labels. A bottling machine that trots the glass containers around while all these things are added automatically. A heavier bottle adds little except an impression of prestige - it costs more, and heavy bottles are more expensive to ship. Corks can be made from cheap materials, okay for wines meant to be drunk young, or they can be better quality (fewer problems for storage) and be personalized for quality wines. Add a few pennies.


Storing wine barrels means space and that means rent add it to the price of a bottle


But wait, if this is Tempranillo or one of several Italian grapes like Nero d’Avola or Barolo or the Sangiovese used in Chianti wines, we can’t bottle it yet. The tannins are too dry when they are young. In lesser wines they are sometimes not fully ripe; some have high levels of acidity, such as Chianti wines, which need more time. A Rioja Gran Reserva by law must be aged 5 years. Aging requires space, so the wine pays rent. Spain’s Rioja Gran Reserva must spend 2 years in oak, maturing, and

3 years in bottle, aging: it generally costs three times the price of a Rioja which may or may not pass through oak and spends 1-2 years aging. Stored wine is an asset: enter the taxman, who wants his share.

Champagne, that little extra oumpf In fairness to Champagne, “classic method” sparkling wines add in two more factors that cost their makers money: blending different vintages, which means some of the wines must sit and age, taking up space (never free), plus the process of fermenting the wine twice, with cellar masters keeping a careful eye on them during this process. Champagne’s high cost owes much to extreme marketing, and over the years, as it worked, land prices shot up. Forbes reported in 2015 that vineyard land in Champagne was €1.1 million a hectare, the most expensive in France by far.

What a wine costs a cellar The cost varies enormously depending on where the wine is produced and what quality level a winery aims for. A country like Switzerland, which is mostly mountainous, has high land costs. Manual labour can be significant where machines can’t be used to work the vines. On the other hand, most Swiss wineries are small family-run operations with low overhead for staff. But compare this to Napa Valley where, according to Wine-searcher, a bottle that costs the winery $19 to produce is designed, from the outset, to cost $100 in a restaurant. A broker channels the

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