A new-found interest in particular wines lead me toward a reputable dealer who sources some of their wine from Europe’s grey market. This got me thinking about the complicated pros and cons, vis-a-vis our beloved “three-tier” alternative.
No doubt, some of the (Bordeaux) wines I’ve cellared were almost surely sourced from a grey market. I posted this link and started this thread merely to ask what experiences (lessons?) others have had when deciding whether to opt for a three-tiered wine (if available) vs. one from the grey market?
That’s a valid question/concern.
Try as I may, I was unable to locate the linked article on the Decanter.com website proper.
On the other hand, Pameladevi Govinda does appear to be a legitimate writer within the wine business; cf.:
As I said above, I cannot vouch for the creds of the author of the alleged Decanter article, but http://www.pamgovinda.com/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
appears to be a legit site so far as I can tell (as a non-savvy IT user); however, I did NOT click through: email@example.com
More importantly, isn’t it remarkable that few if anyone has elected to comment about the gist of the alleged Decanter article itself, re: the foggy gray market within imported wines. Why not? A rather baffling silence from a wine-centric group, no?
Hmm. Some here seem more willing to suspend circumspection and possibly accept ‘ready–shoot (the messenger!)–aim?’…
Oh well. Case dismissed, I suppose. There’s evidently no consumer-oriented backstory here. Just move on. Sorry for wasting your precious time, folks. My bad…
By the way Doug Schulman, do you happen to be ITB? Just curious.
Mitch, your original link seems to work fine now. Maybe it was down earlier?
I am no expert on this, but I dislike the 3-tiered system. I think it is un-American and restraint of trade. The very idea that it allows a producer to charge one price in Europe and another much higher price here is absurd. In particular, my favorite producer in all the world seems to be one of the biggest culprits, Bruno Giacosa and his importer, Winebow. Retailers that I routinely deal with because they have good service and good prices in general, are stuck with ridiculous prices on his wines.
Do a Wine Searcher search on the 2005 Bruno Giacosa Falletto. Look at all the reputable retailers in the range $100-130. I assume these are all gray market. OTOH, The Spirit Shoppe in MA and Wine Legend in NJ have it for $170 and $192, resp. I know the owners of both shops and have dealt with them for years. Their prices on most other wines, in particular most other Langhe wines, are quite competitive.
Why the article you linked to gives a negative image of the gray market, I don’t know. It doesn’t say it is illegal, but it sure paints it as though I’m buying my Giacosa out from under some pervert’s raincoat.
Thank you Ken, for taking the time to lend your informed perspective. Your depth of knowledge about Giacosa et al. carries considerable weight and by comparison, I’m a newbie re: Piedmont wines.
The main reason I started this thread is that now, in retrospect, I have begun to understand that some of the retailers I’ve gotten ‘fine pricings’ from surely had access to gray market wines; this isn’t intended to sound like a broad-stroke indictment of most gray market wines, however. My main concern was hoping to better comprehend the relative risks that people like me need to consider re: potential sub-optimal provenance from three-tier and gray market vs. a simplistic cost-benefit analysis.
I’ve just begun to lay in several cases of Nebbiolo wines and the gamble extends out more than a decade or three. I suppose the old refrain fits: 'sess out and try to obtain a degree of confidence in your sources, whatever their mechanism of receipt.
I am no fan of the three-tier system here, not least of which because living in my ‘enlightened’ state of Maryland makes it somewhat challenging to source gems.
We’ve run into this a couple times here on the West Coast. The first time was with Australian wines. Due to some problems in Australia, a producer of several wines dumped a bunch of the wines on a gray market dealer, who in turn flooded the market through So. Cal. retailers. The wines were being offered on-line for less than we paid for them. Hence, we ate it on a lot wine.
But, it doesn’t take a gray market dealer to undercut you. Over the past few years and particularly this year, one of the “major” distributors sent out their sales reps pushing the big name wines pre-release and even offered to raise our paltry allocation a little. Five months later, the wines were in floor stacks at COSTO for as much as 15% below our cost. When we told our rep, he was almost genuinely surprised and was quick to point out that he has nothing to do with corporate orders. So we asked for a free case of one of the wines, so we could lower our cost/price to be competitive. We got one of two answers:
I can sell you ten cases at a discount, (wholesale price about the same as COSTCO’s price), to bring your cost down.
The first week of December, the reps were out again pushing pre-release purchases of the same wines. This is an example of how the three tier system can be manipulated for the distributor’s benefit. Granted, this was a tough year for everyone in the business and many needed to generate immediate cash flow, but this is more of an example of having too much control. There were a few wines touted in this month’s WA which all of a sudden are being held and not available to us until the wholesale price is restructured to match the rating and allocations being determined.
Maybe Gray marketers will bring in some competitive pricing in the long run.