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Sometimes purchasing wine is an investment in the producer

Ron Smith, World of Wine columnist

Visit a spirit shop, a mass market wine store, or a national chain restaurant and you see pretty much the same wines: Woodbridge, Franzia, Yellowtail and other familiar names, which are big hits with the average American wine connoisseur.

Go into a high-end eatery and the wine list is suddenly a strange read in most instances, with names like Chateau d'Yquem, and the prices make quantum leaps from $35 to $50/bottle to as high as $220/bottle.

During a visit to Calgary, Canada, we went to an upscale Italian restaurant that had

limited evening hours with reservations only. The prices reflected this schedule of service.

The wine list was the first thing presented; it was filled with unfamiliar names that I would have probably butchered in trying to pronounce and would have made a heavy hit on my credit card.

Working with the sommelier, I found Chianti that was just below $50 for a bottle — a bargain on this menu. More than just a low price, this wine was from Marchesi Gondi San Giuliano winery, a Chianti Rufina from the Tuscany region of Italy, with, I suspect, more than 80 percent being sangiovese grape. We all enjoyed it with pasta combos, and it was nothing short of delicious.

Back in Fargo, I found the average cost of this delicious wine to be in the $15 - $20 range, pushing it into the better than table wine category for the casual oenophile.

Allowing for vintage differences, I expect the locally purchased wine to taste as good as the restaurant bottle.

Where and when does wine go from being an acceptable table wine for daily consumption, to a better tasting wine, to one that is marketed retail at the 3-digit


When a vineyard pumps out 3.5 million cases a year, and another one averages just 8,000 cases, the laws of supply and demand begin to come into play.

When a customer is paying in the 3- to 4-digit range for a bottle, it isn't wine that is being purchased, but an investment that will increase in value over time. If their investment pays, they could be enjoying it 'free' in a decade or two.

Most wine is produced in a quantity that the rest of us can afford to drink in a year or two, when it is usually at its best.

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at