I can see Glenda Jackson and Justin Timberlake for $150, but the best I can do in wine at that price is far from legendary
For $150, I can watch Glenda Jackson do Edward Albee on Broadway. For $150, I can see Justin Timberlake perform in Dallas. But for $150, the best I can do in wine is hardly legendary – labels that even the cheerleading Winestream Media considers good, but not great. Legendary costs four or five or even 10 times Glenda Jackson, and that’s difficult to believe.
How did we get to this point? Most of us will never taste the world’s greatest wines, which have been priced out of our reach for decades. The 2005 Chateau La Tour costs $1,000. And maybe that makes sense, in some warped supply and demand way. But it doesn’t make sense that wine that isn’t close to being the world’s greatest costs more than watching a legendary actor or musician. And this, as I have noted many times, does not bode well for wine’s future.
Or, as the wine economist Mike Veseth has warned us: If we keep this up, wine will be like opera, something that interests only the rich and the privileged.
In fact, supply and demand does work for plays and music. It’s one reason why it costs $20 to see a community theater do “Hamlet” and it doesn’t cost more than a cover charge and some beer to watch a local band. There is lots of supply, and not nearly as much demand, compared to stars like Jackson and Timberlake.
So why the divergence between the best wine and the best live shows? The answer, I’m afraid, is that the people who produce the latter want to keep their products affordable. The least expensive tickets for Jackson and Timberlake are about $50, and you can’t get anything close to legendary in wine for $50. If fact, you can buy crappy wine for $50 without any trouble at all. The people behind theater and music understand, in a way wine doesn’t, that the future of their business depends on making it accessible to people who can’t afford the top ticket. In wine, it’s the other way around; if you can’t afford the top ticket, why should we bother with you?
That’s why the pre-teen and teenaged girls who will attend the Timberlake show will be buying his music for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t matter what I think of him, what their parents think of him, or what music critics think of him. It’s why one friend’s daughter, told she couldn’t go to the Timberlake show, has stopped speaking to her mother.
And it’s also why, when you talk to young people about wine, they don’t show anywhere near the same kind of loyalty and enthusiasm. Accessibility is all; otherwise, we’re going to turn into opera.