The photo is a page from the 1988 edition of the wine list – or rather, wine book, which this quite literally is, hardcover, beautifully hand-written on linen art paper, with original watercolour sketches on each page – of Brussels’ venerable La Truffe Noire, among the more prestigious dining establishments in the city for several decades. Annual wine books from over the years are on display in the upstairs private dining room, and flipping through them gives a fascinating window on wine history.
Not surprisingly the list is (was) heavy on Bordeaux, with smatterings of other things mostly French. What caught my eye was the Burgundy page. Most interesting are the DRC wines. 1973 is not a vintage one would seek out today, but at age 15 the very top wines should still have been attractive. Romanée-Conti is 12,000 Belgian francs (about 40 francs to the euro, thus EUR 300) and Richebourg is BEF 8500 (EUR 210).
I will finally get to my real observation, which is that wine pricing has gone the way of income distribution. Just look at what has happened at the top of the market. In 1988, a mature bottle of RC in an expensive restaurant cost 300 euros, and commanded a premium of about 40% over DRC Richebourg. (Not to mention that the RC is only about 5x more expensive than a young Santenay 1er Cru from Coulet Père et Fils, which seems slightly above supermarket-level wine.) In 2019, a bottle of current vintage RC commands almost EUR 20,000 at retail, representing a premium of around 600% over DRC Richebourg. (While your average Santenay 1er Cru costs about the same as it did 30 years ago.) All of this in a context where, without a doubt, the qualitative gap in the bottle between the very top wines and the pack of followers has narrowed.
Of course, 300 euros was a great deal of money to pay for a bottle of wine in 1988 (and still is today). But just in case you were wondering whether wealth inequality has increased over the past 30 years, I would suggest that you need little more evidence than this.
Maybe good if gilets jaunes types aren’t reading this; it’s intended to be a peaceful blog.