It’s hard to think of a time in recent memory that has provoked more anxiety among wine professionals than the last several weeks. That apprehension has everything to do with proposed tariffs on European wine that threaten American jobs and have the potential to change what you as a consumer drink for years to come.
By now, you have likely read that the Trump administration is considering the imposition of a tariff of up to 100 percent on all European wine and other goods in retaliation for European Union subsidies to airplane manufacturer Airbus. The administration is also considering another tariff, up to 100 percent, on Champagne and other French products, in response to a digital services tax affecting US technology companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
A 25 percent tariff, imposed in October and related to the dispute over Airbus subsidies, is already in effect, impacting some wines and products from France, Germany, Spain, and Britain. US importers scrambled throughout the fall to absorb associated costs and mitigate impacts on consumers. Then, in December, news hit about the proposed up-to-100-percent tariffs.
Wine industry professionals, not ones to be whipsawed or confused, launched petitions and took to social media urging colleagues and customers to contact members of Congress, and to submit comments to the US Trade Representative by a mid-January deadline. With little certainty about what comes next, anxiety still runs high — and for good reason.
Tariffs approaching 100 percent would devastate the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Americans. In the United States, wine is distributed via a three-tier system (at each tier there is a mark-up), so an entire ecosystem would be affected. Many of the casualties would be small businesses and their workers. Importers — on the hook to pay tariffs to the US government when shipments of wine arrive to our shores — would feel the effects first. Impacts would reverberate out from there, including (but not limited to) distributors, wine shops, and restaurants. Some businesses would fold altogether.
And the upshot for you as a consumer? That too is grim. Proposed tariffs could double what you pay for your favorite bottles from the EU. Some would disappear from the market altogether as businesses decide they cannot sell wines whose costs are prohibitively inflated by tariffs.
Even if you believe that tariffs are a necessary tool to fight for American interests, it’s difficult to see an upside to waging a trade dispute this way. Thousands of our friends and neighbors who work in food and wine — industries wholly unrelated to airplanes and tech companies — would bear the brunt. And while American jobs are top of mind, I am also thinking about impacts to small grower-producers in Europe for whom the US market is essential. For these family farmers, pivoting to other markets where they don’t have existing business relationships would be easier said than done.
Since 2012, I have continued the Globe’s proud tradition of recommending excellent wines that retail under $30. While I recommend bottles from all over the wine world, including right here in the United States, European pours are irreplaceable. I love how these wines convey an unmistakable sense of place, and provide delicious opportunities to explore longstanding traditions of artisanship. Bottom line, I want you to have unimpeded access to value-priced pours from Europe. That access is currently under threat.
This past month has been anything but business as usual. But I’m determined to stay engaged and hope you will, too. In the spirit of persisting in the face of uncertainty, here are three delicious wines from France, all crafted and brought to market by hardworking individuals. Fingers crossed that these bottles will remain available — and at friendly price points — in the months to come.
Cave Saint Désirat Syrah 2017 A full third of this cepage (a wine’s grape composition) comes from the Northern Rhone appellation of Saint-Joseph, and all fruit is harvested by hand. This producer (a co-op to which 350 growers contribute grapes) insists on quality. This deeply hued pour expresses scents of dark cherry, smoky meatiness, and a whisper of herbal potpourri, leading to a juicy palate of ripe fruit, black pepper, and a just-right dollop of tannins. 12.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Around $10. At Streetcar Wine & Beer, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6416; Berman’s Fine Wines & Spirits, Lexington, 781-862-0515.
Domaine Barmès-Buecher Herrenweg Riesling 2016. Geneviève Barmès, together with her children Sophie and Maxime, craft wine biodynamically from 40-plus acres in the heart of sunny Alsace. Herrenweg is the name of a venerable vineyard famous for its soil and situation. Aromas of fragrant yellow tree fruit, honey, and a hint of petrol greet the nose, pointing to a zesty mouthful that is dry, pleasingly rich, and edged with saltiness. 11.5 percent ABV. Around $25. At The Spirited Gourmet, Belmont, 617-489-9463; Lower Falls Wine Co., Newton, 617-332-3000.
Château Grand Billard Bordeaux 2016 It’s clear that members of the Chignon family, who have been crafting wine for generations between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, take exceptional care of their grapes. This Bordeaux blend — combining merlot and cabernet sauvignon — offers a classic expression of ripe dark fruit, blue flowers, and appetizing bitterness, all packaged up in a satisfyingly weighted pour. 13 percent ABV. Around $11. At Streetcar Wine & Beer; Curtis Liquors, Weymouth, 781-331-2345.
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