Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Evil Spirits

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Awhile back a reader asked me to do a post on the wine situation here in Ecuador. Since I am currently working on International Living's 2013 Retirement Index (a quality-of-life survey of 22 locations around the globe) which includes a monthly budget, this seems like the perfect time to comment on a category that is certainly one of our expense items.

Let's cover the gamut of alcoholic beverages while we're at it, because liquor, wine, and beer all have their own stories to tell.

All imported goods are of course more expensive. I can't remember what a can of tomatoes costs in the States, but the Heinz variety here is over $3. So unless you "eat like a local" you've gotta be prepared to pay the price.

And with recent tax increases on hard spirits you have to drink like one too. A fifth of Bacardi is now over $30. Oh, you're a vodka drinker? Absolut runs around $50. As does Johnny Walker Red. Brutal, right? Fortunately there are drinkable alternatives. Rum made right here in Cuenca is only $8 a fifth, and Sky vodka rings in at a reasonable $20.

Wine prices are no bargain either. Ecuador has no viticulture industry to speak of, so these products are also imported. Bottom shelf domestic stuff in US grocery stores that you can pick up for $4.99 is priced in the teens. Most of our selection not surprisingly comes from Chile and Argentina, and with these countries being so close it's frustrating to see prices perhaps 50% higher than back home.

The go-to wine for many gringos is in a box, not a bottle. Concha y Toro,a mega-winery with high to low end production, has a boxed variety, Clos, currently available for $5.51 in merlot, cabernet, and "white." It's comparable to Trader Joe's 2 Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) but, again, at over twice the price for its US counterpart.

And what the heck is going on with the price increases of locally made beer? There's no import tax on that! When we moved here 2 1/2 years ago a 6 pack of Pilsener was about $3.50. Now it's $4.93. By the bottle Pilsener is 80 cents (which I just realized means buying singles is slightly cheaper) and Budweiser is $1.00--not much of a price difference. But the beer bargain is always the big 20 ouncer's from local convenience stores. They're only $1.00 when you return the bottle.

I often joke that a vegetarian teetotaler can get by in Ecuador on a tiny food budget. We're neither, so be aware that if you eat meat and drink alcohol a disproportionate share of your grocery dollars will go to those two categories.


Divinely Designed said...

We owned a wine store/retail bar in Oregon before coming to Ecuador, so we know what you're saying. Wine imports are quite pricy and we're still struggling to find drinkable Chardonnays or Sav Blanc. Some of the reds are decent,though, but not cheap. IMO, no wine in the box is really wine so we don't go there. Too bad. The real bargains are in the local produce, chicken and fish as your "meat" source. Not the great deals we expected. In fact, anything imported - even Snapple - is pricy.

Unknown said...

Is there any way to import your own for personal consumption from chile or Argentina without incurring the import tax?

Trish LaPlaca said...

No doubt about it - we've been taking stock of how much we're spending on liquor, and it can be almost half our monthly budget! And that's only on wine and rum - had to give up the vodka completely. Admittedly, we should be drinking and entertaining less, but what's the fun in that?

Edd Staton said...

Montes Alpha has a delicious California-like Chardonnay but it's $17--not in our "daily drinker" category.

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