It's funny how a dip into the often dull world of statistics and data can throw up something genuinely interesting – and how it can rattle your comfortable assumptions, like the superiority of open markets and how government interference means things cost more.
A snapshot taken for our Moët Index this month reveals the cheapest – and the most expensive – states to grab a bottle of our representative wine. For those who didn't read our Moët Index story, you can find a more detailed explanation of it here, but essentially it's a yardstick to compare wine prices in various locations.
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Worldwide, there hasn't really been much movement in price since we launched the index in May. Most markets were relatively stable, with a few odd places in Europe seeing price drops – France saw the average price for Moët drop by 13 percent; Finland had a 12.5 percent price reduction; and Norway saw the average drop by 8.95 percent.
Outside Europe, India had the biggest drop in price, with the national average price dropping from the equivalent of $82.95 to $65, a drop of 21.7 percent. Other significant movements occurred in Thailand, where the average price rose by 4.84 percent. And pity the poor, long-suffering inhabitants of the magical South Sea paradise that is Tahiti; they have had to endure a 13.85 percent rise in the price of their Moët since May.
However, it was drilling down into a state-by-state look at the US that really showed some disparate numbers.
Across the US, the average price has risen since we set the index. Back then it was $52 a bottle, but it has risen in price by 11.5 percent and now sits at slightly more than $58, as the graph below shows.
The obvious spikes in the graph are Pennsylvania and Montana, where the price skyrockets to $98 and $79.95, respectively. The easy logic would be to lay the blame at the feet of state-controlled liquor sales, and pity the unfortunate burghers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Competition tends to lower prices and the apparently US-high price of Moët in PA would be vivid proof of that – if it were actually true.
However, the nasty spike our graph attributes to Pennsylvania is actually a data anomaly – some of the state's listings were actually for vintage Moët, rather than the basic NV Brut Imperial, and this pushed the price up. In reality, Pennsylvania's average price for Moët is well below the national average at $47.
Montana is a control state for spirits only, meaning wine is an open category, so you can't blame the prices on the government there either. Nor do state alcohol taxes account for it. Montana has the 19th highest tax rate for wine, according to the Tax Foundation, but the top state for tax is Kentucky, where the average price for a bottle of Moët is a relatively paltry $48.
Other good places to pick up a case demonstrate again that state taxes are not necessarily the problem. The cheapest state is Arizona, there the average price was at $37.95 when the snapshot was taken; the state has the 26th highest tax on wine nationwide. New Mexico's average price stood at $38.97, despite the state having the fifth-highest tax rate in the US, while Wisconsin, with one of the lowest tax rates in the country, manages an average price of $39.65.
Availability isn't necessarily a trigger for low prices either. California has the second most offers for Moët in the US, but the average price is at $60.30; a few miles to the north, Oregon has a tiny number of offers, but an average price of just $51.99 – and a tax rate three times that of California.
If there's anything to be taken from the data it's this: stick to the smaller population centers – it will pay off in the long run.
Note: This story was rewritten on September 30 to reflect the data issues that led us to list the average Pennsylvania price as being twice the reality.