"It's hard to make money out of selling top Bordeaux to our Chinese customers; they know too much about what other people are asking for it". The comment from my friends in Hong Kong echoes those of a growing number of other merchants I've spoken to recently. Anyone who wants can check prices on winesearcher.com and decide where to spend their money. Chinese buyers simply seem to be cannier about the way the do so.
But it cuts both ways. A buyer for a retail chain also admitted to me that she routinely goes onto winesearcher whenever she's offered a new wine to see who else is selling it and for how much. "A French producer recently proposed a wine with an ex-cellar price of €5.30. I liked the wine, but thought it too expensive. And I was even more certain when I saw that a Danish store was retailing it for €4.99. When I pointed this out to the producer, he slashed his price!"
Supermarket chains - especially in the UK - have their own kinds of x-ray specs. With the help of the winemakers they employ on their buying teams, they know, to the nearest 10c the real cost of a winemaker's grapes, his bottle, cork and capsule, not to mention the running costs of his winery. As an Australian joked to me, "they even know how much I pay for the coffee we drink in the office!"
Whether any of this is really healthy is another question. Do the same factors really apply to spirits, to clothes or restaurant meals? In all those cases, we are expected to spend our money irrationally: we pay what it takes to get something we want.