There is an ocean of wine out there but only sea of the good stuff. I am asked this question about the price of wine—and well simply do you have to pay a lot for good wine. The answer is simple–”No.” But in the next breathe I say you have to pay something.
I was at a simple potluck and the food was nicely done. The most popular variety everyone brought was Carménère–which I thought was great–shows marketing can be productive. This potluck was with people who don’t write, blog, or video about wine–yes, sometimes I do these things like this. But each bottle came from the same retailer–and I think the bottle price points was under $5. Every bottle was unpalatable–but of course–I said nothing and drank water. I didn’t think it was the right place to talk about the virtues of quality wines as I would have hurt someone’s feelings. If I would have known Carménère was the most popular bottle I would have brought a fantastic one. So the issue of wine pricing from a black and white viewpoint doesn’t exist–but the world world of grey is where we truly live as it relates to wine pricing and almost everything else.
I did think to myself–that if each person bringing the Carménère would have spent perhaps $5-6 more they would have had a good bottle of wine. If I were to taste Carménère for the first time and that bottle was under $5 – I might take away that Carménère is highly unappealing and never try it again. But a few dollars more for a better quality wine yields smiles and passion for this variety and other varieties as well. My wine videos I have reviewed a lot of wines in the $10 to $25 range. I never felt that I was let down or that what I was drinking was “cheap.”
I do not believe that only great bottles of wine are those that have a cult status or cost a $100 and above. And hence this is where there is considerable latitude. I have tasted many wondrous bottles of wine below and in fact way below a $100. I think there is a lot of confusion and complexities as it relates to pricing.
First brand development, in my role as a wine marketing manager I recall one distinct label was furious with the wine buyer for putting their wine on a deep sale price point. The issue wasn’t that the wine was on sale but the price was below what this producer had been cultivating their pricing structure. I do think this was an extreme case and fast forward to this day and this particular producers pricing trajectory has not appreciated much past yearly inflation.
Wine appreciates in pricing from several vantage points – good reviews, limited supply, vineyard designation, etc. I think that this is logical and most producers work hard on this. I think as a wine producer develops their brand recognition (and there are so many attributes with this) that there is an elevation past yearly inflation.
So we come back to what do I have to pay for good quality bottle of wine? There is no simple answer for this–and especially in the United States with thousands of laws governing every aspect in wine it makes this very difficult. The over-regulation of wine, beer and spirits creates the most illogical pricing. The state of Ohio makes every wine marked up 100%–truly making cheap wine less so and good wine pricier than almost anywhere else. The post-prohibition world shows how the intent of law is to discourage consumption especially as it relates to Ohio.
Vineyard designation is a true way of creating a price point–a designation certainly limits how much can be produced and some vineyard sites stand alone. Think of To Kalon, Missouri Hopper, Bien Nacido, Rosella or Gary’s Vineyard–these are brands unto themselves and even set a bar for pricing. While a bottle of Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir can be outstanding–you can still find an outstanding bottle of Pinot Noir–and please read that this is not throwing one site under the proverbial bus for another site; love Gary’s Vineyard. It is to say that vineyard is influential in pricing especially if it is a lauded site.
Go to Napa or Sonoma or Santa Barbara and pricing is showing how important brand can be. Saddle up to the tasting room bar and see how far the bar can be. While a $125 and above Napa Valley Cabernet is easy to find; there are still producers who offer their bottles much under that price point. You can still find outstanding wine and not have to pay a very high bottle price point. Also, there are many regions on the planet that can be considered as well—when you cannot locate a specific variety–exploration is called for. Maybe for Chardonnay it is time to think of Chablis–maybe for Pinot Noir Oregon and so forth. And of course–never give up on Napa.
I often discourage buying the cheapest bottle anywhere—mass retailers and grocers supply this because there is a demand but I do believe that ‘tasting is believing’ often just spending a few dollars more can yield a significantly more appreciable wine. I try to stay away from a broad or general designation like “California” Pinot Noir. The dynamics of wine is fun and intriguing and today it is highly likely than paying rock bottom prices for a cheap bottle of wine that paying slightly north of “cheap” can yield some great finds without betraying your wallet.
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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