Quality: Cheap vs. Expensive Wines
By Rebeca M. Pinhas, CSW, CSWS @vinomomnola
Click aqui para español- > Calidad: Vino Barato vs. Vino Caro
One of the most frequent questions I get is whether you can really taste the difference between a $15 bottle of wine and one that costs five times as much. The short answer is yes. A longer answer comes from a different set of questions: is such difference justified? and, what makes one wine superior?
It is important to understand that when it comes to wine, “cheap” does not necessarily mean bad or unlikeable. Like I always say, it’s simply a matter of taste!
Usually, wines that are in the lower-cost end, yet deliver a certain degree of quality, are referred to as “inexpensive” or “good value.” In other words, you are getting at least -and hopefully more than- what you paid for. In my view, a cheap wine means precisely the opposite: you are paying way too much for what the bottle is delivering, and this can happen at any price range.
There are many factors that influence the retail price of a bottle because just as many events take place between the time vines are planted and the moment you finally pour that -hopefully- delicious elixir in your glass. The following are some pivotal factors when it comes to wine pricing.
This is probably the most differentiating characteristic between cheap and fine wine. Like many other products, wine’s quality comes down to the grade of the prime ingredients. Cheap wines are usually made from grapes sourced from multiple sites that are not located on ideal soils; finer wines generally come from vines planted on a very specific piece of land, which are carefully grown, harvested, and processed. As a rule of thumb, the more specific the area from which the grapes come (for example, a wine labeled as California vs. a wine labeled under the narrower area Napa County), the more likely the wine is to be carefully crafted.
Size of Production
A more commercial producer (think of Meiomi, Flip Flop, but please don’t think about them again!) who can put out thousands of cases of wine a year is able to lower costs and therefore, offer low retail prices. A smaller, boutique winery might not be able to compete with such a bottom line and their wines will be inherently more expensive, but this can also mean that more labor and care is invested in their production.
Reputation of Wine/Producer and Availability
Once a producer gains a certain reputation and their wines are sought after, the concept of supply and demand will cause prices to go up. A great example of this is Bordeaux wines from France. The top ranked Châteaux (wine houses) sell their wines even before they are made (a practice known as “buying futures” or “en primeur”), which means most of us don’t even get a chance at owning the best of the best (not that I have $2000 sitting around anyway). In the end, big names become such, and at some point, along the way consumers stop asking if it really makes sense to pay that much anymore.
The Artistic Factor
Many see winemaking as a form of art, and the same way a visual artist would price their painting based on their personal appreciation thereof, a winemaker may choose to reflect the value of their hard work on the price of the bottle.