Does the Price of Wine Really Reflect the Quality?

cheersIt’s only logical to presume that a crystal bowl from Tiffany is going to be of higher quality than a glass bowl purchased at a 99 Cents Only Store — no disrespect to that wildly successful discounter.

But what about wine? Is there really that much of a quality difference between a $10 bottle bought at the supermarket and a $50 bottle purchased from a wine club or wine shop?

Many factors play into the answer to that question, including where the grapes were grown, whether they were estate grown or purchased, whether new oak barrels were used to age the wine, how much aging (think: storage) time was planned before the wine was released, and so on.

Sometimes a wine is “formulated” to hit a specific price point, with a targeted marketing plan in place even before the grapes are harvested. In other instances, a winemaker simply takes what Mother Nature provides, and crafts the best mix of varietal wines and multi-variety blends possible.

There are times when no amount of planning can provide the best result. Several years ago, a varietal Cabernet Franc won the “Best of Show” award at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition. Unfortunately, from a future marketing and pricing standpoint, that winery would not be able to offer a varietal Cabernet Franc because all of the juice from the succeeding two vintages already had been blended into the winery’s red cuvee. Had that not been the case, the next few vintages of Cabernet Franc could have commanded higher prices than the award-winning vintage.

Another factor involves price protection. Many wineries work hard over multiple vintages to improve the quality of a specific bottling, and as the quality factor generates additional sales and demand, the price can be raised. A winery never wants to see a price decrease from one vintage to another because that can destroy years of brand building.

All of these factors make it virtually impossible to compare wine quality based solely on prices. A $10 bottle today could be a $50 bottle tomorrow. Ultimately, the best strategy is to trust your palate, and drink what you can afford.


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