The Sour Grape

Making Sense #1: The Price of a Good Bottle of Wine – Part 1

Making Sense (#1 The Price of a Good Bottle of Wine)(Or… “I paid £10 for this and it tastes like dirt!”)

I’d like to be able to tell you that this is one of those areas that make any kind of logical sense… but it isn’t!

Maybe it would if someone could breakdown the list of every cost that adds up to the final price you pay, for any given bottle… but all we normally have to go on is where the wine is from (more on that in other posts), and what the price is…. And biased on that most of us make a judgment on what quality the wine will be.

The more you pay the better the wine… right?

Not necessarily.

There are many different factors that influence the price of bottle of wine… and only some of them have anything to do with the quality of the wine itself.

At its most basic… the price you pay comes from the cost of growing and making the wine plus all the other charges that get added on top before it gets to you… like tax (VAT, Import/Export), the transportation costs and profit margins.

By the time you buy a bottle (full price), for £5 or under, you’re only paying around 16p for the wine. Here’s a site with some useful graphics depicting the price breakdown of bottles at different price points: Corksout.com – What’s in your bottle

16p! No wonder it tastes nasty.

Now if we take that £5 bottle of wine and use its 16p worth as a baseline… then (using the figures from the website above), the difference between a £5 bottle and one costing £6.99… is an increase of 694% in how much of your money is going towards the wine.

 

…Damn!

 

At £9.99, the difference is 1,731% and at £14.99 around a third of your money is going squarely on the wine. So the more you pay over £5 should in theory go on paying for the vineyard to spend more money growing better grapes and crafting better wine…

And it does… unless something else has put the price up.

The truth is you can find £5 bottles of wine that taste far better than bottles priced over twice as much… especially if the shop has discounted a wine for a special offer. Of course we’ve all been burnt time and again by supermarket offers claiming amazing deals on a bottles of wine that usually cost £10.99 now reduced to £4.99… only to get it home to feel ripped off at £4.99 let alone the full price! The guidelines governing fair trade and supermarket ‘deals’ are, to put it lightly, crap. At least in so far as to how easy they are to get around to the disadvantage of the general public.

In these cases it really is trial and mostly error, which is why the review section of this blog will seek to highlight whether I think the wines looked at actually taste like they’re worth the prices being asked for them. Some will be worth paying full price for and would be amazing deals if you can find them on offer cheaper. Others will be worth their sale prices but well over priced at full cost etc.

Please bear in mind though, this will only be my opinion… if you really like a bottle and feel like it’s worth a certain price, then for you it is. It’s that simple. My plan is eventually to have a group of individuals, each with there own differing tastes in wine, chime in on each review because there’s no guarantee that you’ll like something just because I do. You’ll be able to filter the reviews for the reviewer who tastes closely mirror your own and see what they feel about any given bottle.

So assuming the prices charged are realistic and ignoring discounts, how much should a good bottle of wine cost?

Really £6.99 is the starting point where you start to pay for wine instead of tax, transport and the shops slice of the pie, so every pound you pay over that is by and large going towards a better quality of wine.

Everyone has there own thoughts on what is an average price to pay for a decent bottle is, but to help simplify things here’s a simple guide to what you can expect at different price ranges:

At full price:

<£06         – Cheap Wine

£06 to £09 – Table Wine

£09 to £13 – Diner Wine

£13 to £20 – Date Night Wine

£20 and Over – Fine Wine

Cheap Wine: First off I’m not trying to disparage bargain budget wines or indicate that people who like them are cheap! That would be snobby. I like nothing more than discovering a beautiful wine I’m only charged £5 for, result! If it’s good, really… who cares? I’m using the word cheap as an indication of the quality or lack there off (in general) of the grapes used to make this wine. The low price tag is there for a reason, unless discounted and not in a fake way. There are plenty occasions where the grapes going into the wine are just over quota or in excess for some reason, and in these cases the wine made can be both lovely and great value. Most of time though, cheap means cheaply made and often synthetically treated, to make wine made with bad grapes drinkable again. Such as adding acid to wine with no acidity or sugar to wine that’s too astringent (harsh) etc.

Table Wine: In general this is the entry point where you are starting to pay for the wine itself. Most of these wines will have been made expressly for cheap export and are likely to widely blended and made in huge quantities. By widely blended I mean the grapes are likely to have been sourced from many different vineyards throughout several different wine growing regions. Even if all the grapes going in are of the same variety, say… Cabernet Sauvignon, it really doesn’t indicate what to expect from the wine, when back of the bottle states ‘South Australia’ and not much else… that’s half a country! You’ll find that wines like these on the whole tend to be one dimensional in nature and have little in the way of complexity to them. But then they don’t have to! If you want a bottle you can open without having to think about it, to go with your beans on toast or your pasta, then these are perfect and can be a better match with your classic mid week meals in any case.

Diner Wine: as we’re moving up in price now, we should be getting to wines with a whole lot more individuality and character. In general we’re looking at wines made by a single producer with grapes sourced from their own vineyards and if we’re lucky from the same vineyard. Is this always the case? No. But what we’re looking at here is a lot more care and attention in crafting the wine and in the grapes chosen for inclusion. So we’ve got a lot more complexity or elegance on show here most of time. These are wines that will go well with a good home cooked dinner round the table, like a Casserole or a Shepherds Pie. Unfortunately this is the also the most inconsistent of the generic price brackets. You’ll find a lot of substandard wine with prices hiked up into this bracket as supermarkets love to shout about ‘half price’ when selling you a £5/£6 bottle. If you’ve seen it on offer before, wait… it’ll come back around again.

Date Night Wine (Or a nice bottle for a special occasion): Anything around or over £15 should at the very least be well made, well balanced, and well worth the price. If it isn’t… it’s over priced in my book. We might still only be dealing with a vineyards 3rd or 4th best wine, but at this price I’m looking for something special, and I’ve found it often enough to be disappointed in a vineyard or supermarket that’s trying to get me to pay this amount for one that isn’t. These are wines that should be perfect for those special meals like a nice steak or a good family roast dinner. This price range also brings into focus wines that have been unavailable at cheaper prices, due to regional regulations controlling minimum pricing. For instance wines like Haut-Medoc and Pomerol from Bordeaux region in France, that are perfect for a Roast Beef/Chicken but you won’t see them for less than £15, if not substantially more. My advice with wines like this is to get a recommendation first as it’s an expensive area for experimentation!

Fine Wine (for Date Nights With Prospects… or visiting the in-laws): In general, anything priced over £20 is classified as ‘Fine Wine’. Does that guarantee you’ll like it? No, but it does indicate that a lot of time and effort has gone in this wine. We’re looking at most vineyards flagship wines here, the wines that have been given the best grapes of the harvest and the first, most gentle, pressings of those grapes. The best of the best set apart to express the unique identity of that vineyards terrain or blended to demonstrate the skill of it’s crafters. Strangely, at this price I’ve been impressed with the quality of wines I haven’t even particularly liked. At this level, if there’s something lacking, I want to know why. Are these wines worth their prices? They do cost a lot to produce and often-in vastly reduced quantities’ in order to maintain the highest quality. But the question of ‘worth’ is one you’ll need to establish for yourself.

Are there exceptions to the above? More than I could ever count! All over the place… the above is extremely generalised. It is, however, the simplest way to sort through some of what you can expect to find for different price tags, so long as other factors aren’t coming out to play.

In part 2 I’ll talk about some of the major exceptions to watch out for and to keep in mind when browsing the shelves.

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