The Sour Grape

Making Sense #2: The Price of a Good Bottle of Wine – Part 2

Making Sense (#2 The Price of a Good Bottle of Wine - Part 2)(Or… “Why does my cheap bottle taste better than the expensive one?”)

In part 1 I covered what you can expect to find, in terms of the quality of wine, at different price levels. However, this is by no means set in stone, there are different factors that can raise or lower the shelf value of a bottle.

Here are some of the big exceptions to take account of:

Deliberate Overpricing: This is what the reviews on this blog will hopefully help to counteract as much as possible. Some wine producers try to make it look like their wine is better than it is by charging more for it. Most of the time it’s probably shops trying to up the retail price to make their ‘bargains’ look better when they place them on sale.

Minimum Pricing Levels: Some wine producing regions have regulations that enforce minimum pricing levels for each type of wine produced in their region. For instance Chateauneuf-du-pape in the Southern Rhone region of France. Most shops and supermarkets will have at least one bottle of this in store and the price is almost always around £15. What you need to remember is that anything from that region will be at least this amount regardless of quality. It’s priced at least £15 because it’s from that area, whether good or bad. In this case £15 isn’t an indication of quality, but of history, product branding and supply.

Famous Producers: As above with minimum pricing levels, the value of some wines are increased solely by how widely known and respected the producer is. For example wines from producers like ‘Louis Jadot’ or ‘Baron Lafite Rothchild’ will automatically be more expensive. True the quality may be higher due to expertise employed in the production of even their cheapest wines, but you may still be paying over the odds for them.

Household Names: At least with producers famous for the quality of their wine there’s some justification for the price hike, but it winds me up when the price doubles simply because a producers brand has become more widely established. For example wines from ‘Wolf Blass’ or ‘Oyster Bay’. These wines used to be half their current price, at least, but have shot up in value over the last few years. Often in cases like this the quality of the wine even decreases, due to vastly increasing the volume of production. So we’re now paying more for less… great!

Fashion Trends: This is a biggie. Like all free market commerce, value will shift due to consumer interest. The more we buy from a certain region or country or of a specific style of wine, the more the value will rise… eventually. This leads to some fairly large trends in wine value as the next ‘in thing’ becomes more and more established. For example wines from New Zealand, specifically Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, and Pinot Grigio from Italy. The price of wines from New Zealand have shot up over the last couple of years and as people who tired of that style have been turning to Pinot Grigio, that will in turn start to shift towards to the expensive. So the prices will go up due to popularity not the quality.

Out of Fashion Trends: Fortunately the opposite can also be true. Wines from certain countries or from specific wine growing regions can actually be under valued in general, giving us higher quality wine for the same price, result! For £10 you can get the cheapest wine from a vineyard in Burgundy… or for the same £10 you can get 2nd best, if not the best, wine from a vineyard in some areas of the Loire Valley. All because Burgundy has an entry level of at least €8 for their wines and certain area’s of the Loire don’t have any so you can find them for €3 a bottle.

 

These are some of the countries and wine growing regions to seek out for good value wine at moment:

Argentina – Everything I had from this country has been far higher in quality than I’d ever expect for the price, what ever that price has been.
 
Portugal – As with Argentina, but these are harder to find and the prices have started to creep up over the last couple of years.
 
Spain – Look out for wines from the ‘Toro’ & ‘Ribera Del Duero’ regions. They’re very similar to Rioja but amazing quality for the price.

France – Loire Valley (avoid big ticket areas like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume); Languedoc and wines from South Western France (be careful the closer you get to Bordeaux).

Chile – Chilean wines tend to be fairly close in nature to the French, so if you’re a fan of French wines and looking for a value alternative then Chilean wines are for you. The market has been flooded with wines from Chile over the last few years though, so I’d look for some good recommendations first before buying.

I’d like to wrap this section up with what I feel are our biggest hang-ups regarding the price of wine in the UK:

1)   We’re used to paying next to nothing for wine in shops and supermarkets. We’ve been holding to the age-old adage that anything over a £5 is expensive. It was 15 years ago… but in spite of inflation going through the roof, the cost of wine seems to have stayed the same in the UK. Of course this hasn’t really happened, all that has is we’ve been sold cheaper and cheaper wine for the same cost. There’s nothing wrong with an affordable price that fits neatly into our shopping budgets, but I think we be honest about what these wines are and are not.

2)   We think it’s acceptable for pubs, clubs, and restaurants to charge huge amounts for cheap wine. We dither in the supermarket over paying more than a fiver on one hand while at the same time think nothing of paying £15-£20 for a bottle in a restaurant. I almost wouldn’t mind if the wine was ok… but most of time it’s rank and I know its at least 4 to 5 times cheaper that the price they asking. Now I’m not going to begrudge any business a reasonable mark up… but 400%! It’s like they’ve hit me over the head with the tipping dish and mugged me while I was down! I’ve found this even in restaurants that pride themselves on the quality of their food, and then serve crap wine at extortionate prices to go with it. I’m sorry… but I’m not going to pay 40 quid for bottle of £7 wine I’d normally have with beans on toast, no matter how good you food is! Try spending £15-20 on a bottle the next time you’re having evening in at home with a good meal instead, I think you’ll be surprised. I’d rather have a good bottle at home than a poor bottle in a restaurant any day.

Ultimately, more often than not, your own budgets will define for you what a good price for an every day bottle is and what you’re looking to spend on one for special occasion. Just because I’ve defined ‘Fine Wine’ at over £20 a bottle, doesn’t alter the fact that spending £10 on a bottle will be a huge extravagance for many, it is for me! My hope for this guide has been to highlight what you can expect your money to be paying for at those different levels and to help you avoid paying more for the name on the bottle than the wine in it. Have I succeeded? Please let me know what you think.

The next ‘Making Sense of it all’ guide will be on: What to look for on the Bottle.

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