Price and Quality



By Kori ~ June 30th, 2008.

“It is one of the ironies of the wine market today that just as the price differential between the cheapest and most expensive bottles is greater than ever, the difference in quality is probably narrower than it has ever been. There is good and bad quality at every price level.” –Jancis Robinson, How to Taste

Doesn’t a $400 bottle of wine have to be better than a $30 bottle of wine? Not necessarily. A wine can disappoint (or surprise) you at any price, whether it’s $4, $40, $400 or more. While many great wines are very expensive today, in my opinion, not many of these expensive wines are really worth their price tag.

At Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago, Mom surprised us with a 1996 Chateau Lafite Rothschild (French Bordeaux) that set her back $400, just so that we could see what a so-called “perfect” bottle of wine rated 100 points by the experts tasted like. Now I’ll have to admit, it was a very good bottle of wine. But was it worth $400 or anything close to that price? Probably not.

In fact, later during dinner, we took the remaining half bottle of the Lafite and blind tasted it against a 2000 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve (Bordeaux-type blend from Washington). Walter Clore is widely available at about $30 per bottle. In our blind tasting, two of the four of us preferred Lafite and the other two chose Walter Clore as their favorite.

Now if it’s worth the $370 difference for you to say you drank a Lafite, fine, but we’d rather have a case of Walter Clore for the same money ourselves.

While we’re on the subject of $400 wines, in May 2006, there was a thirtieth anniversary re-tasting of the wines from the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris Tasting, the event that really put American wines, and California wines in particular, on the map. The tasting in 1976 pitted some of California’s best wines against top French wines, and the American wines won. It was one of the pivotal events in the history of wine, not so much because the Americans won but because the experts who tasted the wines could not tell which wines came from which country in the blind tasting.

In the 2006 re-tasting, it was generally thought that the French wines would have aged better and would certainly win this time. But the American wines won again. In fact, the California Cabernets swept the first five places this time around.

The point is not that French wines are no longer that good; in fact, they are probably better than ever. The point is that there are outstanding wines made today almost all over the world, and you don’t have to pay $400 per bottle (or even more in the case of many 2005 Bordeaux) to find one.

“I don’t think there’s anything rational, or sane, about paying $750 to $1,000 a bottle for any wine. That’s one reason I stopped buying Bordeaux a few years ago. It simply became too expensive for my taste…The same market that gives us scary Bordeaux prices offers us values as well, increasingly from around the world. You just have to pay attention, strike when the opportunity presents itself, and be prepared to walk away from loved ones that become too expensive.” –James Laube, Senior Editor, Wine Spectator


Filed under: American Wine, French Wine, General Wine Information

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