Value in Wine

On this page we attempt to explain the relationship between price and quality in wine. We suspect most of our readership is aware that quality and price of a bottle of wine do not always correlate. If increasing the price does not mean a given bottle is objectively better (think scoring) then why should some wines cost more than others?  The scoring of a bottle of wine is largely deemed to be price independent, begging the question of why pay more for a wine of equal score? Unsurprisingly the question of value is largely dependent on certain commercial aspects of the wine industry, which can have effects on price that do not always correlate with an increase in quality.  Below, we attempt to summarise the important points with regards to value.

Value: The worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it:
“at £12.50 this wine is good value”

The Price of Location:

The question of location is best dealt with using the analogy of real estate. Consider two properties: one in the northern industrial heartland of the UK and one in Mayfair. Both are well made and well appointed luxury properties of similar size and construction. Objectively, both have the same characteristics, yet the cost of renting each for a year is vastly different (probably by an order of magnitude). When you purchase a bottle of wine you are purchasing the crop of fruit from a specific plot of land over the course of an entire vintage. In the same way as the two properties two objectively identical wines, treated in the exact same way, can command vastly different prices due to differences in the cost of land in specific vineyards.

Factors influencing the price on the basis of location include:

  1. The desirability & prestige of the site (Bordeaux Classification)
  2. The scarcity of land in the area (tiny plots in Burgundy)
  3. The challenges of growing the grapes of with the appropriate characteristics in different regions.

A Pinot Noir scoring 92 points from Chile will therefore on average cost less than its equivalent in Burgundy even if the wines are somehow near identical in quality.

Wine Making Practices:

For the most part, the more expensive the land used the for vineyards, the more refined the way in which the way the vines and grapes are handled.  Fastidious vineyard practices, hand picking over mechanised harvest, careful work on the sorting table and greater care in the winery become the norm.  Where oak is used it may be French oak from the finest coopers, costing many hundreds of pounds per barrel.  The more prestigious the appellation or the property the greater the investment that can be lavished on the grapes throughout the year.  All of this translates to cost for the consumer (and hopefully gains in quality).

Terroir and Producers:

When we consider fine wine terroir stars center stage.  Terroir is the specific signature that an environment imparts on the grapes over the growing season.  Some terroir is more ‘appreciated’ than others.  The particularities of different terroir, in equal measure with the historical context of the site, is responsible for defining and explaining the prestige of specific sites and their worth to the consumer.

The producer, or winemaker, may again contribute to the value of the wine depending on their pedigree historically, their approach or indeed their aptitude in the art of wine production.  Some wines are timeless whilst others may develop short-lived cult followings in much the same way as an iconic piece of fashion.

The Target Market:

From a commercial perspective the target market is also key to price.  Mass produced wine using low cost techniques is made specifically to the taste of the mass market consumer. This wine rarely has faults yet may fail to excite due to an inclination towards homogenity both within and across varieties. In contrast wines made for the local market may have overt flaws yet be of greater interest due to the individuality and typicality of the region.

A producer that puts in the attention to detail and wishes to produce a boutique product for a more discerning consumer can begin to create something more unique.  Yields can be cut to produce grapes of a greater intensity and a more rigorous process to select grapes can be employed. With sufficient capital the vineyard and winery processes can be overhauled and improved. Over time a lesser quantity of wine with a greater value per bottle can be produced assuming an appropriate vineyard site and grapes that are correctly matched to the local climate.

Summary:

There are a lot of reasons for the price of a bottle of wine. It is not as simple as a score. The wine that you enjoy most may not be the most expensive. It may be that the style of wine that appeals to you does so because of its specific terroir – if these bottles are from an unfashionable region then you are in luck. If your passion is Grand Cru Burgundy then you will need some serious funding. More than any of the above personal factors also play into the appraisal such as where and when you obtained or first tasted a given wine.

Our Advice: Get out there and taste as widely as you can. Every trip I have found new wines to enjoy, often in the most unexpected of places.