For several decades I believed the myth that the price of wine was related to its quality — that an expensive bottle indicated it contained quality wine.
What a scam it turned out to be. The taste of wine is utterly subjective. During wine-tasting competitions, “experts” rarely agree on the same wine. If a particular wine was truly outstanding, why couldn’t experts universally identify and agree on it?
From A Wine Expert’s Blog:
I’m guilty of it. When I’m presenting wine tastings to consumers, I’ll encourage them to trust their own palates, and not to be deterred by the seeming mystical ability of some wine writers to detect a shopping list of flavours, spices and fruits in a simple glass of wine. ‘There is no right and wrong in tasting wine,’ I find myself saying. ‘Your views are as valid as those of the expert.’ Effectively, I’m telling them that wine tasting is totally subjective.
But then in my working life, my colleagues and I act as though wine tasting were anything other than subjective. We give wines a numerical score; we argue about the merits of particular bottles; we take part in competitions that award medals to some and not to others; we think that our expertise in wine assessment is of a level where we can charge others for it.
Follow the Grape
I arrived at this method after conversations with several serious wine lovers.
Their advice was to follow the grape. What does that mean? First, you must know that bottled wine is of two types: varietal and blended. Varietal wine is made primarily from one grape and, consequently, carries the name of that grape (for example, Merlot). Blended wine, on the other hand, is made from two or more grapes and, consequently, carries the name of those grapes (for example, Merlot-Syrah).
It’s easier to illustrate this advice of following the grape with varietals but it works with blended wines as well. In other words, this advice works with all types — varietals and blended wines.
Knowing the grape of the wine allows you to compare apples to apples, so to speak. Take Merlot, for instance. Merlot has a well-deserved reputation for going well with food but also for being drunk on its own. Any serious winemaker will make a decent Merlot wine. Its wine may not win awards but odds are that it’ll be a good wine.
If you agree with that then the second and final step is to compare the Merlots at your favorite wine shop and choose the wine that fits your budget.
When Wine Prices Seem To Be All Over The Board
Wine, like classical music, is something more easily appreciated with some expertise. We could close our eyes and likely not confuse a piece performed by a professional pianist with a piece performed by a student. Similarly, even with just our untrained senses of smell and taste, we can also enjoy wine.
Even though our lack of familiarity doesn’t prevent us from enjoying decent wine, it limits us to that. We should be able to tell good wine from bad wine but it’s doubtful we’ll be able to tell good wine from great wine.
Leave that to the professionals. And even they rarely agree.
Bad wine is wine that doesn’t taste good. Great wine is wine that many experts agree has exceptional taste. And in the vast space between the two — bad wine and great wine — lie many bottles of good and decent wine.
If that makes sense to you then all you have to do is follow the grape: Decide on the grape you want. Then line up bottles of that grape beside each other. You’ll see different price points. Select the bottles that fit your budget. That’s it.
… Wine pricing varies dramatically, and such price differences would not persist if there was not such a thing as differences in quality levels. The word ‘quality’, however, needs to be used with care here, because we are entering the realm of aesthetics. Who gets to decide that one wine is great and one wine ordinary? Or that a wine is faulty? After all it is quite common to find wines that are highly acclaimed by some but dismissed as faulty by others…
Comprehensive — This link, by wines.com, covers more grapes than you’ve ever known.
Getting Started — This link covers the topic honestly. The author seems to be an unpretentious wine expert. Here’s what he wrote about good, cheap wine:
I’m weird. I’m not like most other people. For me, wine is a hobby – I’m interested in all the detail; the regions, vineyards and people behind the wine. For most wine drinkers, though, it’s just a drink. It’s a commodity, like bread, sugar and tea. They want a glass of wine. It just needs to be good enough, and appropriately priced, which for most means cheap. So here’s my personal view of what makes a good cheap wine. It has to be ‘dishy’—in a very corny play on this word, here are some of the virtues I think are important.
The Science of Snobbery — This link is what inspired me to write this post. Here are several passages from this article:
In a follow up to our article on the price of wine, Priceonomics revisited this seemingly damning research: the lack of correlation between wine enjoyment and price in blind tastings, the oenology students tricked by red food dye into describing a white wine like a red, a distribution of medals at tastings equivalent to what one would expect from pure chance, the grand crus described like cheap wines and vice-versa when the bottles are switched.
… when a group of experts judged a collection of French and American wines in the Judgment of Paris, one judge picked up a Californian wine, tasted it, and said “Ahh, back to France.” He then picked up a French bordeaux, sniffed, and said, “That is definitely California. It has no nose.” The recent Judgment of Princeton that pitted French wines against New Jersey wines came out essentially as a draw.
This post is dedicated to these budding oenophiles: Carol Navarrete (Paranaque), Vilma Tecson (Manila), Benette Linco (Los Banos), and Guy Melecio (Palawan).