“It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine”
― Brian O’Donnell, Winemaker of Belle Pente, 2013
More expensive bottles aren’t necessarily better. Here’s what you need to know.
By Sarah Tracey
What’s Behind Wine Pricing?
Let’s get this out of the way: Wine is a bit more complicated than “you get what you pay for.” Price isn’t directly indicative of taste or quality. There are two main factors that go into the pricing of wine. The first factor that impacts the price you pay for a bottle is how expensive the wine was to produce. For a wine producer, production costs may vary greatly according to things like the cost of grapes (valued much higher from places where the land value is steep, like top vineyards in California’s Napa Valley) and the real estate of the winery itself. In areas with labor shortages, it might be far more expensive to pay labor costs than in places where eager workers are abundant and will happily take on harvest work for lower wages. Similarly, if a winery had to invest a lot on new equipment one year, you may see that reflected in their wine pricing. Expensive bottles, corks, and other packaging may also up the base cost of making a quality wine.
Many wineries, however, produce multiple wines at different price points, usually sourcing grapes that may be less expensive for their “entry-level” wines. This is a great tip for finding a deal: If you’re a fan of a winery’s premium range, check and see if they have a value range as well.
The second factor that determines wine pricing is a bit harder to quantify, and that’s the economic reality of supply and demand. The more people want it, and the less there is available, the higher the price the wine can command.
Finding the Best Value
You shouldn’t judge a wine solely by its price, but it should absolutely be a factor. Sometimes a wine will be “good for the price,” meaning that the bottle outperformed your expectations based on its price. If the same wine had an expensive price tag, you would expect more. Like so much in life, all of this is subjective and context is important.
The best way to find the wines that promise very high quality for a good value is by considering bottles from lesser-known regions. Blame it on demand and real estate, but a wine from Paso Robles in California is less expensive than a similar quality wine from Napa Valley. Other wonderful, value-driven regions to look for are Portugal’s Dao and Douro regions, France’s Languedoc-Rousillon, Ribera del Duero and Rueda in Spain, and Campania in Italy.